Going GaGa for Science
“A pillow’s weight, it is sometimes said, can be as much as half mites and mite feces”. Think about that.
“The top 10 life-forms living on Lady Gaga (and you)” by Rob Dunn is a fantastic article that weaves popular culture into its scientific content, creating a reading experience that is both enjoyable and informative. Even though the content in this article is frankly quite gross and confronting, the inclusion of a well-known public figure, in this case the eccentric Lady GaGa, adds a personality and hilarity to the article that communicates its message strongly to its audience.
Dunn describes ten different bacteria and parasites that live on or inside the human body, using a Lady GaGa song as a sub-title for each of these examples. For example, “Just Dance” is the title for a paragraph describing fungi that live on feet, whereas “Bad Romance” titles the paragraph on bacteria living in the ‘nether regions’.
This ‘technique’, if you could call it that, is scarcely seen in scientific writing, even though it is so effective. This would be largely due to inappropriate topics and forum. However, when used in the correct context it can work very well, as shown in this article. The magazine in which it is featured, Scientific American, is known to have an educated but not necessarily scientific-specific audience. And with the article appealing to young people, through its wry humour and GaGa references, Dunn makes it very easy for myself and students alike to relate to the article. However, it’s not just us that this article is directed at. Most if not all people in the Western world would have some small knowledge of the meat-clad princess of pop, and even this small spark of interest is beneficial to how the article comes across.
In terms of scientific content, the information itself is very interesting and eye opening (I bet you didn’t know you had bellybutton bacteria). It is very personalized, allowing the reader to reflect (I wonder if I’m in the half of the population that has forehead mites). A comment below the article argues that it’s “information density is a bit weak”, however I don’t agree. For his audience, Dunn gives great insight into a vast part of the world that is mostly unexplored, conceding that he couldn’t possibly describe all of the millions of critters living on us.
What he does do though, is give us enough information to spark curiosity (and fear), and I believe that’s what he was trying to do.
I am just amazed at how we are more preoccupied learning the lyrics to GaGa’s latest hit, than we are worrying about brain parasites, lung fungi, and colon worms.