Lyrics and Scientific Error

What’s on your mind, if you are a scientist and you find some errors on a song lyrics?
The one that I want to speak out here is Katie Melua‘s Nine Million Bicycles.
Here I write the lyrics, so now, all you need to do is download the song, listen to it, and enjoy the errors.. :)

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die

We are twelve billion light years from the edge
That’s a guess
No one can ever say it’s true
But I know that I will always be with you

I’m warmed by the fire of your love everyday
So don’t call me a liar
Just believe everything that I say

There are six billion people in the world
More or less
And it makes me feel quite small
But you’re the one I love the most of all

We’re high on the wire
With the world in our sight
And I’ll never tire
Of the love that you give me every night

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing
That’s a fact
It’s a thing we can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you till I die

And there are nine million bicycles in Beijing
And you know that I will love you

The lyrics are lovely awesome, aren’t they?
Although I love science too, but listening to scientific-errorneous-lyrics does not make my sense of art lost. Anyhow, there’re some scientists out there that lost their sense when they hear these lyrics..

On September 30, 2005, an article appeared in The Guardian newspaper in which physicist Simon Singh humorously corrected the song’s lyrics. Singh said that with the song Melua “demonstrates a deep ignorance of cosmology and no understanding of the scientific method”, and objected to its second verse, where the song’s protagonist “[contrasts] such guesswork with her own confidence in her blossoming long-term love”:

We are 12 billion light-years from the edge,
That’s a guess — no-one can ever say it’s true,
But I know that I will always be with you

Singh interpreted the first lyric as a statement that the observable universe was twelve billion years old, which he said was incorrect; according to “the very latest data”, the universe was actually 13.7 billion years old. He added, “the next line in the song is unforgivable. To say that the age of the universe is “a guess” is an insult to a century of astronomical progress. The age of the universe is not just “a guess”, but rather it is a carefully measured number that is now known to a high degree of accuracy”. He wrote replacement lyrics which he believed would, if used, remedy his concerns:

We are 13.7 billion light-years from the edge of the observable universe,
that’s a good estimate with well-defined error bars,
Scientists say it’s true, but acknowledge that it may be refined,
and with the available information, I predict that I will always be with you

Singh’s statements received moderate coverage in the media, and led Batt to submit a response to The Guardian in which he defended his right to poetic license Melua agreed to re-record the song’s second verse with Singh’s proposed lyrics, though she said she encountered difficulty fitting in all of the syllables. The revised version, which omitted the line “Scientists say it’s true, but acknowledge that it may be refined”, premiered on the radio show The Today Programme on October 15. Melua said that she felt embarrassed by the error in the song, particularly given that she had been a member of her school’s astronomy club. Singh himself later said he intended his article to be “to some extent … tongue-in-cheek”, but that he also wanted to defend principles in cosmology “that are on much firmer ground”. He added that he believed his response to the song’s lyrics had helped introduce cosmology to a wider audience and said that “the writing of the original article was probably the most productive hour of my career”.

In fact, Singh also made an error. While the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years, the distance to the edge of the observable universe is much greater (about 46 billion light years) because of the fast expansion of the universe.

The incident recalls a similar one that occurred over a century previous, when Charles Babbage wrote to Alfred Tennyson suggesting that his “otherwise beautiful poem” The Vision of Sin contained an error, see Babbage#Eccentricities.

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