Music meets science in pharmacy prof's spoof videos

Wouldn’t science be more appealing if it were a little more musical? That’s exactly what UBC’s Dr. James McCormack thought.

Four years ago, McCormack, a pharmacy professor, began creating scientific parodies of popular songs such as Bohemian Polypharmacy (a spoof of Bohemian Rhapsody) and Bridge Over Diagnosis (a spoof of Bridge Over Troubled Water), all available on his YouTube channel

McCormack makes the videos to help people make better informed decisions about their treatment. 

“If you were a patient of mine, I would be helping you make a decision because I don’t take it for you. You’ve got to take it so you should be informed and make a decision — I should just help support that decision.”

Shared decision-making is different from traditional medical practice since it views the patient as an expert on their own self, giving them a role in making decisions about their own health. 

“There are a lot of people on medications that probably don’t work as well as you would have thought,” said McCormack. “We’ve got to let people know about the best available evidence when it comes to these medications so you or the person who might [end up] taking them can make a decision.” 

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Courtesy James McCormack

An important aspect of shared decision-making is giving the best available evidence to the patient which is what McCormack strives for in his videos.

“I always find that if you can make information interesting, maybe it will be picked up better,” said McCormack. “There’s a bit of a selfish reason — I enjoy doing YouTube videos, and I enjoy music and I enjoy the work I do.

“I’ve always liked Weird Al-Yankovic [and his] very clever parodies of songs. I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be fun to create a parody of something?’” said McCormack. 

McCormack has taken notice of the power of new media. “Social media is a golden opportunity for people who are trying to disseminate information, whether it be via music or podcasting,” he said. “It’s a way to get information out to an audience which, 20 years ago, we did not have access to."

McCormack doesn’t just want to get across a message — he wants to make the viewer enjoy receiving the message. 

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Courtesy James McCormack / YouTube

McCormack ensures that the scientific content of each of his videos is relevant to the viewers. In his song, Viva La Evidence — a parody of Coldplay's Viva La Vida — he substitutes the original lyrics with, “For some reason I can't explain, clinical studies are in my brain. Always an honest word, now it's how I view the world.”

Why should clinical studies and viewing the world using them matter to the viewer? “There are literally millions and millions of studies, so why not just use that information as best as you can to make decisions?” said McCormack.

McCormack understands that some may think his videos are kind of silly, but for him, it’s enough that there are people who get a kick out of it. “If all it does is make someone smile over that four minutes of the song, that’s pretty cool,” he said.

It is pretty cool indeed.