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Photo of Zoe Cormier
Zoe Cormier. Photo by Flavia Fraser-Cannon

Join the Science Party!

In her book Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, Zoe Cormier explores the workings of our rowdiest pastimes

Zoe Cormier’s love of science was perhaps unexpected, given her artistic family background (she’s the granddaughter of the late actor Don Harron). But the former Varsity science editor (BSc 2005 Victoria) has used her zoology degree most creatively: as an author, broadcaster, and co-founder of Guerilla Science, a group that brings the science of “vice” to rock festivals and art galleries. In her book Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll (2015), Cormier explores the workings of our rowdiest pastimes, as she tells Cynthia Macdonald.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are three of the best things known to humankind. But you point out that elsewhere in the animal kingdom, sex isn’t very nice.

For fish and amphibians, it’s pretty boring – and cat penises have spines that point backwards: the scraping of these spines in the vaginal tract is required to induce ovulation.

Ouch! Pass the painkillers. Speaking of drugs, the story of LSD is a “great trip” down memory lane.

LSD wasn’t initially developed as a psychedelic drug, but as something to prevent post-partum hemorrhaging. Eventually, though, [inventor] Albert Hofmann thought it could be to psychiatry what the telescope was to astronomy, or the microscope to biology: a tool, for people who were interested in the psyche. At first, he couldn’t imagine it as a drug of abuse because he didn’t think anyone would take it for fun. However, he did take it himself to age 96; he obviously learned to like it a lot.

So these pursuits aren’t restricted to the young? At some point, do we inevitably trade Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll for Gardening, Baking and Bridge?

By no means! People should be able to enjoy music throughout their lives, and sex for as long as possible. And Lord knows, the drugs you get for pain relief when you’re older are a blessing.

Some years back, a study came out saying that listening to Mozart would make you smarter – they called it “the Mozart Effect.” But as you point out, the hype over that was overblown.

Only one study ever found a link between Mozart and cognitive enhancement. But later studies found that listening to [English pop group] Blur produced the same effect. It’s not about listening to Blur, Mozart or heavy metal –it’s about listening to music that you like.

So should people be far more critical when reading about science?

Absolutely! We need a greater degree of scientific literacy in the public at large. Science is just a tool to understand how beautiful the world is. Everyone has some kind of interest in it, and a right to know about it.

Read an excerpt from Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll by Zoe Cormier. Copyright 2015 Zoe Cormier. Reprinted with permission from Publishers Group Canada. All rights reserved.)

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