Culture, science, and world domination

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory

A sitcom, of all things, has recently attracted the attention of various science themed blogs, here, for example. This is “The Big Bang Theory”, which appears Mondays on CBS. Since I have a strong interest in scientific communication and having a better representation of science in popular culture, I thought I would throw in a few thoughts about this show and frame it within a larger context.

I must confess, I kind of like this show, and if I happen to be eating dinner while the t.v. is on, I’ll probably watch it. The Halloween episode, where one of the characters dresses up as the Doppler effect, was pretty imaginative. Professor of Physics and Astronomy David Saltzberg, from UCLA, helps with some of the physics related punchlines and writes the white board equations for them. This part is pretty well done. The characters, although clearly caricatures, seem to be folks I wouldn’t mind hanging out with once in a while. Mrs. LiquidThinker (also a scientist) does not care for the show so much. I do understand her reasoning that the show is simply placing scientists in a stereotypical light of “nerdiness”. In truth, my former colleagues and coworkers at the University were far more well rounded with interests ranging from sailing, weightlifting, movies, etc., and most seemed far more socially adept then the caricatures on the show. After all, we’re all just people like everybody else.

Another drawback of the show is that the one female scientist to which we have much exposure, is just as “nerdy” as her male counterparts (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The main woman character who is “socially normal” just doesn’t get physics and seems to have no interest. Although it is certainly true that many normal people have no interest in physics (can’t understand that myself), this does seem to be playing to the stereotypes. What would be nice in the story line is to have this character start to understand some of the more basic concepts discussed by her neighbor friends, become interested, and start down the road towards a physics degree. Of course, one doesn’t jump from Newton’s 3 laws of motion to quantum field theory in 1 semester, so I have no idea how something like that could fit into a sitcom format. Of course, the writers are free to call me, if they wish.

In any case, this seems to be a good first step in an attempt to humanize scientists and expose some scientific thinking in popular culture. Along those same lines, I was pleased to see Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye put in appearances on Star Gate Atlantis recently. Nice touch. In fact, there are other recent developments to have more exchange and input from the scientific community into popular entertainment as exemplified by The Science and Entertainment Exchange program from the National Academy of Sciences. It would be great to see a bit more about how science is really done in some of our popular entertainment, and hope that the type of evidence based thinking which lies at the heart of science will percolate into the public mind.

On the other hand, we still have Barbara Walters, who recently named her Ten most fascinating people. Barack Obama I could see, but Tom Cruise? What about Nobel prize winners or others who have actually made a real contribution to society? I guess we still have a ways to go, if Barbara Walters is in any way a measure of popular culture.

I would be most happy to see in entertainment the type of scientists I have known and worked with. Normal people working on interesting problems and often making society a better place in the process. That being said, there will always be a soft spot in my heart for the evil mad scientist, and I hope that fun character doesn’t completely go away.

That’s all I have for now as I have to go back in my basement and continue various diabolical experiments. World domination is so time consuming.

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