Is "Big Bang Theory" Bad for Science?

By Sam Lowry | February 3, 2009 11:53 am

sheldon.jpgI know that many scientists (and at least one science blogger) really like the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory.   The show is well-written and acted, has a half dozen funny one-liners per episode, and delivers a weekly helping of science and nerd culture in-jokes.

In a recent episode, Howard the NASA scientist erased several hours of data from the Mars Rover after inviting a woman he had met in a bar to come back to his office and drive it.  His pick up line: “Have you ever driven  a car …. on Mars?” Funny stuff and mostly harmless, right?

No.  Not right.   After watching several episodes on a recent cross-country flight, I’ve concluded that this show is bad for American Science. And here’s why:

Three of the four main characters are scientists with limited romantic prospects.  Howard lives with his mother and inhabits an imaginary world where his Beatles haircut makes him irresistible to women.  Raj finds himself unable to speak when the nerds’ sexy neighbor is in the apartment.  Sheldon apparently has a sitcom version of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Only Johnny Galecki’s character, Leonard, finds himself simultaneously able to work in physics, love comic books and successfully date women.

Thus BBT reinforces the popular stereotype that scientists are social misfits (mostly male) who can’t get a date.

Not only is this not true (granted I work at a science magazine but most of the researchers I meet are very cool and many of them are women), but research has posited that these portrayals potentially discourage kids from pursuing science past junior high.

I made this argument to Sean Carroll while I was out at Caltech last week, and his response was essentially, “Lighten up.  People love these characters.”  Respectfully, I say that’s wrong.  People loved Urkel, but no one wants to be Urkel.

As the creators of the dominant portrayal of scientists in American culture right now, the producers of BBT can do better.  And they can start by letting Howard move out of his mom’s house.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics, TV, Utter Nerd
MORE ABOUT: Big Bang Theory

Comments (71)

  1. Ben

    Thanks for having the guts to say what everyone was thinking.

  2. I’m glad I’m not the only one to find the stereotypes in this show disturbing. I’ve tried to watch Big Bang Theory a couple of times and was so put off by the characters I had to turn it off. They’re not at all like the scientists I’ve known over the years.

  3. This show is bad for how it portrays nerds, women, comic readers, and gamers. But then, I’m biased because I also don’t find it funny.

  4. Rick Sutten

    Please tell me this post is a joke…

    I’ve seen one episode of the Big Bang Theory, and while I didn’t find it enjoyable enough to revisit, it fell pretty squarely into the comedy genre. And in the science of comedy, you can exaggerate the qualities of the characters in an attempt to make them funnier. It’s not exactly the most clever manifestation of comedy, but it’s tried and true.

    BBT is a situation comedy, not a recruitment tool. If someone has an aptitude for science or mathematics, and even a passing curiosity about the way the world around them works, I seriously doubt they’ll cast off their future aspirations because Howard or Sheldon can’t get girls. And, quite frankly, if someone is willing to let a sitcom’s portrayal of a scientist dissuade them from pursuing science as an occupation, do we really need them attempting to tackle the mysteries of the universe?

    If you don’t like the show, you don’t like the show. But it’s not going to bring about the collapse of scientific thought. It’s just a mediocre network sitcom.

  5. Jorge

    Rick Sutten-

    My thoughts exactly, thanks for keeping me from having to type too much. Instead, I will simply copy and paste your best point:

    ” And, quite frankly, if someone is willing to let a sitcom’s portrayal of a scientist dissuade them from pursuing science as an occupation, do we really need them attempting to tackle the mysteries of the universe?”

    Why stop at BBT? If kids are weak-minded enough to let stereotypes prevent them from pursuing their dreams, then maybe we should analyze some shows that they might actually be watching. Does Hannah Montana glorify being a rockstar too much without emphasizing how important it is to go to law school and become a supreme court justice? Can watching too many cartoons make kids feel that being an actual human isn’t as cool as being animated, causing them to lose interest in living in the real world?

    I love watching the show with my wife and explaining the “nerd jokes” to her. She loves watching it because she the shows token blonde bombshell, Penny, has a hilarious way of dealing with the nerds she loves.

    Bottom line: THIS IS COMEDY.

  6. A PhD/Psych candidate decided Uncle Al was a historic second year project. Piles of paper were trudged back to Chapel Hill then run through scoring black boxes. A desperate cry for help arose – preventative maintenance on the scoring boxes – for Uncle Al was… perfectly sane. She did a project with rats.

    On a Pittsburgh psych office wall there hangs framed an MMPI output whose line across seven scales is 50 (+/-)3%. The rest of you need intervention. The Big Bang Theory is everything perfect in the very best people re Google hiring practices. Personnel (Human Resources, Human Factors Engineering) is all about drinking buddies.

  7. Ian

    Pft. Nice article. “research posited (you mean assumed, right?) that these portrayals potentially discourage kids from pursuing science past junior high” Do you mean the research conducted on fifth graders? Fifth graders…… fifth graders?? Are you kidding me? Are fifth graders really concerned about not getting laid and living with their moms past the age of 20? You obviously connect with the three of the four guys on the show on some level, that’s why you’re upset. It’s a t.v. show, dude. Saying a t.v. show is “bad for science” is like saying an anti smoking commercial is bad for the cigarette industry.

  8. I get that BBT is a sitcom and a pretty funny one at that, but the producers shouldn’t get a free pass because Sheldon and Leonard have a double helix model in their apartment and wear cool superhero t-shirts.

    At the risk of further overanalyzing this, I will make a comparison to Scrubs, another very funny sitcom. J.D. (the Zach Braff character) on Scrubs is in many ways just as big a nerd as anyone on BBT. Therein lies the comedy.

    The difference is that he is just one TV doctor in a universe of hundreds of TV doctors. Aside from Faraday on Lost, I can’t think of a lot of other TV physicists, so Sheldon and Howard have a larger proportional impact.

  9. Jumblepudding

    I tuned into this show when it first started, and it was clear in the scenes where the characters were gaming that some of the actors didn’t know how to hold a video game controller. Where did they get these guys? The Amish community?

  10. Savants Shadow

    As an adult who is Aspergers with multiple science degrees, I completely relate to Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. I’ve lived that life of a university’s “special dorm” environment filled with nerds. Social missteps are still common in life. But understand the reality, it’s only a TV Sitcom with exaggerated characters. And as a TV production, it’s better than most. Why write a damning article over nothing significantly important and engaging to science or life in general, when you can enjoy the BBT in-jokes and smile at your own foibles?

  11. sitcomic

    Was FRIENDS bad for friendships? Did MASH discourage military medics? Has SEINFELD hurt nothing?

    These are obviously silly questions. So too is the question of whether THE BIG BANG THEORY is bad for science. First, any show that can reference the number of scientific theories, laws and facts that this show does must elevate the national discourse of science, at least so that a few people google a phrase or two. Second, while the main characters are exaggerated geeks, they are not the only scientists on the show. Leslie Winkle is a female physicist that works with them. There was a guest scientist who had won a grant, as well as disproved some of Leonard’s research, that rode a motorcycle and successfully wooed Penny. While the main characters are not ideal scientists, they are supposed to be “the geeks of the geeks” and that’s part of the fun – at one point Penny says that in they’re world, they’re the cool ones, which is the whole point: they are such an exaggeration of the nerd-geek stereotype that they are an ideal for scientists in their sitcom world.

    This is the real world, and I can understand how they are not your ideal scientists. However, over multiple episodes the show does a good job of disproving stereotypes and adding dimension to the characters. I think it’s unfair to a show that shows both experiments and the scientific thought process to say it is bad for science. In fact, it’s simply wrong.

  12. Rick Sutten

    Dr. Larry Fleinhart from Numb3rs (which actually gets comparable ratings to BBT) is a physicist. There are quite a few characters who are scientists on that show, though not all physicists.
    Dr. Jacob Hood, another favorite of yours, is a biophysicist.
    Walter Bishop from Fringe…well, the less said about him the better, but he is a scientist.

    I read an AP article this morning about the editor of Security Magazine expressing dismay that “Paul Blart, Mall Cop reinforces a stereotype the security industry has been working on dispelling for years.” I find it interesting that this post was released the same day as that one. Another semi-popular comedy being taken way too seriously.

  13. Ivan

    Ah come on. There have been comedies about gays, black people, comedy writers, families (jewish, catholic, WASP, mixed), friends, lawyers, divorced people, married people, etc. etc. It is a COMEDY.
    Do you think a boring world without comedy will make some contribution to solve the problems of people divorcing, erratic children or lack of science students? Please. This doesn’t deserve a response.

  14. Ben

    The show sucks because it doesn’t do nerds justice. I have never met someone in the sciences who would be like the people in this show, even in a caricature.

  15. klaus

    Bah! Ages of lurking and now I delurk to be argumentative…

    Anyhoo, what sitcomic and Ivan said. These guys are clearly meant to be the ubergeeks, so it’s fine if they’re a bit (or even a lot) exaggerated. If viewers don’t get that…well, that’s just not very smart of them. Are people really dumb enough that they uncritically take sitcoms as representative of real life?

    As for not wanting to be like some of the characters – I for one would kill to be as smart and socially inept and free as Sheldon. And I’m sure a lot of kids would love to do the kinds of things they do, and be brilliant, and understand that a career doesn’t determine your personality. If anything, kids who are smart but aren’t particular popular may think they could be amongst the coolest of the cool in science, and thus be more likely to head that way.

    And the sheer amount of interesting scientific concepts thrown out over the course of a show – usually during Sheldon’s little rants – is awesome. Not only are they based on sound stuff, they’re not even exaggerated like they are in, say, CSI, or Fringe, or pretty much any science-involving fiction show out there. Getting science out there is good, ain’t it?

    So yeah, I’d say BBT is good stuff. There’s certainly nothing else like it on South African television, and I’d say it does more good than harm. And if not, come on – it’s just entertainment…

  16. Bob Thayne

    “Has SEINFELD hurt nothing?” Okay, that was hilarious! Thanks, sitcomic.

    But seriously, whether Sam Lowry is blowing things out of portion or not isn’t the point. The point is: he has a point. For all comedy and all sitcoms that stereotype people and make fun of people, there will always be people who stand up and say that there is some harm being done, and they’re right. Their point is legit.

    Do we like our comedy and our sitcoms? Yes! Obviously we do. Can we defend sitcoms? Yes. Can we ignore Sam’s statements? Yes. Can we throw out his point because he offended our interests. Yes. But his point is still legit.

    Tons and tons of sitcoms tear people down. Tons and tons of people are totally okay with that. Tons and tons of people watch them and love them. Does that validate them? No. Period. You can say whatever you want, but it doesn’t validate them.

    Can you have comedy that doesn’t tear people down? Yes. Many of the best comedians and comedic actors in the business regulary do comedy that doesn’t come at someone else’s expense.

  17. Ben, argument from ignorance gets you nowhere. I am a scientist, and could give you a legion of examples of real people who are just like all four of the male leads on BBT. I see them everywhere.

  18. I think using the same framework I could make a case for the show being antisemitic based on its treatment of Jewish identity. That doesn’t make it true.

    I, too, get a kick out of the show even though some aspects of it are a little lazy (the speech-impaired reoccurring character comes to mind). While certainly not all physicists fit the stereotype(s) (and my friendships would be demonstrative of this), that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of truth in them as well. The “science is cool” campaigns are worthwhile and I’m happy to support them, but sometimes we can let a sitcom be a sitcom.

  19. Mrcakes

    I totally disagree, I love the show for its geeky injokes of sci-fi and comic books, and having no background or prior interest in physics at all,

    I now find myself drawn to science books at the bookstore, wanting to
    understand string theory, space travel, and others they have mentioned.

    Now i want to broaden my horizons and gain knowledge – I think BBT opened my eyes a bit!

  20. Okay, I’m going to go right ahead and overanalyze the hell out of this :)

    It’s true that, although many in science are not like the four male leads, there are those who are. And I’m a big geek myself — I recognize something of myself in those guys. But that’s kind of the point. I think we should have more people in science who are *not* like us: we may be happy being geeks and enjoy laughing with the antics of other geeks, but there are many others who would not be, and are not, happy to be geeks, yet whose brains and passion I’d like to see brought into the scientific fold. I don’t think they are weak-minded if they look at a bunch of guys geeking out and decide that a life of nerdom is unappealing.

    The fact that those of us familiar with scientists may readily recognize the characters is the problem — they’re us and we’re them. It’s a symptom of clubbiness. Observers of the scientific and engineering communities (and some members of those communities) have frequently described situations where scientists and engineers unconsciously establish exclusive cultural clubs that have the negative effect of reducing the intellectual pool available to the field (e.g., the obstacles that women face because of how careers in science are structured are well documented). Intellectual diversity goes hand in hand with cultural diversity (even the simple cultural diversity of male and female, or geek and non-geek), and as long as the different camps remain grounded in genuine scientific precepts, intellectual diversity equals better science and engineering.

    When this clubiness is pointed out to a group the response is often either denial or “Of course we’re exclusionary — what we’re doing requires elite expert thought! Doing it any other way would be the equivalent of socially promoting unqualified individuals. Stop trying to lay your post-modern deconstructionist trip on me!” Yet, on closer examination or over time, the link between many of the specific cultural aspects in question and the content of the field tends to evaporate. The kind of elite expert thought truly required to grok and progress the field is weakly coupled, if not completely orthogonal, to the culture that can seem so axiomatic to those in it[1]. Even when you consciously embrace a desire for intellectual diversity and all that that entails, it can be really hard to dig out your own subconscious bias[2]. Look through the bios of previous generations of scientists and see how many of them had (now obviously) non-scientific ideas that they were convinced came from the same intellectual well as their genuinely scientific ideas. (More recently, good commentaries that talk about how a field can convince itself that a particular manner of doing business is as natural as breathing, or somehow automatically flows from the needs and implications of the scientific method despite the existence of valid alternatives, are Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics and David Mindell’s Digital Apollo.)

    To summarize: I think the problem with BBT is not that it’s creating totally inaccurate stereotypes: it’s that it’s helping to perpetuate a clubby cultural bias within science and engineering. In effect, BBT is saying “You have to be this geeky to go on this ride,” but it doesn’t have to be so: neither the scientific method or the universe care how geeky scientists and engineers are.

    [1] This is precisely why from time to time, outsiders have been able to come into a field and make dramatic breakthroughs.

    [2] I think all professions may be subject to this to clubbiness problem: certainly journalism is no exception. People tend to hire or promote people like themselves, and if there’s a veneer of a rational explanation to justify those decisions, people will internalize that rationale, even if its really just a cultural construct.

  21. I’m a woman in science, and I dislike this show because I don’t find it funny. But it also really reinforces stereotypes that scientists are dorky white guys. (Yes, I know there’s the South Asian guy, but his whole character revolves around “Hehehehe! His accent is funny!”) Whenever I do outreach in a high school, the students are floored to see a non-dorky (ok, a little dorky) young female scientist – I can only imagine how shocked they’d be if I wasn’t white. The Big Bang Theory hurts science by reinforcing students’ convictions that people who look like them are never scientists.

  22. Andrew

    Apparently you guys are watching a different show because 3 of the geeks besides Sheldon have gotten laid multiple times. That is pretty damn good considering their extreme personalities. And maybe you have not seen all the episodes because Season 2 Episode 11 had a non-geeky scientist Dr. Underhill. I’m a computer scientist and have met and worked with many, many scientists like this. I have no idea why people would take offense to characters that represent a certain portion of the scientific community. Fine, you are not like this, that is great, these people still exist and the show is hilarious. So take it easy and get over it. I have a feeling too many people here don’t think collecting star wars memorabilia, worshipping sci-fi (oh please don’t debate this word) shows like Star Trek and having “Halo Nights” is funny but I do and so do many others, mainly because we out grew these things at age 13 (oh yes I know many “geeks” in their 30-40s who do these things). Maybe you can’t handle the truth?

    So stop whining and relax.

  23. @ Andrew

    But you see, it’s because *I am like* the white, male, geeks[1] on the show that I have a concern. I would like to see more diversity among scientists and engineers, on humanist grounds and because it makes for better science and engineering. I think that’s harder to achieve if people “just like me” are overwhelmingly depicted as being the holotype for scientists and engineers.

    [1] For example, a quick glance around my office from where I am sitting reveals, among other things, a talking Dalek figure (“EXTERMINATE!”, “DESTROY THE DOCTOR!”, “YOU ARE AN ENEMY OF THE DALEKS!”, “DALEKS RULE SUPREME!”), a collection of half-a-dozen rubber Tux penguins nestled on top of a 1970′s-era hatbox disk pack container, a poster from the H2K2 hacker conference, most of my collection of kitbuilt scale-models of rockets and spacecraft, a 20-plus-strong fleet of Stars Wars micromachines (if anyone is willing to part with an Episode IV-model Death Star for a reasonable price, let’s talk), and a set of Dr. Who Top Trump cards. I have seen the geek, and it is me.

  24. Pat Montana

    What I am most disturbed by is the number of posts critical of the show by “educated” people who seem to buy into the media driven perception of what is “normal”. All of the characters on the show lead generally happy and productive lives. While they may not “succeed” in the social aspect of their lives as they would hope…who does? EVERYONE struggles with friendships, romance, and love. I was raised to believe that I am the only one who determined my happiness.

    Would those critics above be pleased if the show was essentially “Higher Education 90210″? If the characters interspersed their science with bouts of wining, dining, and womanizing (or “boy-toying” in the case of Leslie Winkle) would that make them “OK”? Would a few jealousy driven love triangles be better, and would they have to be equilateral, right, or isosceles?

    As for the idea that the show may discourage kids from pursuing science…HOGWASH! While I am not a scientist I carried a curriculum heavy in science classes because the things I learned in my elementary and junior high science classes were COOL! I wanted to learn more about them. The idea that something I had just learned about in my 8th grade science class was referenced on a popular TV show would have encouraged me (i.e. “Hey….other people think that’s cool too!”) I would not have thought twice about the “perception” of the characters.

  25. ScienceGeekette

    People, it’s a t.v. show. Period. It’s meant for mindless entertainment.

  26. Peter Martel

    Well I must say that this new TV show has raised a lot of questions about what science and physics are all about.

    If anyone wants to find out what’s involved in becoming a physicist, might I suggest: http://www.strategicbookpublishing.com/MemoirsOfAHayseedPhysicist.html

    A synopsis of what it’s like will come into view.

    As far as I know physicists are just human beings, much like the rest of us.

  27. zekat

    I love this show and its characters. If you watch closely, most of the characters have active sex lives (aside from Sheldon) and the show is very careful to keep mentioning it. I love the show because it doesn’t shy away from geek-culture, and it reminds me of the kinds of people I grew up with (and still know and love). I find myself thinking, yes, there are people like me on TV! I also know that one of the co-creators, Bill Prady has definite geek cred, and the characters are based on people he knew.

    Another positive is that it gradually shows how Penny, the “everywoman” character has grown to befriend and love the geeks for who they are. It makes them more accessible, less “freaky” and definitely more lovable. The tagline of the show before the pilot was “Smart is the New Sexy” which tells you a lot right there.

    Take a breather and chill out, man!

  28. Bella

    I love this show.
    And my friends and I are really just as bad, geek-wise. WE had a rousing debate just this weekend on the logic of disney magic. True, it’s no star wars, but still.
    It’s not bad for science. So what if the stereotypical geek is a bit of a loser who can’t get girls. Stereotypical blonde beauties are bubbly and moronic. Goths and emo’s are supposed to be dark evil freaks who hate the world. Neither situation is an accurate view but people don’t complain when tv portays them that way.
    Besides, aren’t kids alot more likely to be okay with geeks if they look like they’re funny happy people? Like Bill Nye? Everything I learned about science until i started school, and alot of it afterwards, came from Bill Nye and Magic School Bus.

  29. Fivish

    TBBT is very funny and extremely true to life! I have worked with these people! If you dont relate to the ‘scientists’ or the ‘blonde’ then you may well be on the wrong web site!

  30. maestro

    have you ever BEEN to Caltech?

  31. Pilot

    American science is bad because of a humorous sitcom? Wow, you really must have nothing better to do with your time. I for one love the show. Maybe it is because I can relate in different ways to some of the characters and I have a passion for science. But guess what? There is a solution. If you don’t like it – TURN IT OFF and stop dribbling nonsense and labeling it reasonable concern for your country’s future. There are many shows on TV that portray less than realistic views of the world. Isn’t that why we watch TV to start with?

  32. Brian

    If the BIG BANG theory was correct……then every thing in the Universe would have had to disintegrate
    At the same time, which immediately suggests that every thing we see and measure is of the same age.
    Therefore, the beginnings if the Universe is here….every where.

    Why worry about the rest, find out more about what is around us.

  33. Alex

    As a viewer, an engineering student and a writer, I’d much rather allow over-the-top portrayals of stereotypes than have the artistic direction of the show compromised for the sake of realism. Are all scientists awkward social losers? No. Are there certain groups of highly neurotic people in the sciences that tend to associate with one another? Sure. More so than in most other demographics, even. However, I think pretty much everyone realizes that this is not the norm.

    Honestly, if someone is stupid enough to believe, based on a sitcom, that taking a science-based education path will somehow turn them into one of the show’s characters, they probably wouldn’t make a very good scientist anyway. There’s so much cause/effect confusion happening there that I don’t know where to start.

  34. Preston

    Using “research has posited” to support a conclusion makes it very clear that you are no scientist, MISTER science blogger.

  35. Jason Failes

    Damn, I thought from the post’s title that this was about the actual theory.

    Can someone explain why the universe being roughly the same in all directions and a scant 3 degrees above absolute zero, indicates in any way that it originated from a hot singularity?

    I know, I know, the most current mathematical models predict the most recent WMAP readings, so how could I doubt?

    My objection is that the current predictions of the Big Bang Theory do not flow naturally from the theory’s basic concepts, but over the years have been fine tuned to the empirical results through the addition of several fudge factors, such as inflation, dark matter, and dark energy.

    The Big Bang Theory started its life incorrectly predicting the temperature of the universe (5K and up; it was supposed to be a very hot primeval atom), dodged the horizon problem, the magnetic monopole problem, and the flatness problem by inserting inflation, and lazily tacked on dark energy after completely failing to predict the accelerating universe revealed by the study of Type Ia supernovae.

    It is easy enough to explain the fundamentals of evolutionary theory to anyone not already dead-set against it by religious indoctrination. The details are endless and much of what we now know, including endosymbiosis and lateral gene transfer, were not predicted by the original theory, but have added to it and are naturally compatible with it. Common decent may have given away to the last common ancestor at the microbial level, but no one serious can seriously doubt, on evidential grounds, that evolution occurred and is responsible for producing all modern life on Earth.

    Not so with The Big Bang Theory. No one seems willing to provide a simple, convincing, layman’s explanation of why we are so scientific-consensus-sure that the Universe started with a bang.

    If one exists, I would certainly like to hear it.

  36. Lucy

    I like this show.
    I like science.
    I’m also in highschool, where educational choices are being made and one is also most suspectible to stereotypes and TV shows.
    I know many people who don’t love science yet watch this show. They know that we’re not all nerds and pursuing science as a career does not automatically make you a socially akward nerd who loves comic books (in fact, I know many people who like comic books and are rather popular).

    It’s also just a show. People who really want to pursue science as a career aren’t going to be discouraged by a sitcom, thinking they’ll be nerds.

    It’s a funny show and although everyone may not like it, it’s not “Bad for Science”.

  37. Shalom

    I read your comments with interest. Please view my video “CHAIM PADDAMAN SUPPORTS THE BIG BANG THEORY PART 2 “CHAIM DOESNT PAY. It is a jewish tongue in cheek response to the big bang theory on cbs. It sends out a strong message if you are able to read between the lines. IT is available on YOU TUBE

    regards
    chaim paddaman

  38. As a brazilian non-white physicist, perhaps I can contribute with a different viewpoint. Here in Brazil the youth culture at highschool is not dominated by anglo-saxon (or should we say, american?) concepts like “to be popular” or “to be a looser”.

    TBBT here is a popular sitcon that is doing marvelous work:

    For geeks: a) to assure to geeks that they can have productive lives like the TBBT characters; b) That “normal people” or even “blondes” like Penny are not desprezible low-QI people, but can be lovely friends with high social-QI and that geeks can learn a lot with them.

    For non-geeks: a) that geeks can be human, interesting and lovely; b) that Aspies like Sheldon can be human, interesting and lovely;

    My two teenage daugthers (16 and 14) love the sitcom, specially Sheldon, and both will pursue scientific careers (biology and astrophysics, perhaps?). No, the are not geeks, only intelligent teenagers girls. OK, this is only anedotical evidence. But the original post ans several comments here are anedotical also.

    Smart is the new sexy! Live long and prosper!

  39. Pro View

    It’s fiction. It’s funny. The nerds are to the extreme, but so is the ditzy waitress, Penny.

    Last week, I hosted an outreach program, and a 15 year old girl asked, “Can we melt action figures with a lazer like they did in The Big Bang Theory?” How is getting young students interested in science a bad thing?

  40. S-A-T-I-R-E

    surely scientists understand that word?

    Scientists appear bad for science, hating on the common man for having their fun, further alienating themselves.

  41. Manoj

    Well I really hate how they show scientists at CALTECH to be guys who barely earn enough to run their daily lives .

    I mean cummon . Scientists in America make shit load of money . That is why all the brains rush to US of A and one of the main reasons why US of A is one of the most successful nations on earth

  42. JR

    I am studying physics at a top university and i can tell you that the reason i find the big bang theory so funny is that its TRUE!
    90% or more of science majors ARE social rejects (no disrespect to them of course)

    So either embrace it or go try out for the football team dude

  43. Fer

    C’mon… So the Simpsons makes you think that all north-american people are so stupid!!!!!!!! I’m a physicist, I teach physics and I can tell you: to really understand this universe you MUST be weird. I won’t explain why, but believe me, it is true. Most scientist will understand this (and, of course, also most BBT’s jokes!)

  44. Well, this is just NOT right. I’m an Arts student and I’ve come to love philosophy of science and science related materials mainly because of this show. I never even looked at the Science shelves in bookstores and went straight to Literature and Poetry shelves, but now, thanks to The Big Bang Theory sitcom, I sit down in front of the Science shelves for hours reading the books, and not just popular science stuff for beginners or dummies, but more in-depth readings of physics’ theories and scientific approaches to history and philosophy like that book by Thomas Kuhn.

  45. I agree with Fer.
    These days people don’t consider being weird a bad thing, but rather think of it as a foundation of success. If you’re NORMAL, you’ll never become crucial to the existence of the field you work in and nobody will stare at you in amazement!

  46. Malibu

    Dude, were you even alive in the 1990s? NOBODY liked Urkel . . .

  47. Michele

    Between “Big Bang Theory” and “MythBusters”, my daughters WANT to be scientists.

  48. RuleNo2

    I watched the first season on this show, and didn’t laugh much. I just didn’t find it very funny or clever, and I couldn’t stand the characters. They came across to me, frankly, as really bad people. It wasn’t the quirkiness of the nerds or the ditzyness of Penny that turned me off, it was their offensive take on nerd culture, and treatment of women. Most scary was the complete lack of meaningful or deep relationships amongst the characters. It felt like each of them was simply a horny Charlie Sheen clone with a few quirks thrown in – not surprising due to both shows sharing much of the same creators.

    I know this is comedy, and so it gets a comedic licence to skew reality, and that’s totally fine. Comedies are allowed to make stereotypes, that’s what they do best. But they need to be honest about it. And here, I don’t think they are. True, the nerdiness stereotypes are pushed to the limits, with each character practically the poster child of a different psychosis, but it’s the anti-feminism and coldness of the characters that is much more subtle, and scary. The characters are portrayed as lovable misfits – protagonists. The show attempts a lens of “Well, despite their strangeness, they’re really normal, loveable people deep down!”, but uses those loveable misfits to deliver some very crude, sometimes cruel and offensive jokes, all under the guise that these are nice, innocent, highly intelligent people.

    Comedy of the past has been much more careful about this dividing line between positive and negative role models. South Park has some of the most offensive jokes of any show, but even they are careful to deliver them through the mouths of their “bad” characters like Cartman. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is even worse, but the characters in it are so obviously horrible people that it’s okay. How I Met Your Mother has its own brand of offensiveness (though to a much lesser extent), but it at least makes up for it with characters who show depth and real relationships (and even characters like Barney are given backstories to explain their bad behavior). All of these shows draw clear dividing lines of what is okay and what is not. Big Bang Theory doesn’t.

    Just reading the comments on this page will tell you there is some danger here.
    “I am studying physics at a top university and i can tell you that the reason i find the big bang theory so funny is that its TRUE!
    90% or more of science majors ARE social rejects (no disrespect to them of course)”
    “I am a scientist, and could give you a legion of examples of real people who are just like all four of the male leads on BBT. I see them everywhere”

    Whether there are people *just* like the male leads in BBT is another discussion. I agree there are undoubtedly many people who do have some subset of the quirks portrayed in this show. At the very least, I’d say most people have one small strangeness or another. What’s wrong here is then seeing that quirk, and attributing the rest of this supposed nerd culture to the person – a culture that instead of just including a love of science and the mysteries of the universe, brings along its supposed baggage of often sexist, racist, offensive characters dreamt-up by the makers of Two and Half Men.

    This show is a hindrance for science, and society, if anyone ever gets lazy enough to think that these people are at all real, or normal or – dare I say – good. And with its position as one of the top shows for “mindless entertainment”, that is a legitimate concern. Will complaining about it make a difference? Not at all. Can people simply “not watch” – sure. But frankly, popularity begets popularity. And unless someone is conscious enough to avoid a show like this because of these concerns, it will influence them. We are all influenced by every piece of media we absorb – to believe you aren’t is sheer hubris. And watching the progression of comedies and TV shows from a couple decades ago to now, one can see the changes. Long gone are the more innocent days of Friends and Full House. We have changed. Shows have changed. And they will continue to do so. But as long as we are ignorant to how those changes happen, we will never be able to shape that change.

    So in conclusion, ask yourself next time you watch this show: are these real people? Are these good people? Why are they portrayed this way? Am I getting something out of this show? And am I okay with that? My answers: No. No. Its easy, stereotypical and it sells. Only a screwy view of the world – so no. And… no.

  49. phone

    if /a tv show/ discourages kids from persuing a career in science, then..
    well, then GOOD.

    think about it.

  50. Jake1833

    Ok. So, i was reading all he comments and i just want to make one point.

    I’m 23, and just recently got out of the Marine Corps. I am new in college and am planning on going in a direction involving physics, though i am still lost at the moment. When one sister recommended the show to me, and the other sister said Sheldon reminded her of me, i watched it. I love it. I can honestly say that it is an exaggeration, but thats the point.
    If the show portrayed these men as they are but toned down to be more normal, would it be funny? No, and even if I did relate to the characters as I do now, I wouldn’t have any interest in the show.
    The best part about all of this, and my entire point, is that I want to get into physics more than I ever did now. I know I am not half as hopeless as the characters on the show are, but I would be if that is what it took to be HALF as intelligent.
    I may not have a Nobel Prize in my future, but I love the show, and it encouraged me, not discouraged.
    The only valid point that you made was that it was time for Howard to move out of his mother’s house.
    I swear, if the show gets ruined because of whiny over-sensitive pansies writing things like this and complaining about the fairness of the show, I will find you…and I will spam mail you with an eternity of hate mail.

    -Jake

  51. Rosemary

    I really like the Big Bang Theory. I’ve always associated more with the “nerdy” characters. I love the jokes and quirkiness. I see bits of myself and my friends in a lot of the characters.

    The nerdiness aspect in characters never turned me away from science or “smart stuff.” I remember being inspired by characters like Egon from Ghostbusters, Velma from Scooby Doo, and Donatello from the TMNT as a kid.

    I think taking BBT seriously is sort of like basing family values on the Simpsons. I am a female. I do agree that some more positive female roles on the show would be cool (i.e. not just for dating and twirling hair.) The lack of positive female role models in mainstream society is a big issue, though, not limited to BBT. Certainly, BBT isn’t the worst of it. Have you seen Two and a Half Men? You might as well have the women running around naked with giant targets on their private areas.

  52. Engineering Student

    Come on Sam,

    I am currently an engineering student and all my friends some who have 4.o as seniors love this show. Because we find ourselves in the same situations when hanging out. We will argue about how something we have learned can be applied in a different way, or the interesting facts of the way different items interact with each other.

    Overall I think that this show is good for the American scientist, because it shows that others will like them and that it is okay to be able to just laugh about intelligent items, and not just talk about the latest celebrity screwup, which I believe is far worse for the American population in whole.

  53. This is really very informative blog and it helps me a lot. Thanks for making such a informative blog.

  54. Russ

    It is only one of the ways science is belittled. There is, and has been – for centuries, no, thousands of years.. a WAR against science, knowledge.. forward thinking really, by the cult industry. Recall Galileo. Prime example. Look at how America has.. slowly, stealthily.. sunken lower & lower. Once, we had the MOON..!! Now..? We have bedbugs. It is difficult to think of. I can distinctly remember the Apollo flights. The rockets being developed. All of it. And the repeated trips to and safe returns from the moon. We even brought our cars..!! Driving around on the moon..!! Think of it..! We were indeed, an interplanetary society. We KNEW we could continue. There was much more to do – and we could do so. No more. Not even close..!! 42 years ago at this time.. 3 men were orbiting the moon.. Apollo 8..

    Don’t forget, we also had a very good, large space station in orbit – Skylab. And there was a 2nd COMPLETE & SPACE-WORTHY Skylab, ready to launch. We certainly could have kept them BOTH in orbit.

    After JFK, RFK, & MLK were murdered.. the coast was clear. The dumbing-down & trashing of our space hardware began in earnest. And, our ‘education system’ was slowly gutted. Look at America now. If anyone can remember how we were back then.. it is like looking down into a hole.

    Around the world is evidence of how new & modern (for the era) engineering and written knowledge was destroyed.. DESTROYED..!!! Purposely. Over & over & over.. libraries.. the ‘wonders’ of the so-called ‘ancient world’.. right now I’m thinking of the 2,000+ year old Antikythera – tossed into the ocean. The hanging gardens of Babylon, the great library at Alexandria.. Oh, there is no end to the list.. come back to our time. Look at our Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). Some day, the ruins will be of interest..

    I see so-called ‘science books’ that don’t mention Skylab or Apollo. The extremely rich trove of scientific info, video & images… never seen by todays kids. The little they see is so (purposely) hazy.. what a sickening country. Vulgar. Cheap, base, and ever dumber..

  55. Chaim Paddaman

    The flagship Hollywood motion picture film studios have in the past produced many entertaining movies based on nerd and geek characters. I had no problem with that, in fact I support good comedy. However, my gripe with The Big Bang Theory (CBS) was “Paris Hilton” impersonator Kaley Cuoco’s attitude and behaviour at the 2009 Comic Con. The stunt she pulled “Flirting with the fan” This was an attempt to give reassurance to her hardcore male fan base that she had no interest in nerds or geeks. Kaley Cuoco cannot have her cake and eat it. It is obvious that she will feel more in her comfort zone working with the likes of Nick Carter or Russell Brand. I had been the shows biggest supporter up to that point. I was naive to have believed Bill Prady’s press statements that the premise of The Big Bang Theory (CBS) was to celebrate nerds and not to mock them. It became apparent to me that Prady’s statements were based on studio spin. It is common knowledge that when launching or promoting a brand, most public relation experts will advise you to be cautious not to contradict your brand, as you will leave yourself wide open to public scrutiny and ridicule. Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady the grand old dukes of spin. It will sooner or later become apparent to Chuck Lorre Productions, CBS, and Warner Bros that spin is only effective up to a certain point, depending on who your target audiences are. Sophisticated audiences can smell a rotten egg from a far distance.

    Chaim Paddaman

  56. Quint

    this show needs to be taken off the air, it is not funny. it is predictable. and makes people stupid.

    “smart” but trendy simple acoustic intro

    doing something nerdy or geeky

    girl introduced

    girl is “normal”

    socially awkward yet somewhat culturally submerged viewers feel smart for understanding some of the irrelevant scientific/internet or “science culture” references

    i bet you could write a plot for an episode ENTIRELY by reverse engineering a story from just a few of the thousands of shitty one liners.

  57. Steve

    The show is simply a bunch of dumb jokes primarily written for dumb/average people about smart people. “OMG lets make a Halo reference, dorks like Halo!!! Something something Large Hadron Collider! Oh no, I’m late for my LAN party!”

    Unfortunately, most scientists and engineers are philistines that don’t even realize how terrible the comedy is compared to gems like AD. Of course, what should we really expect from a Chuck Lorre show?

    You want real nerd comedy? Read XKCD. If the show has to explain the jokes for you, it isn’t funny. I’m not saying the show should be changed or taken off the air…just try to remember that IQ follows a bell curve, and major television networks market towards the general population.

    Final note: I think what really pisses me off about the show is that since I was a nerd in high school (yes, I played a lot of Halo), my parents assumed I would LOVE the show.

  58. Laura

    Yes, the characters are the ultimate stereo-types. But that is a big part of what makes TBBT so damn fun! I, a 16 years old female, find the exaggeration of their nerdy-ness hilarious, but of course I know that it is, at times, a very big exaggeration.

    - and watching the show has only made look forward to the day I get to study at the university and be among other nerds like myself (and let´s be honest, some people are almost exactly like our dear geeks in TBBT)

    Anyway, I love the show :D

  59. Aaron

    Totally agree on the Howard stance. The constant bashing of his character becomes monotonous and boring and seems somehow bad for engineering :) So yeah move him out and give him a PhD too, should be a piece of cake for a MIT grad :)

  60. Oli

    Like the show or do not like the show, that`s an opinion. And just as Sheldon`s mom urges that his so-called-facts of evolution are just his opinion to get rid of her son again, it is just an opinion to say, the show has a positive or negative impact. It`s just the matter of the way you look at it. I wouldn`t go so far to say that this show has any impact at all, but at least it inspired me. For example: because of a comment according to Sheldon`s character (I`m sorry but it was not your comment, Savants Shadow) on that show I came to Asperger Autism, that interested me a lot. During my time in civil service in Germany I came in touch with common Autists, but never heard of this special case before. And now I know about people who knew by heart about 12.000 books or of people who could do complex mathematical calculations without being actually thinking about it the way we ‘common’ people would do. So this little show has opened a whole new world to me – well, sort of – and I appreciate it. Proven or not, I don’t care. Think about a way to spread information like that, even if there are just tiny little bites of it, more effectively than with a relatively cheap-produced TV-Show. And think about the physics how a TV-show works: if it doesn`t score it will be buried alive. If it scores, any writer would do anything to please the audience to go on until it´s bored completely. And that means more money in the first place, more episodes and of course new ideas needed – and being a part of it, more exaggeration. Otherwise no show ever made would have been funny. Or would you go into a Footlocker´s and make fun of the guy you want to buy shoes from? Some wise man once said that only through true tragedy comedy can be established. Only to make reality more painful than reality itself, you can laugh about it. We have a popular TV-show in Germany called “Switch!” and one of the always-present characters in the show is an exaggerated Adolf Hitler. You probably would believe, after the Holocaust and these terrible things Germans did to the world during the 2. World War nobody would ever mention the name of this man anymore nor the name of the country. Not true. It took its time, but now even Jewish people can laugh about that character. Combined with the environment of the exaggerated bureaucratic system of Germany – which is in reality almost unbearable – and the also unbearable character of a self-implied narcissistic short-sighted jerk like that displayed Hitler with all his human failures is just hilarious. So, I hope I did point out, that without exaggeration almost no TV-shows would be possible. Just to point out a few examples: Prison Break, The Simpsons, How I met your Mother, Two and a half Men, South Park and a special example just to inspire people: Samurai Champloo- basically a 19th-century Japan combined with Hip-Hop-elements: not real at all but entertaining and informative as well – and funny. Who really believes that Charlie is a nice guy with all his failures? If I would know him in personal I would punch this guy in the face first, drown him in the ocean and then ask questions – and I´m a man! What about Barney from How I met your Mother – the same woman-abusing bastard. But we laugh about it, cause it´s not real! If it would be just half as true, it would be sad, depressing and probably half of human kind would carry long-distance guns with a large amount of ammunition and any single one would have a personal lawyer. Exaggerration! Savants Shadow says all worth knowing in comment number 10. Just to quote: “Why write a damning article over nothing significantly important and engaging to science or life in general, when you can enjoy the BBT in-jokes and smile at your own foibles?”
    I have nothing to add. By the way, I like the word “exaggerration”. Let´s make that our word of the day;-D

  61. I find the show funny. It is an exaggerated portayal of geeks and some of the stuff I can relate to but it is all tongue in cheek. My 16 year old son loves the show and has developed an interest in physics because of Big Bang Theory to the point where he dropped some courses to make room for some more advanced science classes this year. So as far as I am concerned, bring on season five!

  62. lookintomyeyes

    Was searching for reviews and think I’ll weigh in my two cents:

    I LOVE Big Bang Theory. As does my husband. I’m a WASP female transmission line design engineer, and my husband is an instrumentation engineering technologist.
    Why does the show appeal to us?
    Because it uses techno-babble, some of which we actually understand.
    Because we know people similar to those in the show, and yes, can see aspects of ourselves in the characters. Therefore, it’s funny. I’ve been hit on my clumsy males, but I’ve also explained how the boundary layer works to a friend as we huddle against the wall on a windy day. I am a geek. I dont like star wars (gasp!) but I do alot of costuming, I own my share of other action figures, and the show has DEFINITELY reminded me that I need to pick up the newest copy of Scientific American, and start reading up on quarks and leptons again.

    My twin sister, who has a degree in clothing and textiles, also loves the show. She is only slightly geeky (did you know they do tension tests on FABRIC?), but I know she’s probably remembering all the times my socially-awkward engineering friends hit on both of us (remember, we ARE twins)!

    And so, Big Bang Theory is AWESOME. It does exaggerate, but I think, within reasonable bounds. It also inspires people to google concepts that appear on the show.

    But yes, get Howard away from his mother!

  63. Chaim Paddaman

    Kaley Cuoco likes nerds as much as turkey’s like Xmas. She has always liked hard and ready men. “The whole nerd thing” is nothing but a mock. Declaring her love of nerds in Playboy magazine “says it all” Kaley Cuoco and showrunner Chuck Lorre are laughing all the way to the bank.

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