• Question: do you like the big bang theory??? Or does it pertray scientists badly???

    Asked by whjackandtoby to Anil, Blanka, Cees, Emma, Mike on 2 Jul 2012.
    • Photo: Blanka Sengerova

      Blanka Sengerova answered on 2 Jul 2012:

      You’ll probably be surprised to find I don’t have a TV, but I will make an effort to watch this on iPlayer at some point.

      But I hear that it is a bit bad in portraying all of the scientists as men and the object of their affection, the waitress, is a woman, which is not really a true representation of the scientific community. But as I say, I have to watch the series at some point.

    • Photo: Emma Trantham

      Emma Trantham answered on 2 Jul 2012:

      Blanka – it’s on E4 I think so maybe 4OD?

      whjackandtoby – I’ve seen a few episodes. I think they play up how geeky the scientists are on there (although I have met a few scientists who are that geeky).

      I think the thing to remember is that not all scientists are male physics nerds! In fact most of us aren’t! (Even though it is funny to watch them!)

      I did see one episode where Sheldon was working in a biology lab with a female scientist (was that his girlfriend?) and thought it was very funny. It did show quite well some of the differences between theoretical physics and applied biology. I think it covers the science pretty well too.

      I will have to go and watch some more to give you a more detailed answer.

    • Photo: Michael Cook

      Michael Cook answered on 2 Jul 2012:

      Hey! This might be a bit of a long answer, but bear with me – this is one of my favourite questions so far!

      The Big Bang Theory is mostly about stereotypes. These stereotypes are pretty funny (I really enjoy watching the show, and the writers do their best to put in some quite science-y jokes) but they’re not very helpful at all.

      The show isn’t just about science stereotypes, of course – Penny is the stereotypical blonde waitress who dreams of being an actress, and the show often paints her as stupid and poorly educated. This obviously isn’t true of all actress hopefuls, just like not all scientists are geeks. But there’s a bigger problem with stereotyping scientists – unlike waitresses and actors, scientists often rely on the public to trust them.

      For example, Blanka is trying very hard to find drugs that will be effective at curing cancer. During her work she will talk about experiments she has tried, she might run trials on more successful ideas, and her work might eventually lead to medicines being available that can save lives. If Blanka needs to tell you something about her work, it’s important that you trust her, that you believe that she understands you, and that you believe she knows what she is talking about.

      Similarly, Emma is investigating bacteria affecting chickens that do real harm to human beings. Emma’s already had questions about testing on animals (which she answered superbly!), and her work might lead to new government policies on food production, or new treatments for animals. If Emma tells you that the food you eat is safe, or that you have to do certain things to stay healthy, you have to believe that she’s telling the truth, and that she’s done the right experiments to find this out.

      The Big Bang Theory can sometimes make you believe that scientists aren’t like normal people. They don’t understand what it’s like to have fun, to live a normal life, to have friends and enjoy going out and be a part of society. If we start to believe that, then when scientists start telling us important things, we might ignore them or mistrust them. And instead, we might start listening to people who don’t know quite as much – biased journalists, advertisements, or politicians with an agenda.

      This has happened in the past, and it happens today. One of the reasons I’m A Scientist exists is so that you can talk to us, and see what kind of people we are! All of us are a bit weird in some sense, but we’re all real people, working hard to find things out that might make everyone’s lives better.

      I love The Big Bang Theory, but your question is excellent – and I don’t think the show is always helpful in representing scientists.