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Is the show “The Big Bang theory” good or bad for the public’s perception of astronomers?

November 10 2013 , Written by Wing-Fai Thi

Socially, scientists are like the general population. A few may lack general social skills, other may be particularly outgoing but most of them are just plain “normal”. Sitcoms are designed to exaggerate contrasting personalities to create easy comic situations. The scriptwriters of “The Big Bang Theory” have chosen to oppose brilliant but socially incapable males to a down-to-earth good-looking girl. One can ask how the public sees the scientists after the success of the show.

Strangely enough, the outcome may be pretty positive. When I say at parties that I am an astronomer, I get the interest of the women (well I am a male astrophysicist). The bi-polar behaviour of Raj, the astrophysicist in the show, towards the women seems to fascinate.

Also people do not take everything in the show as face value and I have been often asked if certain aspects are not over the top. The show may be quite extreme in his depiction of scientist personalities but it has offered us a subject of conversation with the rest of the population. I do not “hide” anymore at parties that I am an astrophysicist.

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I had no clue about the Big Bang theory show until I bought a pair of square glasses, and some friends suddenly mentioned a certain physical resemblance with one of the show members. After a few years hearing about the existence of the show I saw a few episodes in a transatlantic flight. From my point of view the characters are bit unrealistic and in some sense extreme. I know many scientists and I have never met anyone like in the show. I guess they are constructed to be fun, like a comic strip. I do not find the show particularly funny, but I never have found north american series particularly funny neither, even Alf. From my perspective, the good point of the show is that it makes people aware that it exists scientists, and put the word astrophysics, or physics, or science in the mouth of the general public. This way is way more efficient that any adversing campaign. My criticism about the show is that it is extremely conservative when it comes to picture gender roles. The female and men characters are too stereotypical.
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