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