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Television Science

Ask David Saltzberg About Being The Big Bang Theory's Science Advisor 226 226

For seven seasons Dr. David Saltzberg has made sure the science on the CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory is correct. As science consultant for the show he reviews scripts for technical errors, fixing any problems he finds. He also adds complex formulae to whiteboards on set. Before his life as a science advisor, Saltzberg received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago, performed post-graduate work at CERN, and currently is a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at UCLA. He writes The Big Blog Theory, where he explains the science behind each episode of the show. Dr. Saltzberg has agreed to answer any questions you have about the show or his previous scientific work. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
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Ask David Saltzberg About Being The Big Bang Theory's Science Advisor

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:16PM (#47826765)
    Were you ridiculed at all in your youth for being interested in science? Do you feel the show promotes acceptance towards those of us who enjoy the various sciences? Or does it perpetuate the stereotype that if someone is interested in science then they must be socially inept and interactively dysfunctional?

    If your answer is the former option, I personally fail to see it in the show.
  • Advancing science (Score:4, Interesting)

    by korbulon (2792438) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:18PM (#47826825)
    By exposing a mass audience to scientific principles and archetypes, do you think a show like Big Bang Theory somehow advances the cause of science, or is it basically irrelevant?
  • Are you a "geek"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by krygny (473134) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:22PM (#47826903)

    ... meaning, do you also provide input on some of the pop-culture in the show (e.g., Star Trek, Star Wars, comic books, Dr Who, etc.)?

  • Geeks AND Nerds (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:31PM (#47827063)

    Why are characters that are supposedly very intelligent so obsessed with fiction, specifically superheroes?

  • Beyond the Big Bang (Score:2, Interesting)

    by business_kid (973043) <> on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:34PM (#47827089)
    At the moment before the Big Bang, science doesn't claim to know what was happening. There was no observable universe, except possibly for a massive singularity, which gravity would lock together with unimaginable force. Do you feel the subsequent events were caused by something, or Someone? If so, what or who?
  • by Higaran (835598) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:34PM (#47827095)
    Was there anything that you tried to put in the show they they told you wouldn't be put in because it was to complex, or for some other reason. I know there is a lot of stuff that made it in, but what didn't get in there that you tried for?
  • by the gnat (153162) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:48PM (#47827349)

    Does it ever bother you that you're contributing to a show that derives most of its jokes from the stereotype of scientists (especially male scientists) as pathologically awkward, abrasive, and antisocial? Do you ever worry that this risks marginalizing the profession and perpetuating the already-poor representation of women in science? How do you think a teenage girl will react to a sitcom where the one "normal" woman is a waitress, and the female scientists are mousy, nerdy, nearsighted, almost as awkward as their male companions, and, worst of all, dating complete dorks?

    (From the perspective of the nerdy teenage guy, of course, the message is "you can be an abrasive, antisocial geek and still score a relatively attractive nerdy girl, or if you're slightly less antisocial, a total babe." So at least it's not scaring away future male scientists.)

  • Re:Comedy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dugancent (2616577) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:50PM (#47827391)

    I've seen the show in person. They have a mix of regular and professional audience members.

  • by chubs (2470996) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @12:52PM (#47827413)
    A lot of the comments/questions I've read so far are from geeks who seem to feel that BBT perpetuates stereotypes about geeks and does more harm than good to the geek community. Outside of slashdot, do you typically get this kind of response (where non-geeks think it's funny and geeks think it's somehow offensive)? For the record, I consider myself to be a geek and I really enjoy BBT, though, as mentioned elsewhere, the humor is not nearly as intelligent as the show's characters are supposed to be. That's fine, though. Every once in a while it's fun to pick up a show where every average intelligence (and most sub-par intelligence) Americans will get every joke.
  • by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @01:08PM (#47827579) Homepage

    I actually can't relate to the characters at all. I'm all for self-deprecating humor (unless it's fishing for compliments under the guise of humor), but the show isn't about nerds laughing at themselves; it's about non-nerds laughing at nerds, and nerds not "getting" what's so funny.

    A show like Futurama or even Silicon Valley is more for nerds, and doesn't apologize for making jokes that most people won't actually get. They laugh at themselves as well. Although Silicon Valley is only moderately funny, IMO, it's still better done.

  • by MiniMike (234881) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @01:37PM (#47827917)

    The show touches on a somewhat wide range of technology and culture. There must be science related questions that are outside your area of expertise. Who do you contact for advice when you need it?

  • by globaljustin (574257) <> on Thursday September 04, 2014 @02:05PM (#47828323) Homepage Journal

    Mr. Saltzberg, thanks for taking questions! It's much appreciated.

    My question: Do the writers (or actors) ever ask you about your daily life or your experiences as a scientist? What non-scientific/factual input have they asked from you?

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @02:08PM (#47828353)

    What was the hardest bit of scientific inaccuracy to fight, because the writers deemed it necessary to keep it "wrong"?

  • No, it's real. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kludge (13653) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @02:10PM (#47828379)

    It doesn't teach to laugh at geeks and nerds. It laughs at the stereotypes tied to geeks and nerds.

    No, those are not stereotypes. They are characters probably based on real people. I watch the show and it completely reminds me of my college and grad school years and the people whom I knew then, including the Texan. It literally gives me flashbacks.

  • by Dadoo (899435) on Thursday September 04, 2014 @03:01PM (#47828963) Journal

    You're a perv.

    One of the things I find makes the show slightly less believable is that Sheldon seems to be completely asexual. In reality, as far as I can tell, most people as smart as Sheldon are obsessed with sex. (Feynman and Hawking, for example.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @03:30PM (#47829209)

    Do any of the actors have an interest in learning about physics? Or do they just read their lines and that's it?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 04, 2014 @03:31PM (#47829213)

    Do the writers "dumb down" your scientific advice in order to make the material more accessible to a general viewing audience?

Many people write memos to tell you they have nothing to say.