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What It's Like To Be the Scientific Consultant For The Big Bang Theory 253

Posted by samzenpus
from the it's-a-tough-gig dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes "Science sits down with David Saltzberg, who's been The Big Bang Theory's one and only science consultant since it premiered. Saltzberg is an astrophysicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He chats about how the portrayal of science on the show has changed over the years, whether it turns kids away from science, and how you can get your own job as a scientific consultant in Hollywood."
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What It's Like To Be the Scientific Consultant For The Big Bang Theory

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  • Not for Nerds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ksevio (865461) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:05PM (#46886127) Homepage
    I've watched the occasional episode and it seems more targeted at "fake nerds" - the type who like "I fucking love science" on facebook. The viewer isn't made to relate with the geeky characters, they're made to laugh at.

    Being said, the science usually has merit, even if it's something that geeks would never say either because it is just too obvious/cliche or doesn't make sense to say.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:12PM (#46886159)

    It's the nerd equivalent of black-face.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:20PM (#46886187)

    Big Bang Theory is like blackface comedy. It's not for nerds, but for people who want to laugh at nerds.

  • by lister king of smeg (2481612) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:33PM (#46886235)

    Big Bang Theory is like blackface comedy. It's not for nerds, but for people who want to laugh at nerds.

    yes because it is never a good thing to laugh at ones self

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:37PM (#46886247)

    Unless you get lucky, the only thing it's actually good for is wiping your ass.

    That's probably very true in *today's* climate of anti-science and "science isn't valuable unless it's making profit for someone".
    But I know plenty of astrophysics and radio astronomy types of an earlier generation who have done quite well for themselves in their careers, working their entire
        lives in observational astrophysics, getting paid decent salaries, and generally enjoying their contribution to their little corner of the world.

    But yeah, with the whole anti-science attitude in many parts of the developed world, none of the "pure research" type fields will see you being successful
        financially. Very sad.

  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:44PM (#46886273)

    I've watched the occasional episode and it seems more targeted at "fake nerds" - the type who like "I fucking love science" on facebook. The viewer isn't made to relate with the geeky characters, they're made to laugh at.

    Being said, the science usually has merit, even if it's something that geeks would never say either because it is just too obvious/cliche or doesn't make sense to say.

    I dunno, I was a "real nerd" in high school and college - never played D&D or got into comic books, but spent way too much time in a computer lab (high school job gave me unlimited access to a VAX - and uunet!), and think the show is funny. Maybe because I see a lot of myself and my friends in the characters. Though we never hooked up with any women nearly as hot as Penny, Bernadette, or even Amy Farah Fowler.

  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zynder (2773551) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @09:54PM (#46886295)
    Haters gonna hate...that said, please tell me one sitcom (short for situational comedy) that wasn't designed for you to laugh at the cast? BBT is a sitcom, therefore you are supposed to laugh at it as a whole, nonstop until the credits roll. It accomplishes this in spades (at least for me). I am a nerd. I love this show. It is one of 2 televised shows that can manage to pry me away from WoW for 30 minutes. Like many slashdotters, I cut the TV cord years ago because every damned thing is a stupid ass reality show. Do we really need another Fake Housewives of East Bumblefuck? I'm gonna show my nerdly air of superiority here but honestly those kind of shows are for knuckle draggers. You are supposed to be zoned the fuck out sitting on your commode couch, stuffing your face with Flaturin & Brawndo, while watching Ow My Balls! I don't play that shit. These guys are my people. They are of interest to me and I support them. Doubly so when my alternative to Big Bang is a 20 hour marathon of Pawn Stars or Moonshiners. Normally I use the ultimate option- I just turn the TV the hell off and run back to Azeroth to be with my people.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ksevio (865461) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:02PM (#46886327) Homepage
    There's a big difference between laughing at something because "haha I can relate to that" and "haha look at that nerd act dumb around people"
  • Dear Television, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cookYourDog (3030961) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:18PM (#46886399)
    I don't generally like to think when I am trying to have someone entertain to me. Give me some poorly placed references to nerd culture with a cast of good looking folks living in wildly expensive apartments while working non-demanding dream jobs - that's what I want. Also, please include laugh tracks and facial-expression-close-ups so that I know when to have a sensible chuckle. Also, I am easily frustrated and dislike critical thinking - please pander to these characteristics.

    Sincerely,
    Your Average Prime Time Television Viewer
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:20PM (#46886407)

    I'm gonna show my nerdly air of superiority here but honestly those kind of shows are for knuckle draggers.

    What kind of shows? The kind with laughtracks? That is to say, the kind that are targeted toward the audience of "people so grievously stupid that they need to be told when to laugh?"

    On another note, I wrote a sitcom.

    Sambo: I sho does love me some chickens and watermelons! OOOOO-WEE!

    [laughtrack]

    Lexus Mercedes-Benz Hyundai: Aw, Sambo, you so BLACK!

    [laughtrack]

    Sambo: Dy-no-MITE!

    [laughtrack]

    Are you laughing yet?

  • by Kittenman (971447) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:23PM (#46886429)
    I was in this thread to see comments about being a Hollywood science consultant, yet I can see are "I like tBBT", and "I don't", interspersed with the occasional "What do you know" and "You're obviously a moron".

    Have all the slashdot accounts been hacked by some preschoolers?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:36PM (#46886491)

    I can't believe that a single science consultant writes all the science for BBT! Firstly, everything they broadcast is usually 100% correct. Secondly, they also show real experiments with real chemical and physical reactions. So they obviously have access to lab equipment too. But it's not just the astro-science that impresses me. It's everything else that comes out of the characters' (especialy Sheldon's) mouths - be it history, grammar, geography, literature, music, etc. . . All of it meticulously researched and scripted.

    I tips me lid to David Saltzberg! What an amazing all-rounder he is!

  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zynder (2773551) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @10:49PM (#46886541)
    Haters will keep on hatin'. What else would you call it? If it's a damned duck then I call it a damned duck.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Zynder (2773551) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @11:41PM (#46886739)
    We weren't supposed to be laughing at the nerdy Radar or the obviously gay Klinger (I know he was only pretending but it was the fact that he was trying to be gay that was funny)? Was Hot Lips Hulahan not supposed to be the dumbass blonde? That show was rife with laughable stereotypes!
  • it's true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by globaljustin (574257) <justinglobal@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:20AM (#46886875) Homepage Journal

    there's definitely a parallel between "blackface" mocking & the kind of "geek humor" employed by the show

    I love the concept of the show: Sitcom about everyday life of young physics PhD...sounds like a good premise

    In execution...damn...i'd prefer an execution to watching a whole episode of "Big Bang Theory"

    1. afore mentioned unfunny mocking/reinforcing dumb stereotypes
    2. laugh track (these annoy the living crap out of me...."hahahahahha"....)
    3. superficial mentions of science ephemera intended to pass as actual realistic dialogue

    TV can be so much better than the show...hell the main actor is a great actor...the material is atrocious and unwatchable

  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by readin (838620) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:23AM (#46886881)
    In early episodes that I saw, Sheldon was clueless about people and would be clumsy. He would say something about how it made more sense for him to do something because he was smarter than everyone and you felt like he wasn't trying to be mean or arrogant, he was just pointing out an objective fact without stopping to think people might be offended. That was something I could relate to and find funny.

    But before too long they just made him mean. In that episode with Summer Glau, when Penny crushes his Japanese puzzle box you feel like he deserves it. He's no longer a sympathetic character whose weaknesses make him endearing. Instead he's a geek that people can feel good about disliking. Instead of giving people reason to reconsider their awful treatment of geeky peers, the show affirms that treatment as being deserved.

    In real life I've met very few geeks who were genuinely mean. Most seem to believe in fair play, following the rules, good citizenship, do unto others.., etc.. However at first glance their poor social skills can make them seem uncaring.

    The early episodes seemed to get that. They portrayed what geeks see in themselves and in each other.

    But soon the show appealed to a wider audience by portraying geeks as non-geeks see them. Clueless Sheldon became arrogant cutthroat spiteful Sheldon. He was no longer rude do to thoughtlessness but instead became a scheming villain

    People don't like geeks and this show affirms their feelings.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:5, Insightful)

    by readin (838620) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @12:37AM (#46886921)
    Klinger wasn't trying to be gay, he was trying to be crazy. Kinger and Radar were sympathetic characters. When something bad happened to them you felt bad.

    They've taken the most nerdy of the Big Bang group, Sheldon, and made him a villain like Major Burns. You laugh at his misfortunes because he is such a jerk. The early episodes I remember just had him very logical. He said things that would seem outrageously rude, but only if you didn't realize that he didn't intend them to be rude. He might say something like "well obviously I should handle the money because I'm the best at math" and it was funny because it sounded sooo bad, but you knew he was just being logical and was actually correct in that he was the best at math. In later episodes he became a jerk who would say he was better at math just be be bragging and seem superior. That turned him from a sympathetic character struggling with a vulnerability into Major Burns.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FriendlyStatistician (2652203) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @01:33AM (#46887083)

    Perhaps introspection is lacking in that particular decision making process and how playing with statistics and probabilities can lead to wrong decision making especially in modern human society allows interactions between controlled social environments and uncontrolled social environments, in terms of medical controls, specifically access to vaccines and high risk population bases.

    Whoa man, whoa. Sentences are your friends, don't abuse them like that.

  • There is gamer culture. There is comic culture. There is anime culture. There is hacker culture. There was a punk culture. There was a hippie culture. However, there never was Geek or Nerd culture, just like there was never Nigger culture. Geek, Nerd, and Nigger are disparaging terms. Without corporations appropriating the culture for the commodification thereof, there would not be a Geek or Nerd culture. The whole "Geek and Nerd" culture is just commodification, even here on Slashdot. "News for nerds" -- Whatever, Dork. [catb.org] Dork culture! Oh I'm such a Dweeb! Hey I know, "Gnus for Goobers, Stuff that Chatters!" It's not "Goober" culture is it? We don't run around calling each other Dorks and Dweebs right? That's what you sound like calling yourselves "Nerd" or "Geek" culture. That's very some fake bullshit there.

    You can buy "Punk" clothes at hot topic... That's not punk at all! That's cultural commodification of the do-it-yourself anti-conformist punk culture. Thug culture started off as artists singing about making endsmeat to survive in the ghetto while being persecuted for your race. Now it's about being more violent, having more money, nicer cars, more "fresh" clothes, more "bling", and impressing women to have more sex than your peers -- This is a culture that has been commodified. Wearing bell bottom pants and floral print blouses and tie-died bandannas, etc? That style was a cultural construction of a "hippie", and had nothing to do with the free love, ride hitching, anti-establishment, communal counter culture.

    The Poindexter nerd stereotype was created by conflating social outcasts with intellectuals. This just never was the case. It's true that having the passion to create something that takes a lot of time means you'll likely be somewhat introverted, and less extroverted, placing less value on social life; However the socially awkward "geek" had nothing to do with intellectual pursuits. People will make fun of the outcast for having the wrong color backpack, or being "too" rich or poor, or for a variety of reasons. The bully doesn't really care that you like ancient 3D Unix file system explorers, it's just an excuse to pick on you. There's lot's of other folks getting picked on for being socially awkward introverts but they're not "geeks"? "Geek" culture was never really about D&D, hacking, videogames or any of the other things they shove under that umbrella. The media is just monetizing culture by selling you on the label of geek, including the sense of belonging to a fucking news website -- though, cut the Slashdot admins some slack, they're just newbies who can barely think for themselves and didn't know better when they bought into the cultural commodification themselves. Nerd culture never existed, it's fake. All Geek Girls are Fake because all Geek Guys are Fake too.

    Read up about the typical hacker, [catb.org] and you'll get a very different idea than that portrayed in media, one that I suspect many here will match. Computer Hacker is a group identity that self assembled through a natural process and was not commercially constructed. The media hates this, and the powers that be fear hackers -- Those who could crack systems and reveal secrets are the feared worst enemy of the anti-activist governmental bodies, and so they make sure not to use the term in a positive light in mainstream media. Instead the naturally emerging "frisbie throwing, skateboarding, kung fu practicing, intensely abstracted, computer whiz kid" stereotype was quickly replaced with the undesirable, pimple faced, social outcast Poindexter who ineffectually rages against machines from the dark safety of his parent's basement.

    Likewise, gamer culture was self emergent. Those card, paper and dice games which required extremely imaginative minds were the very antithesis of anti-socialites. They overcame their shyness to come together with strangers and cast spells, summon m

  • by larpon (974081) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @02:15AM (#46887207)
    Mod this insightful someone!
  • Re:astro-PHYSICS (Score:5, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @02:53AM (#46887259)
    A trained physicist has many useful skills most people completely lack. For example, the ability to test hypotheses and perform quantitative reasoning would come in handy to many people working jobs unrelated to hamburgers and fries.
  • Re:Not for Nerds (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Adam Colley (3026155) <mog@kupPASCALo.be minus language> on Thursday May 01, 2014 @03:58AM (#46887399)

    Herd immunity protects the kids who can't be vaccinated but that only works while the rest of the parents are responsible.

    Bialik is stupid and a child abuser. Not only is she denying her kids vaccinations, she is denying them an education after taking three degrees herself.

    She's a stinking hypocrite who thinks children are accessories to make statements with and the sooner the state takes them away so they can actually have a decent shot at a life with a job without fries the better.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 01, 2014 @04:05AM (#46887415)

    1) Autism isn't a "mental illness" - this elementary lack of understanding starts you off in a very weak position;

    2) Sheldon is sometimes depicted as possessing empathy, but of his own sort. Sheldon isn't just socially awkward, but also sometimes a bit of an asshole (though didn't initially feature, and was later toned down). Perhaps you missed the, "Look at the person - not the disability!" message of the last thirty years. If you're reading everything he does as "because of a disorder" then YOU are the one making a habit of dehumanising;

    3) Your romantic notion about "the difference between crazy and eccentric" is a black-or-white strawman. Sheldon is not "crazy", and there are lots of people who display his traits but who still manage to get on reasonably in life;

    4) People who behave "differently" (from any other group, and for whatever reason) are allowed to enjoy and share in humour surrounding their behaviour. When Fresh Prince made jokes about black culture, we didn't say, "Essentially we're laughing at them for being black!" To think so is to completely fail to grasp how and why people use humour.

    I can understand people not enjoying BBT in the same way that many people do not enjoy xkcd: the jokes are unsophisticated, pandering, repetitive, smug, etc. But it's very different to attack something based on a personal misinterpretation rather than merely not like it.

  • Re:it's true (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Burz (138833) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @04:27AM (#46887453) Journal

    I also agree TBBT has blackface or 'coon show' qualities.

    And it seems like the more scientific / theoretical the character's field is, the more antisocial they are. The closer they are to engineering, the more socially redeeming qualities and access to romantic partners they have. I mean, they made Sheldon downright asexual.

    The show is an exercise in anti-intellectualism, and there are no countervailing examples in TV fiction AFAIK. (And, no, I would not consider the scientists who make the heros strong and weapon-encrusted as intellectual even though there are scads of Bond/Q characters.)

  • by Sique (173459) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @05:59AM (#46887735) Homepage
    Given that astrophysics is the oldest science anyway (dating back to the stone age when figuring out the time of the year from star constellations was necessary for planting and harvest and thus survival), your inability to spot any improvement for your daily life from astrophysics shows more of your ignorance than anything else.

    If you switch on your GPS today, then that's condensed astrophysics you use. If you are getting news reports from the other side of the world, that's astrophysics at work. The weather report? Not possible without astrophysics. Everything related to space and time is astrophysics at work.

  • False equivalency (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sjbe (173966) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:03AM (#46888219)

    I also agree TBBT has blackface or 'coon show' qualities.

    REALLY? Point out to me the 400 years of slavery or some equivalent to Jim Crow laws. Show me where in the history of the US geeks were not allowed to marry non-geeks. Show me where in the constitution they had to put in an amendment protecting nerds. Show me where nerds were prevented from voting. Thinking blackface shows and TBBT are in any meaningful way equivalent is both arrogant and absurd.

    I don't care if you like the show or not. People's senses of humor vary and it's fine if you don't think it is funny. But you seriously need to stop taking life too seriously and laugh a bit.

  • Re:it's true (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Thursday May 01, 2014 @08:20AM (#46888335)

    I also agree TBBT has blackface or 'coon show' qualities.

    Wow -- I've been reading this a lot here. I think we need to step back and get some perspective. Blackface was and is offensive not just because it includes stereotypes, but because it served as a way of reinforcing stereotypes that led to social oppression and even slavery. Many people here might argue that scientists and engineers are underpaid or underappreciated compared to, say, corporate executives or whatever. But they generally earn relatively high salaries compared to average and are hardly "oppressed" let alone enslaved.

    Saying the show represents stereotypes is one thing. Comparing it to blackface is quite extreme.

    And it seems like the more scientific / theoretical the character's field is, the more antisocial they are. The closer they are to engineering, the more socially redeeming qualities and access to romantic partners they have. I mean, they made Sheldon downright asexual.

    I agree that the show is a bit of an exaggeration of everyday scientists and engineers. But I did my undergraduate degree at one of the top science and engineering schools in the world, and I knew people who fit just about every one of these stereotypes. Seriously. And, while there were certainly exceptions, I have to say that their portrayal of the "lack of social skills" continuum is also relatively accurate, from the perspective of general trends. Beyond Sheldon, I wouldn't say the show portrays the characters as "antisocial," but rather as lacking in various social graces. In my experience, among high level scientists, engineers, and math people, the pure science people tend to be weirder than the engineers on average, the physicists tend to be outliers among even the pure science folks, and the math people have the highest proportion of socially-inept folks. Again, there are numerous exceptions, but this stereotype has some basis in fact. And the trend is even more prominent among the grad students I knew while I was an undergrad: the engineers were almost "normal," but the physics and math grad students I knew were the quiet weird ones who always said inappropriate things. I haven't done a statistical study of this, but the show certainly agrees with what I personally observed in a similar environment.

    The show is an exercise in anti-intellectualism

    I suppose you could see it that way. I suppose viewers who identify with Penny might get that impression. On the other hand, there are numerous occasions on the show where Penny and other "non-science people" are suitably impressed when the "nerds" do some useful thing. So, "intellectualism" is clearly portrayed as valuable -- but the jargony wacko world of the main characters does not necessarily have innate value for its own sake.

    The show has an important point: science and math geeks often get so wrapped up in their world that they fail to communicate their ideas effectively to others. Thus, "normal people" find the geeks weird or even ridiculous because of that disconnect, since they can't figure out why all the arcane trivia and esoteric math and abstract knowledge is important. It is precisely the same attitude that comes out here on Slashdot concerning advanced humanities topics. Why should anyone give a crap about English major's theory about a medieval manuscript? Who cares about the "soft" humanities theories in sociology or history or some esoteric version of philosophy that doesn't seem to mesh well with the standard "scientific" mythos?

    I'm not saying that you need to care about the jargon-laced research in advanced humanities disciplines, but jargon from almost any discipline seems unnecessary, complicated, and abstract to those outside of that discipline. Yet scientists often have the perspective that their way of knowing is the one superior way of doing things, and thus anyone outside of that is obviously ignorant... which leads people outside

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