The Problem With Scientists On TV

Wednesday, 22 March 2017
This blog post was inspired by a drunken conversation that I had with Beth in the basement of a Sports bar at midnight on a Friday night. But bare with me because I've got a pretty good point here...

We were talking about nerdy TV shows like The Big Bang Theory and the way that they portray the characters. Whilst I enjoy the show, I think there are a lot of problems with the way that they portray scientists and especially the female characters. There are a few shows that do this poorly but I'm going to focus on The Big Bang Theory in this post as it's the most popular.

When you think of a scientist, characters like Sheldon Cooper often come to mind. Which doesn't really help our image. When people think of scientists they also think of people who are socially awkward, arrogant and unfashionable. Which simply isn't true or fair.

Let's look at the female characters in the show. Amy, Bernadette, and Leslie are all quite frankly pretty weird. Likeable characters in their own right but not without odd and often unrealistic quirks. When compared to Penny, they nowhere near as 'desirable'. A show like The Big Bang Theory has such a wide audience and they really could be doing a little more to help portray the idea that all types of women can be scientists. So much work is being done to get young women interested in STEM subjects but a show like this stamps in a silent but strong message.

Women who are interested in fashion can be scientists. I'm not saying that I can necessarily understand people who wear heels in the lab but they do exist. Women who are interested in makeup can be scientists. Outside of the lab, female scientists can have totally normal social lives. So why is Penny, the only non-scientist main character, the only one portrayed as fun, fashionable and socially adept?

You would think that a show like this would attract nerdy people but actually, most of the scientists I know aren't actually a fan. Mostly because the science jokes aren't really that funny (and are only really at high school level) and because the characters are so caricatured that they are no longer relatable at all.

There's a real gap in the market for a show that portrays scientists in a relatable way. Until then, I'll be waiting.

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