The Sexification of Science on TV

TV continues to evolve. There’s been a trend lately in television to feature characters that not only know some rather complicated things, but also use critical thinking skills. Science sells. Now that’s intelligent design!

Take CSI. When I first saw CSI on TV, it was pretty unique. I remember being impressed with the computer graphic-based clips featuring extremely scientific recreations of crime details like blood splatter, or showing bullets tearing through human organs. It’s rather innovative how they teach people about forensic science by embedding it in a relevant plot line. Most crime dramas just tug on your emotions; if they make you think at all, they just make you think about people or society in a “aw, ain’t it too bad” kind of way. CSI makes you think about facts. The reasoning is part of the story. The value of critical thinking is shown, not told.

Then came NUMB3RS. In this show, a math genius helps his FBI brother solve crimes using advanced mathematics. Although the math is generally quite good, this is a bit of a stretch. Most of his work seems to involve statistics — as applied as applied math gets, and no snobby elite math genius would touch applied math with a ten unit-length pole. I’d love to see him try to apply some group theory, maybe to catch the Rubik’s cube murderer or something. Still, kudos to the message of the power of reason.

It’s not just dramas, either. The Big Bang Theory is a sitcom that attempts to humanize nerds. I haven’t seen this show except once on an airplane, and I suspect it would make me cringe more than laugh (“There but for the grace of God, go I.”). My understanding is that the main male characters are rather geeky physicists who somehow manage to have the amazing fortune of having beautiful women living across the hall. Fish out of water. Two worlds collide. Bla bla bla. The fact that this show was even considered by network TV goes to show how trendy science has become.

And just in the past month or two, I’ve been watching – and enjoying – Lie To Me, which features some kind of mix of psychology, sociology and anthropology. It’s an interesting show whose recurring characters are mostly focused on figuring out what emotions a possibly deceitful person is trying to conceal, and their methods seem to be based on actual research. I wonder how long they can continue to bring up original points about how to tell if someone’s lying. Maybe they should provide fellowships to further this research. Academics work a lot cheaper than writers (but probably proportionally slower too).

It’s a fresh bounty for scientific consultants. Anyone got a comedy about math in the works? Sign me up for creative consultant… ’cause I gots me some gut-busting theorems just itchin’ to be proven in the most hilarious of ways!! A laff riot! Hilarity, then QED!

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