Viewers learn about the Nature of Science from The Big Bang Theory

In a new paper I co-authored with my PhD student Rashel Li, we show that viewers of The Big Bang Theory learn about aspects of the nature of science from the sitcom. The paper was published in the International Journal of Science Education Part B, and was based on data from Rashel’s PhD research. The abstract reads: In this paper, we discuss a little-studied means of communicating about or teaching the nature of science (NOS)—through fiction television. We report some results of focus group research which suggest that the American sitcom The Big Bang Theory (2007–present), whose main characters are mostly working scientists, has influenced viewers’ perceptions of NOS. Both scientists and non-scientists were among the audience members participating in the study, thus making it possible to evaluate whether the portrayal of NOS resonates with scientists’ lived experience (using scientists’ reflections on the show) and whether non-scientist audience members come to know something about NOS from the show. Responses from the focus groups suggest that three aspects of NOS were most prominent in participants’ minds: science is empirically based, science is subjective and theory-laden, and, in particular, science is socially and culturally embedded. We argue that a broad understanding of NOS can be cultivated peripherally via regular viewing of this television programme, and a deeper understanding of particular aspects may result when viewers vividly remember specific scenes and storylines.

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