BBT Had the Best Nerds

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An ad for a web-branding company recommends, “Hire better nerds.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and a sign of the times. Since the advent of Silicon Valley dominance, never before has it been so hip to be square. You can find tech gurus in matching t-shirts at the Genius Bar in the Apple store. And Best Buy sends out its Geek Squad to troubleshoot on all things tech. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

But my favorite nerds are the ones who have populated the beloved sitcom Big Bang Theory for the past 12 years. BBT recently aired its final episode, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying final episodes of a series that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry. No spoilers in this post!)

For all these years, audiences have grown to love the socially awkward, atrociously dressed foursome of Cal Tech scientists, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj – and Penny, the hot girl across the hall who helps them come out of their shells and teaches them a few street smarts. Later love interests Bernadette and Amy add female camaraderie to the tech bro culture of the guys.

The guys’ (and Amy’s) nerdiness is the major source of humor in the show. But being smart is also celebrated throughout the series, and the scientists’ real intellectual concerns are taken seriously. Recurring cameos by real life scientists such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the great Stephen Hawking show that the series creators appreciate science and admire scientists, even the socially inept four who form the nucleus of the show. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s wife Amy, is herself a well-regarded neuroscientist.

The character of Sheldon is arguably the most fascinating and beloved of the characters that populated The Big Bang Theory. His many personality quirks and slow development of more socially-accepted behaviors make his interactions with the other characters more interesting. We root for Sheldon because many of us also have idiosyncrasies and insecurities around social situations ourselves. Sheldon’s trajectory gives us hope that ultimately, we can be accepted and loved just the way we are.

Luckily for fans of Sheldon, his young self lives on in the aptly named series Young Sheldon. An interesting note is that Zoe Perry, who plays Sheldon’s mom on Young Sheldon, is the real life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays his mom on BBT.

I will miss the lovable misfits of The Big Bang Theory. Their foibles gave me lots of laughs. And their love for one another gave me all the feels, as they say. Most importantly, the series confirmed that it’s cool to be smart and best to be yourself. And it all started with a big bang – BANG!

 

 

 

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Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

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The European continent is in the midst of an unprecedented outbreak of measles – unprecedented, at least, since a vaccine was developed to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella in the 1960s. Thirty-seven people have lost their lives due to complications of this very serious disease. Why? Because people refuse to believe accepted scientific fact on the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Ignorance is killing us.

Possibly the biggest threat to future civilizations is the warming of the Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. The ice melt at the North and South poles, rising sea levels, catastrophic weather events such as deadly hurricanes, and record-breaking heat waves in places like Canada and Scandinavia are all harbingers of doom. But they’re harbingers many people are willfully ignoring.

My cousin is visiting from the Pacific Northwest. She has a nagging cough from the smoke that is hovering over Washington State due to wildfires raging in British Columbia. My cousin told me that as her small plane “puddle-jumped” from her hometown to Seattle, she was unable to see any of the landscape below because the smoke was so thick.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rolling back emissions standards for automobiles, deregulating the EPA, and encouraging a resurgence of dirty coal production. This is the 21st Century equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

Once again, there is consensus that man-made global warming is a reality and that it may already be too late to save parts of the world from devastating floods, droughts, and famine. But for economic and political reasons, our government leaders are refusing to act. And they have persuaded many otherwise intelligent people that climate change is “fake news.”

And don’t look for future generations to be smarter about scientific facts. It’s well-known that the state board of education in Texas has an outsized influence on what school textbooks are selected across the country for use in our schools. In recent years, board members have objected to the theory of evolution being taught as fact, with one board member even declaring, “Evolution is hooey.” (Gail Collins, “How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us,” The New York Review of Books, June 21, 2012)

Science used to be the one pure subject that we could count on not being tampered with by political or ideological concerns. But in our politically charged atmosphere and with so much information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, even our scientific knowledge is being called into question constantly.

I guess the number one skill we should be concentrating on in educating future generations is critical thinking.  Only dispassionate and thoughtful inquiry will lead us to truth and away from ignorance.

 

Defending Science

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Scores of independent scientific advisors to the EPA were recently told that their membership on the Board of Scientific Counselors would not be renewed in August. The move seems like part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to quash the dialogue on climate change, an unsurprising move given the nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the EPA along with Trump’s own rhetoric during the presidential campaign. Unsurprising, but alarming.

From the moment Donald Trump took office, the White House website removed information on climate change. Even though a consensus of scientists agrees that the Earth’s atmosphere is warming and that the warming is largely due to human activity, Republicans have stubbornly refused to address the issue. Recently, Energy Secretary Rick Perry (not exactly a rocket scientist) denied the correlation between global warming and human actions. It’s as if a group of Republicans were standing in the rain and insisting there was a drought.

The politicization of science is not new.  The season finale of Genius, the story of Albert Einstein, depicts Jewish scientists being dismissed from the prestigious Prussian Academy and books by Jewish scientists such as Einstein being burned in a massive fire by Nazi soldiers. The series also demonstrates Einstein’s outspoken objections to his discoveries being used to create weapons of mass destruction.

Throughout history, political powers have interfered with scientific discovery that did not advance their agenda, or that conflicted with their beliefs. Galileo is a perfect example of how politics (and, to a degree, religion) can affect the reception of new scientific ideas.

The ability of scientists to work independently of political agendas is vital to discovery and progress. Nowadays, the issue of the safety and efficacy of vaccines has become a political football. So has research on climate change. Meanwhile, an ice melt the size of Texas has been discovered in Antarctica. Sea levels are rising, and global weather patterns are being disrupted, with potential for devastating complications.

It’s time to allow scientific inquiry to inform our political decisions and not the reverse.