Deal Breaker

Discussion of quantum gravity at a level similar to that of parts of the professional physics community makes it to prime-time TV:

Update: I should have credited where I first saw reference to this (no, I don’t normally watch this show…), it was at Capitalist Imperialist Pig. If you are having trouble with the embedded link to the video, you might have better luck following his link to the cbs web-site and seeing what you can find there….

Update: Lubos is claiming credit for this, implying that he’s the model for Sheldon. He has a point. I always thought that the string theory community should worry about the implications of having Lubos represent them on the web, now there’s prime-time TV to think about.

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27 Responses to Deal Breaker

  1. Jeff McGowan says:

    OK, so I hope Lee and Peter get some royalties for this stuff 🙂 Actually, in relation to the previous post about the job market, I guess a lot of recent physics Ph.Ds are now writing for television?

  2. Per says:

    Not available….

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Hmm, works for me, not sure why some people are having trouble with this.

  4. Uncle Al says:

    Firewall must be set to allow embedded objects, mime objects, javascripts… mobile code in general through.

  5. JC says:

    Television writers are a dime a dozen. (Though one could argue the same for many other professions, including physics and math).

    All it takes is somebody reading several books (both pro and con) on string theory, to write it into a tv or movie script. Even an episode of CSI mentions string theory in a completely misleading and convoluted manner.

  6. Anthony says:

    I think the link only works in the US ;-(

  7. Vince says:


    Can you please provide us with the link to that clip?


  8. Kea says:

    The CBS site says that the content is unavailable outside the U.S.

  9. TBBT is probably the only television comedy ever that consistently gets the physics right. The physicist characters are broadly drawn comic stereotypes, but stereotypes we can recognize from our experience: The nut job you shared an office with in grad school, the slightly loopy prof down the hall, that wacko chick from Dabney.

    But not, of course, ourselves.

  10. (continued, sorry)

    Note, e.g., the DSR reference in Leslie’s argument.

  11. Amos says:

    “TBBT is probably the only television comedy ever that consistently gets the physics right.”

    That’s priceless.

  12. anon. says:

    Yeah, it’s nice that Sheldon gives precisely the right response to the absurd claim that LQG calculates black hole entropy correctly. But what’s with “Barbero-Immirzi parameter” being written on the whiteboard behind them? Was Leslie giving Leonard a lecture earlier in the evening?

  13. I think the clip is hilarious. For the vast majority of the people watching the show, the discussion is going to sound like a bunch of nonsense but hey at least we’re getting physics into the popular culture. Great timing with the LHC!

    [off-topic material deleted]

  14. We I read this post and the comments I thought it was some form of elaborated joke (I could not watch the podcast), but I went to the CBS site and saw that there is really a show about theoretical physicists in the US ! Something like this would be completely unbelievable here in France. Does it mean that americans are better educated in science ? That would not surprize me. I also had this feeling by comparing books that popularize science : they tend to be of a much better quality in the US.

  15. Chris Oakley says:

    Expect more of this kind of thing. With very few jobs for particle physicists in academia, and now much fewer jobs in Wall Street, scriptwriting for TV may start to look very attractive (… god forbid that we should ever be required to do anything useful)

  16. a mathematician says:

    Wow, that clip was painfully unfunny. Maybe they really are hiring physicists to do their writing.

  17. Kea says:

    Heh, thanks You Tube!!! LOL! That was hilarious. And the script is simple enough that I’m sure anybody gets it – no physics knowledge required at all.

  18. MathPhys says:

    You can watch it on Motl’s blog. Yes, it was written by physicists. Very stale.

  19. milkshake says:

    No amount of beer can make this show tolerable. Whats genuinely needed is a sitcom about Lubos’ struggles with the confederacy of dunces.

  20. Will says:

    Dear Peter,

    Why are you always concerned about public perception? Nobody is an authority in science and good scientists are not doing science to sway public perception. I honestly think your feud with Lubos Motl is nonsensical.

    Motl does not represent string theory but his one views and prejudices.On the other hand, you have no better things to do than just rant against string theory and its public perception and so on. It

    Together, you have done more harm to science by trying to sway public perception in one direction or the other.


  21. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    That was…interesting. I mean, on the one hand, I’m psyched something like this can even exist, but on the other, well, I’m with the “it’s not very funny” crowd above.

    Also, I thought the String Theorist’s debate skills were uncharacteristically anemic. I mean, wouldn’t the string theorist have mentioned sparticles showing up at the LHC, or RS resonances/KK towers due to large extra dimensions, or some other seemingly typical example, as a rebuttal to the LQG testability claim, rather than having such a weak riposte? Also, I should think an LQG theorist would know that ST can also be used to calculate the entropy of at least some varieties of black holes, and hence such a claim of superiority would have been entirely unimpressive to a string theorist. She seemed entirely ignorant of this.

    If I can think of these things, I’m sure the writers could easily have. If you’re going to make a stab at comĂ©die vĂ©ritĂ©, going only halfway kind of kills the whole effort, IMO.

  22. Just a Note says:

    I sometimes like to poke fun at people, but in all honesty, most of the physicists and mathematicians I have encountered are not at all like the characters portrayed on this show.

    Sure there are little quirks, and certainly some of the debate around LQG and String theory is juvenile (or at least passionate), but the community itself seems full of a lot of well-rounded, well adjusted, principled people (and Peter is certainly one of them).

    Intelligence, by its statistical nature, is a rare gift, and I have come to understand that “nerds” get picked on more out of jealousy than any other reason.

    So I think that at some level the fact that a show like this has managed to make it into the popular media should be viewed as a complement to the community derived from the underlying respect that most people have.

  23. Just a note –

    Hey, it’s called humor. Comic characters are always exaggerations. Sure there are lots of normal, well-adjusted, physicists and mathematicians – they aren’t very funny, though.

    But if you have spent a lot of time around physicists and mathematicians and not met people who remind you of the characters in TBBT, I’m surprised. I surely have.

    To me, the humorous depiction of scientists in TBBT is not mean spirited. They are odd but human people dealing with the usual human problems in an odd and slightly exotic context.

    Check out Motl’s take on the show though, especially the fury he whips himself into against the physicist character who espouses LQG – simply because the writers chose to associate that characteristic with her for this episode. Now that’s odd, human, and scary in Spanish Inquisition sort of way.

  24. Plank says:

    Not very funny but replace LQG and ST for 2 religions and be amazed.

  25. Shantanu says:

    Peter or others, any speculations on tomorrow’s Nobel Prize?

  26. diana says:


    “really a show about theoretical physicists in the US ! Something like this would be completely unbelievable here in France”

    My dear friend, the show isn’t about theoretical physics. Since sarcasm doesn’t work on the internet, let me give you a hint: the show is about sex. The vehicle is theoretical physicists.

    I think it’s a terrific show, very sweet and very funny. It no more puts down theoretical physicists than it puts down cute blondes. I can claim total objectivity because I am neither a theoretical physicist or a cute blonde.

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