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Sometimes I volunteer to help freshmen and sophomore students with introductory physics and calculus courses. The problem is most of them are not stimulated and take these courses because they are obligatory.

On the other hand some TV series, such as CSI Miami, contains scenes which show how some of the technologies that based on physics principles can be used in some jobs for example to help solving a crime. When the young generation see such TV shows they can actually get stimulated about science and physics and it can show them that it is not only useful but also it can open to them real exciting career opportunities. Of course the scientific content can be misleading.

Because of that, I was wondering if there is(are) some site(s) which discuss the science of such TV series and other series to filter the true science from the exaggeration. One can use such "filtered" interesting examples to stimulate freshmen and sophomore students towards science in general and physics in particular and may be math.

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5 Answers

I was recently at a conference for undergraduates where people were comparing all manner of things to television (Big Bang Theory, especially), and it was maddening, since television isn't real. Sure, there are cool things that go down in the dramatically-lit-make-believe wonder laboratories of CSI, but how much cool stuff happens every day in the real life laboratories all over the world?

I appreciate what you're trying to do, but science itself is awesome, and the television usually gets it all wrong. Students get bored because the information is mono-directional and dry. Try motivating the students with the cool stuff that real people do in real life, and I think we'll all be better off.

If you really want to use television, try the Extreme Science variants of documentaries rather than fictionalized narrative shows. Also, it's not television, but the WNYC show RadioLab has some amazing applications of physics principles to answer real questions.

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Yeah actually I was asking about sites which discuss the science of such series particularly for the reasons you mentioned, namely it is not that real. So my plan was not to ask the students to watch tv but to mention to them where and ow science can be used, so I was only mining for such examples from the tv series. I did not know about Extreme Science before thanks a lot for that because it reminded me also of national geographic programs that might have authentic useful examples that I can use. –  Revo Jan 31 '12 at 13:19
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For a show on television, I was positively surprised by the level of Brian Cox' explanation of entropy.

Also, I don't think it's all that important that physics on TV is 100% accurate, because it's certainly more about getting people motivated to learn what the real thing is about.

I guess I would spontaneously agree with a statement like "science itself is awesome" by username Jen, but one really has to distinguish. Watching a new movie by your favorite director is awesome, science is usually lots and lots of work, frustration with the system as a whole, but then some joy.

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Unfortunately you have to avoid almost any TV show or series if you want to depict anything remotely realistic. There are several examples that are not beyond our technology but beyond anything that is possible within the limits of the underlying physics.

There is the famous 'zooming' into a picture where some magic algorithm can enlarge and sharpen details where the was only a blurry picture to begin with. Another example is the fingerprinting of unknown substances. Using radiometric, spectroscopic or methods from analytic chemistry the geographical origin of a piece of soil in a large region is determined down to a few meters. Xkcd sums it up nicely: Science Montage (xkcd).

That being said I can recommend Mythbusters as the two main characters are really trying to find the answer to common myths/ideas via scientific investigation. While a 'real' scientist would probably start with a google or library search first what is the key difference to a lot of other academic disciplines is that any law, figure of authority or publication is meaningless compared to a well done experiment.

A question that might be easy to answer within our knowledge of physics is whether bees can lift a laptop (shown in one episode) or not but it is in my opinion far more impressive and will be remembered if you show the actual experiment and after that the reasoning why it does not work.

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I always believed that science in such series are not realistic but the specific famous examples you mentioned makes me think that I was very modest in my judgment. I thought the one who writes and direct similar TV series must consult real scientist. Now how come real scientists approve such misleading picture? This is morally wrong! –  Revo Jan 31 '12 at 15:09
    
@Revo: In very few series a real scientists are consulted, Big Bang Theory is one example which has a physics professor as a consultant, in most other TV shows the writers are using a sciency sounding blurb only as a plot device. This is on the other hand understandable as Science is hard. And who wants to see somehow struggle for hours over a small problem on screen? –  Alexander Jan 31 '12 at 18:11
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http://thebigblogtheory.wordpress.com/

Prof. Saltzberg explains the science behind the Big Bang Theory. He is employed as a consultant by the show, so the science is actually quite accurate. And the blog is interesting too.

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Math behind Numb3rs

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Excellent, thanks a lot. I wish similar sites exist to the other TV shows –  Revo Jan 31 '12 at 16:08
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