Life Imitating Art: Is The Big Bang Theory producing physics majors?

0 Commentsby   |  12.08.11  |  Uncategorized

Freakonomics, among other places, has picked up on a recent story from the Guardian that the uber-geeky sitcom Big Bang Theory is causing more students to become physics majors.

The show debuted in the U.S. in September 2007, and the American Institute of Physics does a fantastic job of publishing statistics, so we can give the data a preliminary check.  First we have high school enrollment:

showing a steady increase since 1985.  The results for undergraduate enrollment are quire similar and show a roughly linear increasesince 1999.  Academic year 2009-2010 produced more physics bachelors and PhD’s than any other year in history.

The data definitely show that physics enrollment has been increasing since Big Bang Theory first aired, but by eye it is hard to spot a change in the trends from 2007 onward.  There are many, many, many factors that effect college major choice.  While I’m glad to have shows about science (though personally, the Big Bang Theory does have its moments, but the laugh track just drives me crazy; look for clips on YouTube that show the pre-canned-laughs footage for a chilling and eerie experience), and I’m thrilled for the increases in physics, I doubt that the two are related.  I’ll leave the final conclusion to xkcd:




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