Skepticism

Update: Prady responds

In light of the discussion that began here a few days ago regarding part of Bill Prady’s keynote address at TAM7, Mr Prady has issued the following clarification:

While I don’t have time to engage in a long discussion about my remarks, I feel it’s necessary to clarify that my advice for a skeptical man attempting to pick up an astrology-believing woman would have also been my advice for a skeptical woman attempting to pick up an astrology-believing man.

I won’t defend attempts at humor that may have fallen flat, but I will say that the gender of the individuals in my hypothetical situation was not at issue, my point had to do with how skeptical individuals might proceed in a social situation.

While I may still have quibbles with the tone of the clips, and how the joke sat in that context, overall, I am satisfied with what he has to say. It seems consistent with what many of us perceived as his misreading of his audience, and, as I have maintained throughout this discussion, does not in any way invalidate his larger point about being a skeptic without being an asshole; a topic which I very much look forward to hearing his further thoughts on in the future. I also appreciate that he felt it was an important enough problem to take the time to address it.

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30 Comments

  1. I’m glad he took the time to clarify, it was hard to enjoy the show (it gets the geekery right) when clearly Bill’s comments had affected so many people I respect. I do hope that this attention helps drive stronger female characters in The Big Bang Theory and in other works that Bill is working on.

  2. Talking about pick-up lines, whether male-to-female, female-to-male, male-to-male or male-and-female-to-female, is still an incredibly ham-fisted way of supporting the general idea that skeptics shouldn’t act evangelical.

  3. An interesting point that someone else pointed out to me was that he was talking not about any woman, or a skeptical woman but a woman who believes in astrology. His point, therefore, isn’t about science/skepticism and women, but about communication with a believer. That’s a completely different conversation, I think.

    Good for Prady for responding. And I still like the Big Bang Theory, even if you don’t, Carr :)

  4. @Blake Stacey: I agree. If he wanted to actually be productive in addressing “how skeptical individuals might proceed in a social situation,” then he ought to have given us something more than ‘don’t be an asshole’ and ‘compliment her eyes.’

  5. I’ve read a few interviews with him, and his perception of the audience seems to have been skewed by his close work with computer programmers, a very specific subset of geekdom (many of whom are not in any way skeptical). Were he addressing an audience primarily of programmers as opposed to the much broader audience that was in attendance the humor would likely have connected better.

    All that said, I am a programmer and work with programmers all day and found the jokes pretty funny from within that context and would expect most computer geeks to recognize that he was making fun of their notorious poor people skills.

  6. On the show itself, which I consider myself a fan of, I think that the first season was a bit rough, but by the end of it it had become clear that Penny (the neighbor) was not dumb, she just wasn’t into in any of the things that the geeks obsess over.

    I compare her to my wife: smart, funny, a performer trying to get a break in entertainment, supremely uninterested in the geeky things. Both of them have the ability to understand more than the basics of science or technology but have other interests instead.

    Other than Howard’s never seen mother, the other regular recurring women on the show are all accomplished intelligent successful women (one love interest was a doctor, another a physicist smarter than all the male geeks yet still completely an empowered woman).

  7. First, before anybody starts to hammer on me. I want to put my credentials out there before I get a lot of feed back. I am math major with a high factor of tech nerd geekness and believe in science education for girls. I am also a strong feminist. I also think that we skeptics did miss the point of the whole joke which was mainly -to start a conversation it might be easier to start with a little more laid back line than astrology is bunk. Remember the we are also fighting against the sterotype that all skeptics are curmudgeons and starting a discussion in a bar with an unknown person that way just reinforces this. I usually wait at least till the second date :)

    I am also a fan of the show and feel that the Penny character really represents the majority of people out there. Shehas a community college education so really hasn’t be exposed to much science. Yet, in the show’s first season finally she was introduced to the concept of Schrodinger’s cat in the context of dating one of the characters. In the second season, she is protrayed as trying to explain this idea to another person. I took this as she understood the concepts when presented, was excited about it, and actually wanted to pass it on. I thought this was an excellent example of how science can be exciting if presented correctly.
    Come on how many people bought Jennifer Ouellette’s book because it is fun to read?
    May be we can ask that Penny be seen reading Black Bodies and Quantum Cats on the next season of the show to demonstrate she is interested and wanting to learn more.

  8. @revmatty: I agree 100%.

    I did some research on the show, and they initially had plans to take Penny’s character in a completely different direction. She was supposed to be a much darker character. They decided not to go in that direction, but still weren’t sure how she exactly fit into the show on the first season.

    By the second season, they finally had her character down.

    I REALLY like the way she and Leonard interact. They aren’t treating their obvious feelings for each other like every ther sitcom. The characters are clearly aware of the feelings, and even poke fun at each other (just watch the Christmas episode to see that!). They just aren’t ready to make any kind of commitent with each other.

    Other than Howard’s never seen mother, the other regular recurring women on the show are all accomplished intelligent successful women (one love interest was a doctor, another a physicist smarter than all the male geeks yet still completely an empowered woman).

    And yep! There is this too. Howard’s mother is used for lolz, but all the other women that they’ve had on the show have been quite accomplished.

    For the record, I am madly in lust with Penny. She’s hilarious and a perfect straight man to Sheldon. The way she just LOOKS at him when he says something ridiculous gets me every fucking time. I really enjoy their odd friendship.

  9. @Mari: Sheldon is the greatest character on television now, possibly ever. I have been impressed at how well he and Penny interact and discovered that they were on another tv show together prior so they already were very comfortable with each other.

  10. @Some Canadian Skeptic: It seems odd that this program hasn’t already been used by some woo-ster (Oh, can we call them Berties, please.)

    It is almost too easy to combine true astronomy with the vague generalities of traditional astrology to get “Scientific” astrology. If nobody is doing it yet, it’s awfully tempting to use it this knowledge for evil (and possibly a book deal.)

  11. I don’t know. I know Randi and others have talked through the years about how they deal with people that ask them “what is your sign?” Plus I think the woman on the show is not typical of the serious astrology believers I know. They tend to also believe things that endanger their children, like big into antivax. A person that believes in astrology is a future danger. Poor thinking skills, unless you are just wanting to get laid (and then I guess his advice is “anything goes”) I’d write a person off that was a believer in astrology.

    His point seems to be “being hot excuses much”.

  12. I mentioning again, this guy needs to visit my daughter at grad school at MIT. And her girlfriends. I’m sure they would get laid a lot more if they shallowed down…but instead they are oddly interested in long term happy relationships and so are just themselves. Even more odd, most of them are ENGAGED to be married! Horrors! Won’t put THAT on television when an easily written stereotype is far easier. It’s entertainment people, and hey he’s probably from CA, where shallow is the goal. Come to MIT where substance IS.

  13. @kittynh:

    They tend to also believe things that endanger their children, like big into antivax. A person that believes in astrology is a future danger

    I don’t agree with that. I have a few close girl friends who are pretty into astrology (kind of goes with their personalities, even if I have to fight not to roll my eyes), but they are NOT anti-vaccers and are very intelligent otherwise.

    I think otherwise intelligent people find astrology attractive because it’s a kind of magical way to describe themselves and their loved ones, and make sense of how people act, while also being harmless fun.

    Won’t put THAT on television when an easily written stereotype is far easier.

    Have you actually watched the show? Of course there are some stereotypes that they use, because it makes for good tv, but the characters are also really fleshed out, and Penny isn’t as flighty and ditzy as she first appears.

    And again, the way she and Sheldon interact is amazing and hilarious.

  14. Astrology is one of those things that’s a bit more multifaceted than it first appears. There are of course people (my mother in law) who take it very seriously and honestly believe that the position of various stars and etc on the day of your birth actual has meaning beyond possibly making a cool picture.

    Then there are people who just see it as some funny silly social thing that no one really cares about but gives them something lighthearted and meaningless to discuss other than the weather.

    And there’s a whole continuum of people in between those positions as well as those of us who cringe anytime it’s mentioned and have to physically restrain ourselves from launching into a diatribe laundry list of the many many ways in which Astrology is not only wrong relative to reality but also it’s own internal inconsistencies and contradictions as well the fact that no two astrologers will give you the same reading (nor will one give you the same reading twice if they forget they’ve seen you before).

    And now I have to go have a bit of lie down to calm myself after that.

    Anyway, fairly sure I had a point there somewhere. Hope you got it.

  15. @kittynh: It’s entertainment people,

    Yes that is the point. I don’t watch television to see people exactly like me-mortgages, 2 cars, cats-dogs, a husband, 40 hour a week job, student loans, and house that needs to be cleaned.
    I like the show because it isn’t real life. It doesn’t matter to me if it is TV or Shakespeare. I get to escape for a time and have some fun. In the case of the Big Bang, I get to laugh at characters that I feel get the joke about video games or science. It is like saying a Monty Python or a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy quote and having somebody respond with the follow up. Are there stereotypes? Yes but Shakespeare had stereotypes, Star Wars had stereotypes, and Monty Python had stereotypes but I still enjoy them for their entertainment value.

  16. it’s probably being a preschool teacher in Vermont. 100%of the time if the parent brings in the childs birth chart (and yes about 25% of the parents DO) so that I can understand and teach their child better, those parents do not have their child vaccinated. So, not critical thinking on my part. But when I see a new parent pulling out a birth star chart to explain WHY their child bites or uses profanity, I just sigh and wonder if maybe dealing with the problem instead of blaming it on the stars would be a better plan.

  17. @lysistrata: “@kittynh: It’s entertainment people, ”

    Yeah, that really got me. I mean, duh?

    And of course a comedy show is going to use stereotypes and enflate them for comedy. That’s one big facet of comedy: Making mundane things ridiculous.

    Also, the fact that they get geekdom is awesome. This isn’t just random, vague references. These are spot-on and accurate — from the science right down to the Star Trek references.

    And no, most of my geek friends aren’t quite that … well, stereotypical, but again, it’s called entertainment, specfically a sitcom, and that’s what sitcoms do. But at the same time, I feel connected to these characters because this is what me and my friends do! We hang out and talk about geeky and ridiculous things, we play video games (my friends are way into Warhammer right now), we are interested in science.

    Those characters are my people (amped up for hilarity) and I dig it.

  18. @marilove: “And no, most of my geek friends aren’t quite that … well, stereotypical, ”

    Sadly, many of mine are. Much like Eddie Van Halen claims he didn’t think Spinal Tap was funny because it was too close to his real experiences, I don’t see the characters on Big Bang as particularly exaggerated other than Koothrapali’s physical inability to speak to women unless drunk. But I still find it (and my friends) very funny.

  19. I stopped reading here:

    While I don’t have time to engage in a long discussion about my remarks, I feel it’s necessary to clarify

    Don’t have time to clarify/expand? Then don’t make the remarks to start with. Feel it necessary to clarify? Might white of you.

    Ick.

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