The Big Bang Theory Science Quiz


by Carol Deppe


If Dr. Sheldon Cooper was listening to the theme song for The Big Bang Theory, he would undoubtedly immediately point out that it contains a number of scientific errors. From the lines of the theme song paraphrased below, identify four errors or misleading statements and explain what is wrong with each. (You will be graded on your ability to answer as Dr. Sheldon Cooper would answer.)

"whole universe was in a hot dense state...nearly 14 billion years ago expansion began to cool...autotrophs began to drool...Neanderthals developed tools...we built a wall...built the, math, history...mystery...all started with a big bang."


Autotrophs are creatures that get their energy by transforming energy from the sun (or from basic chemical reactions in the case of hot vent bacteria, for example). Algae and plants are the classic autotrophs. Heterotrophs get their energy by consuming autotrophs. Humans and other animals are heterotrophs. Autotrophs can't drool. They don't have mouths or salivary glands.

The word "bang" implies a sound. Sound is waves in air, water, or some other substance. When the universe started, all the substances were in that hot little wad. So when the wad suddenly began to expand, there was no substance outside to be compressed into waves in such a way as to make sound. If you were outside the wad listening, you wouldn't have heard anything. No bang.

Neanderthals weren't the hominids who developed tools. Australopithecus, more than 2 million years earlier than Neanderthals, were already using tools. Homo erectus, the ancestors of Neanderthals, were already using tools, controlling fire, and cooking.

The theme song represents the evolution of humans starting with the beginning of the universe and ending with development of human culture. Neanderthals don't really belong in that sequence. Or at least, about 95% of the Neanderthal genome doesn't. Neanderthals have turned out to be more of an evolutionary byway than a direct human ancestor. Neanderthals evolved from Homo erectus in Europe. However, modern humans evolved independently from Homo erectus in Africa. Modern humans then later spread to Europe and elsewhere, with Neanderthals disappearing in the process. The latest genetic evidence (from sequencing of human and Neanderthal genomes) suggests that there was at least a little interbreeding between modern humans and Neanderthals, enough so that a few percent of the human genome derives from Neanderthals. (Some genes involved in immune functions came from Neanderthals, for example.)


Give yourself 10 points for each correct answer on my list. Give yourself an additional 10 points for each answer where you run on with gratuitous facts and detail so that the answer is at least five times as long as any non-Sheldon-Cooper type wants to hear. Give yourself 10 points for each case where you contradict or nitpick my answers. Give yourself 20 points for each correct answer I didn't think of. (But don't write and tell me about it.)