Mythbusters and Reality

Posted Jun 25, 2011

I love the show Mythbusters. I've loved them ever since they started.

Well why wouldn't I? The whole concept of the show is the study of Reality.

The basic idea of the show seems simple: Explore the plausibility of specific myths and well known tall tales. However, a lot of folks fail to miss something very, very important in all the research and experiments that they've been throughout the years.

These and 100s of other myths they've explored all owe their origins on one thing: A lack of understanding of certain aspects of Reality.

Would the myth of death via PVC static electricity have existed if most folks understood simple details about electricity?

A bull in a china shop? Well, obviously it's not you see too often. Frankly, you'd almost never see it. But of course it's not hard to imagine those big brutish animals simply trampling everything down with no regard to the mess they'd make.

Well, except that it turns out it's not true. At least under the conditions the Mythbuster show setup in the testing.

Of course, if it's a stampede situation, where the herd is running for its life, then perhaps, fragile items in their path might not receive such gentle attention. However, Reality might prove us wrong again.

And there we go again, beginning a myth. A story that seems to be a common sense fact, although once we get a clearer look at the details, we might find out that we misunderstood a major aspect that proves we were completely wrong.

And when we're wrong, what's the first rule of understanding?

Now, I quite agree that some of the details the show has focused on are silly, such as the oil & water kitchen fire. Was it really necessary to focus on the exact 30 foot height mentioned in the myth? I'm not sure about you but I'm hard pressed to find a kitchen with a roof that high to begin with. Also, they had a little issue with the crosswind messing with their upward measurements, but hey...

Also round numbers are a huge clue to that something isn't accurate. Take the case of wine bottle cork shooting 100 feet away. Less than 8 seconds of uninterrupted thought allows you to envision the scene in a realistic way: A crazy situation that catches the local news' attention. Investigator asks eyewitness who goes into a wild description of one of the craziest thing's he's ever seen in his life. Plus he's gonna be on TV, so the concept of exaggerating is pretty likely. It's a very safe bet that the eyewitness didn't pull out a tape measure, look for the furthest cork and measure. He simply said "They flew 100 feet". Sounds good to him. Sounded good to the reporter, who also, isn't going to bother measuring the facts.

And so, Mythbusters easily proves they were wrong.

However, I do understand if they simply proved that the grease fire, and the popping corks aspect was true/false, the show could plow through myths rather quickly and might be a bit dull. And in the end, higher viewership = better chance of staying on the air, so they've taken a few liberties in a few cases to focus on viewership over clarity. And I can't fault them too much, so long as they focus on the Reality of things, the vast majority of the time.

As they move into their 9th season (depending how you count it), it's obvious the list of candidates for their explorations are growing a bit thin, so I'm not too sure how much longer they'll be around.

However, I would like to nominate the entire show for the Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine. As well as the Nobel Peace prize. All for promoting better global understanding in these fields.

I understand that other shows, groups, etc. have done their part to promote education of Reality, by proving "myths" wrong, however, none of them (too my knowledge) have done as good a job at getting so many people actually watching, participating, enjoying and, above all, learning.

Good job folks. Good job.

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