The 4 Most Important Things MythBusters Taught the World
The MythBusters have been testing crazy myths since 2003—but now the show is coming to an end. Instead of despair, let’s look back at some of the great things we (myself included) have learned from the show.
Everyone Can Be a Scientist
The only MythBuster that had a technical degree was Grant Imahara, with B.S. in electrical engineering. Adam Savage and Jaime Hyneman have a background in special effects for movies. This is what makes them such epic builders.
But here is the awesome part—you don’t need a science degree to do science. In fact, I think that science is part of what makes us human (I adopted this from Chad Orzel). Science is just like other activities that make us human: art, music, and emoji (actually, just kidding about the emoji).
Even if you don’t know it, science is about building models (conceptual, mathematical, computational) and comparing them to real life. This is exactly what the MythBusters do in each episode. They usually start with a model—such as a conceptual model that says you can play Fruit Ninja in real life (yes, that can be a model). Next they compare this model to real data by building an elaborate setup of real-life Fruit Ninja.
Finally, this leads to one of three possible results:
- Busted: There was evidence collected that leads to believe that the model does not agree with real life.
- Plausible: There was not enough evidence to convincingly state if the model agrees with real life.
- Confirmed: There was convincing evidence that the model agrees with real life.
Yes, you can make the claim that some of the MythBuster’s results weren’t thorough enough to make a statement. Again, they aren’t professional scientists—that’s what adds charm to the show. Imagine redoing the same myths with PhD scientists. I would surely like the show, but it might send the message that “science is stuff those people do”.
It’s OK to Fail
Adam Savage is famous for his quote:
“Failure is always an option.”
In science, you have to build a model. Of course it’s unreasonable to expect that our initial models always agree with real life. Just look back at the history of science and see all the times we got things wrong. In fact, being wrong is the norm and not the exception.
The same can be true in the process of learning science. It’s just as unreasonable to expect that a student will understand everything right away. This leads to my favorite saying:
If a learner doesn’t get confused, there are a couple of options. Either the person already understood the new material, or they didn’t learn anything. You have to be confused to learn just like the MythBusters have to accept the possibility that they will fail. It’s part of life. So we should salute the MythBusters and their many epic failures (hello JATO rocket car explosion).
You Can Get Surprising Results
Who would have thought you could get a balloon made of lead to float—but you can. Or what about firing bullets into the air? Are they dangerous? Surprisingly, no one had really tested this before the MythBusters (well, yeah—except for reported injuries, but that wasn’t straight up). Did you know that elephants might actually be afraid of mice? Yup, the MythBusters did that one too.
The same thing is true in all of science. You never know what is going to happen until you actually try it. Can we detect gravitational waves? Yes, but it took LIGO about 20 years to get it to work. What about falling faster than the speed of sound? Again, yes this is in fact possible.
But it doesn’t have to be a grand and exciting experiment to find something new. Just take some sensors and start measuring stuff, you never know what you will find. Here is an other example looking at the energy stored in different batteries (yes, some are cheaper but they also store less energy).
If we always knew what was going to happen in an experiment, why would we do it? That’s why I would like to seem different types of projects in the science fair. We shouldn’t punish students for trying something that didn’t turn out awesome—that gives the wrong impression of science.
MythBusters Episodes Can Lead to Some Fun Blog Posts
What do you get when you combine excellent building skills and nice cameras (high speed cameras)? You get the start of some cool blog posts. Yes, I have written about MythBusters quite a few times. Here are some of my favorite posts.
- Make Your Own Tanker Implosion With a Soda Can. This is a simple and mostly safe demonstration of the power of atmospheric pressure. It’s fun too.
- What Went Wrong With the MythBusters’ Newton’s Cradle? Everyone knows of Newton’s Cradle as that fun executive clacking balls toy. What happens when you make it really big? It doesn’t work—but why?
- Why Did the Rocket Car Break the Ramp? When the MythBusters put a rocket on a car, it broke the ramp as it went up. Why? The answer has to do with momentum.
- MythBusters Physics Homework: Whips and Pendulums. Here is a great example of all the cool questions you can answer from just one episode of the show.
- What Happens When You Double the Speed in a Collision? This is a classic—which would be worse, a 50 mph head collision with another car going 50 mph or a 100 mph collision with a wall?.
That’s it. Thanks for all the great physics examples!