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October 19, 2010 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Twice now, Mythbusters has tackled the story of Archimedes' "heat ray." Twice now it's been busted. So who could have persuaded them to revisit it a third time? ...President Barack Obama.

Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman were guests at the recent White House Science Fair, where the three announced Obama's upcoming appearance. The fair, like Obama's guest spot, was designed to promote the importance of math and science education in America's schools. But Obama also may be something of a fan -- he's already taped his episode, and confessed to the audience that he was "a little frustrated" that he didn't get to blow anything up.

Other presidents have made cameo appearances on television shows, including Bill Clinton on MTV, Richard Nixon on Laugh-In and George W. Bush on Deal or No Deal.
posted by EmpressCallipygos (121 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obama + Myth Busters = Metagasm
posted by caddis at 4:41 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


he was "a little frustrated" that he didn't get to blow anything up
posted by klue at 4:42 AM on October 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


MTV is a television show?
posted by inturnaround at 4:44 AM on October 19, 2010


Works off the side of that damn hotel in Vegas!
posted by PuppyCat at 4:46 AM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow. And I was annoyed that they based a whole episode on a tie-in with some other show on the same network last week. Now, they're shilling for the President. I'm not sure if I view that as a step up or a step down.
posted by crunchland at 4:49 AM on October 19, 2010


Can we get asavage to ask Obama about the literal viking?
posted by shakespeherian at 4:52 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


Whenever British Prime Minister's appear outside of the context of Westminster - and particularly when aping some popular culture trope at the urging of some underling or another - it makes me cringe so hard that sometimes I fear that my teeth are going to implode. I hope Obama fares better than the two awful examples above.
posted by Jofus at 4:57 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think I'd rather see Obama busting the myth of trickle-down economics.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 5:02 AM on October 19, 2010 [64 favorites]


This is awesome. Obama is awesome. Science is awesome. Thank you and goodnight.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:02 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


In a nation where many of your most recognizable public speakers deliver a message of "get behind the shield of God", having your elected leader appear on a show that "uses science to separate fact from fiction" is only good news.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 5:04 AM on October 19, 2010 [81 favorites]


The death ray episodes alway left me a bit disappointed. I mean take a 1 sq meter bronze sheild polished and concave and determine the amount of reflected radiation. Consider alternative designs, whitewashed lime springs to minds. Calculate the losses over the distance of 250 meters and determine watts on target. Then scale up until you have driven enough btus for ignition of canvas or sail in under 10 seconds. Then triple your design for death ray effect. Watch the enemy navy go up in smoke as long as they attack on a clear day.
posted by humanfont at 5:07 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was hoping the Mythbusters would tackle the right wing myth of the President's citizenship.
posted by zzazazz at 5:09 AM on October 19, 2010 [12 favorites]


Um, as the Commander in Chief during war time, doesn't he sort of get to blow things up every day? (Don't get me wrong, I'm wouldn't miss the episode for the world, but still...)
posted by Fenriss at 5:10 AM on October 19, 2010


In a nation where many of your most recognizable public speakers deliver a message of "get behind the shield of God", having your elected leader appear on a show that "uses science to separate fact from fiction" is only good news.

I don't really have anything to add to this comment, I just wanted to make sure that it was in here multiple times.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:19 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Um, as the Commander in Chief during war time, doesn't he sort of get to blow things up every day?

Perhaps that is why he was frustrated.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:29 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So... is this... is this our new defense strategy?
posted by shakespeherian at 5:29 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


At the White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night, President Obama noted that in the audience were the Jonas brothers.

"Sasha and Malia are huge fans," he said, "but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”


I haven't laughed that hard since Bush looked behind his speaking podium for weapons of mass destruction.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:32 AM on October 19, 2010 [15 favorites]


Spreading propaganda and lies about the world's first democracy ...

Sounds pretty socialist to me.
posted by timdicator at 5:38 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was hoping the Mythbusters would tackle the right wing myth of the President's citizenship.

Done!
posted by mhoye at 5:48 AM on October 19, 2010 [44 favorites]


Thanks, mhoye, you just cracked me up.
posted by zzazazz at 5:53 AM on October 19, 2010


At the White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night
... 5 months ago.
posted by inigo2 at 5:54 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Any president who threatens to kill the Jonas Brothers is all right with me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:08 AM on October 19, 2010 [19 favorites]


Well enough with that derail. I want to know why they're revisiting this myth again. Did Adam and Jamie think of something, was it based on viewer submissions, or what? Or did the guy who built the massive, focusable death ray that got broken during transit get a chance to rebuild?
posted by jedicus at 6:13 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well enough with that derail. I want to know why they're revisiting this myth again.

IT INVOLVES FIRE.

More seriously, there's enough happening to make good television.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:18 AM on October 19, 2010


As our leader who controls "THE RED BUTTON", kind of scary he says he's a little disappointed he didn't get to blow anything up.
posted by stormpooper at 6:20 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


doesn't he sort of get to blow things up every day?

You mean like see something get blown up first hand? Or get to put the wires together to make something go boom like they do on Mythbusters? (Which is what this post is about).

No. I don't think so.
posted by morganannie at 6:20 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've got a meetup in the works here in SF - maybe Adam will come to this one! And we can all squee and ask him what it was like to hang out with Barry! (And you know we'll squee. We totally did when he came to a meetup a few years ago.)
posted by rtha at 6:21 AM on October 19, 2010


As our leader who controls "THE RED BUTTON", kind of scary he says he's a little disappointed he didn't get to blow anything up.

Are you kidding? He's a Democrat; Putin could be turning half the free world into trinitite and he'd still think the issue needs a little more discussion after the fall recess.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:26 AM on October 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


Imma let you finish, but Truman had the biggest explosions of all time. Of all time!
posted by Artful Codger at 6:31 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


I want to hear more about George W. Bush on Deal or No Deal. Was he one of the bikini women holding a briefcase?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:39 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Artful Codger, I believe Khrushchev had the biggest explosion of all time.
posted by Pendragon at 6:42 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Imma let you finish, but Truman had the biggest explosions of all time. Of all time!

Sorry Kanye...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:42 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we knock off this derail and get to the more important issue:

Did it ever occur to Jamie that when one meets the President of the United States perhaps he should put on a tie?
posted by bondcliff at 6:43 AM on October 19, 2010


He should at least put little red bows on the ends of his mustache.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on October 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


Artful Codger, I believe Khrushchev had the biggest explosion of all time.

... I didn't know about that one. Thanks. never too old to learn.

actually I was sort of riffing on the US President theme so technically Khrushchev wouldn't have made the joke but anyway.... oh nevermind. Thanks again.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:50 AM on October 19, 2010


Did it ever occur to Jamie that when one meets the President of the United States perhaps he should put on a tie?

Did it ever occur to Obama to put on a beret?

Jamie is in costume for the show. He's playing "super serious Jamie who always wears the same thing and doesn't put on a tie for anybody". It's like when Adam wears a space suit.
posted by device55 at 6:51 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


In a nation where many of your most recognizable public speakers deliver a message of "get behind the shield of God", having your elected leader appear on a show that "uses science to separate fact from fiction" is only good news.

1) Mythbusters isn't really science.
2) Those propagandists cannot not be refudiated by Obama and a popular tv show.

MYTH: BUSTED
posted by clarknova at 6:51 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed. Joe, find some way to stop riding your hobbyhorse out wherever possible, period.]
posted by cortex at 6:55 AM on October 19, 2010 [25 favorites]


inturnaround writes "MTV is a television show?"

When Bill was president it was basically a 8 hour long Video show.

tapesonthefloor writes "having your elected leader appear on a show that 'uses science to separate fact from fiction' is only good news."

Too bad it's such sloppy science.
posted by Mitheral at 6:55 AM on October 19, 2010


How to construct an Archimedes death ray, Obama style:

Get a wooden boat
Get soldiers in a parabola, centered at the boat, and give them polished bronze panels to reflect the sunlight (let's call them DEATH PANELS).

This works best if the boat is filled with old people.
posted by qvantamon at 6:56 AM on October 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


He wore a suit jacket (no tie) for the Emmy's.
posted by morganannie at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2010


Khrushchev was our president for three weeks in 1964 due to an extraordinarily embarrassing bureaucratic mix-up. It's scarcely remembered by historian, due to an extraordinary cover up that mostly involved everybody getting really quiet and embarrassed when the subject is raised, like when you mention your uncle who is in prison at Christmas dinner. But linguists remember it, because it was the moment the word Czar started getting affixed to presidential advisers, the moment the word "vodka" entered the English language (previously it had been called "white whiskey,") and the moment we started calling prehistoric elephants "woolly mammoths," from the Russian word "mamont"; previously, they had been called Tusk Monsters.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:57 AM on October 19, 2010 [24 favorites]


1) Mythbusters isn't really science.

http://xkcd.com/397/

braiiins

2) Those propagandists cannot not be refudiated by Obama and a popular tv show.

True, extremists cannot easily be reasoned with, if at all. But there is some value in communicating a positive useful message. There are people who can benefit from hearing it.
posted by device55 at 6:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


1) Mythbusters isn't really science.

You LIE!!!

Seriously, nobody thinks Mythbusters is pure science. In fact I'd go so far to say that it's only about 1% science, but the fact is it does attempt to test hypotheses using repeatable, controlled real-world circumstances and that makes it way more scientific than the 700 Club or Fox and Friends.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:59 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Why my brain but an apostrophe in Emmys I do not know).

But he also wore a suit jacket (no tie) when he visited the White House in 2009.
posted by morganannie at 7:02 AM on October 19, 2010


Mythbusters isn't really science.
...
Too bad it's such sloppy science.

Fie on that. I recall from the MetaFilter podcast episode with Adam Savage that actual working scientists tend to love the show. The complaints about rigor, sample size, etc tend to come from laypeople complaining on message boards. Ahem.

The show is, at its core, about doing experiments rather than relying on authority or tradition, taking things on faith, or trying to derive an answer from assumptions and intuition. The takeaway points are that a) it is possible and desirable to discover truth through experiment, b) science can be used to answer all kinds of questions, not just the kind involving beakers and particle accelerators, and c) everyone can do experiments, not just some closed-off scientific priesthood. Those are all tremendously valuable lessons.
posted by jedicus at 7:04 AM on October 19, 2010 [54 favorites]


Now that's a death-ray I can believe in!
posted by fuq at 7:08 AM on October 19, 2010


And I was annoyed that they based a whole episode on a tie-in with some other show on the same network last week.

Holy crap, no kidding. I watched about 5 or 10 minutes that piece of garbage and skipped the rest. Mythbusters stock dropped a lot with me after that nonsense. Much bigger than the hit they took the previous week for pretty patently setting up tests that police dogs couldn't fail (getting cleaned up and then carrying a bottle of your own scent with you? really?). Around the same size hit as the one they took years ago, declining to air the one about how easy it is to crack credit cards.

These guys are great entertainment and even pretty decent education (relative to the rest of TV) but there needs to be an unbeholden, Internet version.
posted by DU at 7:09 AM on October 19, 2010


but there needs to be an unbeholden, Internet version.

You have been on the internet before right? I think there must be like a million unbeholden, internet versions of this genre, and that's just on YouTube!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:12 AM on October 19, 2010


An unbeholden, Internet version that isn't two frat boys and a microwave oven in their mom's back yard
posted by DU at 7:13 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


actually I was sort of riffing on the US President theme so technically Khrushchev wouldn't have made the joke but anyway

It's still not Truman. The most biggestest US asplosion EVAR was Castle Bravo in 1954, so it was Eisenhower.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:19 AM on October 19, 2010


"I watched about 5 or 10 minutes that piece of garbage and skipped the rest."

And missed Jamie getting spanked (literally) by tornado-force winds.
posted by bwg at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2010


an unbeholden, Internet version

It'll never work-- I'm not really sure how to make porn out of it, honestly.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:20 AM on October 19, 2010


It's still not Truman. The most biggestest US asplosion EVAR was Castle Bravo in 1954, so it was Eisenhower.

... me fail teh Internets. Me go play outside now. kthxbye.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:24 AM on October 19, 2010



And missed Jamie getting spanked (literally) by tornado-force winds.



It'll never work-- I'm not really sure how to make porn out of it, honestly.


Umm, here you go.
posted by stevis23 at 7:34 AM on October 19, 2010


Mmm, wind porn.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:39 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


In fact I'd go so far to say that it's only about 1% science

Really? Because when I watch Mythbusters, what I see is the veracity of a commonly-held belief of some kind taken as the hypothesis, and then an apparatus gets built to support and tests get done that either support or disprove the veracity of that hypothesis.

Modulo some blowing things up, which I believe we can all agree is right at the intersection of science and fun, what more do you want? These guys aren't doing sociology; having them say "well, according to our sample of 2000 people, 28% of the time, they'll select radio-detonator A over bazooka B, normalizing for age and gender", or whatever, because that's crappy television. They're saying "will a cellphone blow up a gas pump?", putting cellphones all over gas pumps, and determining that the answer is no.

The thing that makes them great, and I'm sure the envy of scientists everywhere, is that at the end of that they'll say "We have this gas pump here not doing anything, and if cellphones won't blow it up, we will", and then kaboom, because explosions are fun.

That doesn't make their investigative process any less scientific. They make a verifiable hypothesis, construct a way to test it, run their tests and use the results to assert that their hypothesis is either correct or false. That's what science _is_.
posted by mhoye at 7:39 AM on October 19, 2010 [25 favorites]


As our leader who controls "THE RED BUTTON", kind of scary he says he's a little disappointed he didn't get to blow anything up.

It's a little churlish to imply that he's hot to blow up a village somewhere for his own amusement's sake. You could say the same thing about the 4th of July fireworks, but of course, you won't.

When nobody's getting hurt, blowing things up is fun. I will know that I am capital-O Old when that stops being the case.
posted by mhoye at 7:54 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


They make a verifiable hypothesis, construct a way to test it, run their tests and use the results to assert that their hypothesis is either correct or false. That's what science _is_.

I agree with you, but really, most of the show is tv show stuff, not them making a varifiable hypothesis and testing it. Slow-mo shots of explosions from different angles, bits about Adam or Grant throwing up due to motion sickness, commercials, that stuff makes up most of the air time. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying the science part may be the overarching theme but it is not the majority of the content.

But, hey, if you want two guys in a lab doing highly controlled, low-budget, sedate physics, there's plenty of that on YouTube too.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:01 AM on October 19, 2010


My father is a scientist. A television show about him would mostly consist of him standing in a hallway, talking about his latest trip to Italy with someone who has already heard the story, but is humoring him.

I love my dad, but Mythbusters is better teevee.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:06 AM on October 19, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's the one show that sometimes makes me think about buying cable. I mean, it's not in the budget. But so many great exploding things that I am missing!
posted by stoneweaver at 8:12 AM on October 19, 2010


stoneweaver, if you have Netflix they're both on disc & on instant/streaming.
posted by epersonae at 8:28 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Real science" (or "true scotsman") or not, I'm addicted to MythBusters. My Netflix instant queue is packed with the show. What an incredibly cool job to have: You get to actually get up from behind a desk and go out in the world and, among other things, blow stuff up. And the cast all seem like such fun, nice people, too. Hating on Mythbusters ranks up their with hating the sound of children's laughter in my book. Bitter people will always feel compelled to make vociferously bitter declamations when they suspect others might actually be guilty of enjoying themselves.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:33 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


("up there" not "up their", natch.)
posted by saulgoodman at 8:33 AM on October 19, 2010


Great. Now my in-laws will be forwarding me emails about the OBAMA DEATH RAY...
posted by Ron Thanagar at 8:37 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


he was "a little frustrated" that he didn't get to blow anything up

I love Mythbusters but holy shit that was a softball that undercut all other softballs. We're talking entered a cheat code to make the ball go slow-mo softball here.

And I was annoyed that they based a whole episode on a tie-in with some other show on the same network last week. Now, they're shilling for the President.

This seems far less worse than "Sarah Palin's Alaska" which is going to be twelve solid hours of shilling for a presidential candidate*. Be thankful Mythhbusters did their Alaska special years before this one got greenlit.

*Grar how dare you she's not running she's like totally a private citizen yeah sure okay got it.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:48 AM on October 19, 2010


Like some others, I will happily defend Mythbusters against charges that it is not "science." I use the scare quotes because the reality is that science is a great many things - it is a philosophy of knowledge, a profession, a collection of techniques to learning, a historically-contingent way of knowing the world, a label for a self-correcting and self-revising knowledge base, and is frequently used as a shorthand for "rationality." Of course Mythbusters isn't an embodiment of all of those but it is fundamentally a good thing because it teaches curiosity about the world and shows it is possible to not only to wonder about the world but to get off your a** and figure out how the world works. And most of the experiments are very do-able or at least understandable to the vast majority of the audience, which is no mean feat.

To me Mythbusters is the best show I have ever seen to illustrate experimental science - that the answers are out there is you would only look. (History Detectives is also great and does the same thing for the historical sciences). The show reaches pinnacles of awesomeness with the revisit-the-myth shows which mirror the peer-review process and internal deliberations that constitute science-as-a-profession. So yes, they don't tackle problems to the same depth as some scientific research does but they show the fundamental approach one would use to get there.

(I would also add that in the experimental wing of my own field, archaeology, there are many papers that are frequently cited that are less involved than a typical Mythbusters experiment. If they ever decided to they could make a huge dent in some of the questions we have about ancient technology with just a few shows. Too bad throwing atlatls, breaking pots, burning wattle-and-daub houses, and butchering and transporting large mammals are probably not the most interesting to a TV audience.)
posted by Tallguy at 8:58 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Sasha and Malia are huge fans," he said, "but boys, don't get any ideas. Two words for you: predator drones. You will never see it coming.”

If their targeting systems are as inaccurate as this lawsuit claims, it would probably miss them anyway.
posted by homunculus at 9:00 AM on October 19, 2010


And speaking of blowing things up, the next batch of Wikileaks documents could have a bit on the development of IEDs and EFPs in Iraq.
posted by homunculus at 9:06 AM on October 19, 2010


Too bad throwing atlatls, breaking pots, burning wattle-and-daub houses, and butchering and transporting large mammals are probably not the most interesting to a TV audience.

What? That all sounds fantastic. I mean you've got weapons, feats of strength, breakin' stuff, burning large things, and the ever-popular killing and eating animals. What's not to like? You should submit the ideas to the show.

Okay, the butchering large mammals part probably wouldn't make it past the network execs, but they use pre-killed animals all the time (although Kari would probably prefer they didn't).
posted by jedicus at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


inturnaround writes "MTV is a television show?"

When Bill was president it was basically a 8 hour long Video show.


When Bill was president, MTV played Real World reruns and Beavis & Butt-head non-stop with the occasional The Jon Stewart Show or other non-music-video program. MTV hasn't been a music video channel since the Reagan administration.
posted by The World Famous at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2010


I for one firmly believe in The Archimedes Heat Ray, no matter what "empirical analysis" may suggest to the contrary.
posted by tybeet at 9:18 AM on October 19, 2010


When Bill was president, MTV played Real World reruns and Beavis & Butt-head non-stop with the occasional The Jon Stewart Show or other non-music-video program. MTV hasn't been a music video channel since the Reagan administration.

Clinton was on MTV in 1994. At that time MTV still had Alternative Nation, The Grind, MTV Unplugged, 120 Minutes, Top 20 Video Countdown, and Yo! MTV Raps. That's a fair amount of music.
posted by jedicus at 9:20 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've always characterized Mythbusters as being a combination of science and Science! the science is the honest efforts to create repeatable, testable situations for evaluating a claim. The Science! is the resultant explosion of taking said situation to the logical (and wonderfully absurd) extreme.

It makes for good TV and, I feel, sound results.
posted by quin at 9:22 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a couple of ancient technology Mythbuster shows, I would totally get cable. Burning ancient houses? Spears? Breaking pots and things?! SOLD.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:25 AM on October 19, 2010


clarknova: "1) Mythbusters isn't really science."

I think you misunderstand the difference between "not being science" and "not being all science". They're teaching the most vital fundamental of science: don't trust your instinct -- test. Just because they aren't demonstrating sample size and control groups and experiment sanitation doesn't mean they aren't doing science. A kindergarten teacher who's teaching the alphabet is teaching language even though they aren't showing how to identify and eradicate passive tense in five-paragraph essays.
posted by Plutor at 9:25 AM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


Clinton was on MTV in 1994. At that time MTV still had Alternative Nation, The Grind, MTV Unplugged, 120 Minutes, Top 20 Video Countdown, and Yo! MTV Raps. That's a fair amount of music.

Well, this is sort of a silly tangent. Yes, it was more music than they currently show. But 120 minutes (really, was that on in '94?) was on once a week after midnight, Unplugged was on what, once a month? And, as I recall, Yo! MTV Raps and the countdown were on once a week. When I was in college in '94, our house had a big old tube cabinet TV that took a couple of days to warm up and work, so we never turned it off - ever. And we left it on MTV all the time, because the channel changer didn't work right. It was pretty much Beavis and Butthead and Real World re-runs. There were a few videos here and there.

Anyway, back to Mythbusters, while it's not a "true science" program or whatever, they do a pretty good job most of the time at addressing the myths in a sufficiently rigorous way by narrowly defining what it is they're trying to prove. When the question is "is it possible to split a bullet on the head of an axe?" That question is sufficiently answered by simply accomplishing the feat one time. There's no "true science" necessary, really. It's a great show to which I am addicted and which I will defend to the death (well, not actually to the death. Please don't kill me).
posted by The World Famous at 9:29 AM on October 19, 2010


The link to xkcd that device55 posted is perhaps the best response to questions about the validity of Mythbusters. I have always poo-pooed Mythbusters for their sloppiness, but from the standpoint of "basic" science, I think this is the best way to regard the show for it's essential value.

As for Archimedes heat ray, it's pretty clear he used a narrowband microwave emitter cobbled together from things he found lying around. Archimedes was the original MacGyver (cf. The Legend of the Holy Rose, part 2, Season 5).
posted by Xoebe at 9:34 AM on October 19, 2010


Just to contribute my voice to the chorus of people saying that yes, Mythbusters is science: My sister-in-law teaches junior-high science, and regularly uses segments from Mythbusters to illustrate how science works. The kids get that experimentation is key, plus they get to watch things explode. It makes them excited about science in an exciting and visceral way, rather than seeing science as a collection of received unquestionable facts.

Mythbusters, you are doing your part to make the youth of America smarter and more passionate. I salute you.
posted by Greg Nog at 9:35 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


At least Beavis & Butthead had music videos in it.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:36 AM on October 19, 2010


really, was that on in '94?

Wikipedia seems to think so. I gotta be honest, though...my memories of MTV from that time are at best about 50/50 music videos and Beavis and Butthead/news/other non-music. Which kind of proves your point, I guess.


Anyway, apparently this Mythbusters episode won't actually air until December 8th, which makes the PR blitz a little frustrating.
posted by jedicus at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2010


At least Beavis & Butthead had music videos in it.

Still, I don't think that makes it better than Mythbusters.
posted by The World Famous at 9:39 AM on October 19, 2010


The 10th Regiment of Foot writes "Seriously, nobody thinks Mythbusters is pure science."

Probably true for most people with a conception of Pure Science. But people without that conception think they are authoritative because they use experiments. The internet is rife with the expression "Mythbusters proved you can't blah blah blah" when often they have proven no such thing. A bit of searching would find that expression or words to that effect on AskMe. I have no problem when they prove something is possible as one successful experiment is all it takes. I love the "plug the pressure relief valve on a hot water tank and see it go sky high" episode. But when they say something isn't possible it is often after only the most cursory of attempts. My go to episode demonstrating this is one when they were trying to light some gas on fire with an obviously too rich mixture and their solution to non ignition was to pour on some more gas. Or when they "proved" a broken drive shaft can't catapult a car when all they proved was you probably can't catapult a 67 valiant. If Mythbusters were running in 1900 they'd easily "prove" that powered flight wasn't possible. They'd easily "prove" no one driving a car could survive a 150 mph impact with a brick wall or a free fall from 5K feet.

jedicus writes "Fie on that. I recall from the MetaFilter podcast episode with Adam Savage that actual working scientists tend to love the show. The complaints about rigor, sample size, etc tend to come from laypeople complaining on message boards. Ahem."

As above I have no problem with the show when they prove something possible. It's the authority they claim which is then accepted by other people when they say something isn't possible that grates.
posted by Mitheral at 9:48 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Speaking of death rays, remember when Rob Cockerham of cockeyed.com got his hands on a giant satellite dish and an equally giant quantity of mirrors? Good times.
posted by mhum at 9:49 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So now we have an African-American president showing an active, public interest in science? I like where he's going from a role model perspective.
posted by davejay at 9:56 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


Still, I don't think that makes it better than Mythbusters.

On the other hand I could totally see Beavis & Butthead co-hosting an episode of Mythbusters.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:01 AM on October 19, 2010


It's a little churlish to imply that he's hot to blow up a village somewhere for his own amusement's sake. You could say the same thing about the 4th of July fireworks, but of course, you won't.

It's al ittle churlish not to have a sense of humor.
posted by stormpooper at 10:07 AM on October 19, 2010


Mitheral : It's the authority they claim which is then accepted by other people when they say something isn't possible that grates.

Yeah, but they are always willing to concede that authority when their viewers email and ask for retesting based on valid suggestions for better variables. They never seem to suggest that the answer they found in the absolute be-all-end-all unquestionable Truth.
posted by quin at 10:28 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Too bad throwing atlatls, breaking pots, burning wattle-and-daub houses, and butchering and transporting large mammals are probably not the most interesting to a TV audience.

Wasn't either the Learning Channel or History Channel doing stuff just like that early on? I seem to remember arrows vs. breastplate, catapult fire against various types of towers, etc..
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2010


Mitheral: "It's the authority they claim which is then accepted by other people when they say something isn't possible that grates."

The plane will fly. Get over it.
posted by Plutor at 11:35 AM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


>>an unbeholden, Internet version

>It'll never work-- I'm not really sure how to make porn out of it, honestly.


The porn would be made out of ballistic gel, obviously.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:57 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


But when they say something isn't possible it is often after only the most cursory of attempts.

Take the soda vs. windshield episode. "Naw, it just sort of bashed up the windshield a bit. Busted!" Wait--what? What if it's one of Jay Leno's antiques with a winshoield made of un-tempered, un-laminated glass? He'd totally die, right? Right?
posted by Sys Rq at 12:08 PM on October 19, 2010


The plane will fly. Get over it.

That's the exact opposite of what Mitheral's talking about. It would be as if the plane happened to not fly in their one test and they concluded that it could never fly.
posted by kmz at 12:12 PM on October 19, 2010


Real science is about writing grant applications and they have Grant writing applications. Close enough for me.
posted by Free word order! at 12:23 PM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


There's a bunch of myths I'd like to see busted : )
posted by Fundraising Ideas at 12:39 PM on October 19, 2010


Perez Hilton (or his ghostwriter) was snarking on this and saying the President should be paying more attention to solving the recession or unemployment or whatever instead of being on Mythbusters, and said that he was trying to be a celebrity. Seriously? I hate Perez Hilton now. This is the kind of stuff I've been seeing on CNN and all over the web the minute the president attends his kids' soccer game or goes to Hellburger or takes a bathroom break. I hate it when people say stuff like that. It's so irritating. Like solving the recession or unemployment is just about spending more thinking it out or whatever. There's finally a president who is a real, honest to God role model for American children, and people complain that he takes bathroom breaks. They never complained when Bush was out on vacation all of the time. It never bothered them that that guy could barely string a coherent sentence together, but President Obama can't make a cameo on television without people screaming that he's trying to be a celebrity.
posted by anniecat at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


kmz: "That's the exact opposite of what Mitheral's talking about. It would be as if the plane happened to not fly in their one test and they concluded that it could never fly."

What if the treadmill failed to stop the airplane from flying in a small handful of tests? That's totally different!

Actually, I was just quoting their most controversial experiment for humorous effect.
posted by Plutor at 12:48 PM on October 19, 2010


I apologize, but I read about this Mythbusters thing and I was really pissed at the comments I saw elsewhere and had to tell you all about it.
posted by anniecat at 12:49 PM on October 19, 2010


They never complained when Bush was out on vacation all of the time. It never bothered them that that guy could barely string a coherent sentence together

Um, actually, yeah, they did, constantly. I don't blame you for blocking those eight years out of your memory, though.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2010


OK, I finally signed up here indulge in an optics geek rant. The problem with calculations like humanfont's, above, is that the figure you need is not watts on target, but watts per square meter. There's a fundamental law of optics that says that because the sun's not a point source, you can never concentrate all of it's energy back onto a point-sized target.

In fact, if you stand at the target and look back, the surface brightness (watts per square degree is one measure) of an object like the sun, viewed through an optical system (the mirrors, lenses, or what-have-you that create the 'death ray', can never be higher than when you view the object itself.*

Take, for example, the ant on a sunny sidewalk under a mean kid's magnifying glass. When she looks back at the death ray that's about to annihilate her, she doesn't see the same size sun, grown many times brighter. Instead, the sun is the same brightness (again, per square degree) as it always was, but magnified so that it fills the burning glass. Since the lens is fairly small, but quite close, that means it fills up a lot of square degrees, and the poor ant has no chance.

What this boils down to is there are just two factors that influence the effectiveness of the 'death ray': how large the optics are, and how close you can get them. The ratio between size and distance measurements is (roughly) what optics nerds call 'focal ratio' or 'f-stop' and this the same argument explains why 'faster' lenses (with bigger optics) 'burn' an image into a film or sensor more quickly. Archimedes is left with a choice of making his death ray the size of the city, or getting it really close to the target. The same mirrors that will torch a ship held near at dockside, will barely light it up from miles away atop the mountain.

* Proving this law requires Hamiltonian math that I never quite learned, and an application of Liouville's theorem, but it's relatively easy to see that any system that could violate this law could be turned into a kind of of luminous perpetual motion machine. More importantly, you can test it yourself through experiment. Look through a magnifying class at a fairly dim extended light source (a frosted bulb on a dimmer, paper over an old flashlight, NOT THE SUN) and compare it to the original. Te magnified image is larger, but it will never be brighter.
posted by CHoldredge at 12:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [19 favorites]


anniecat: "Like solving the recession or unemployment is just about spending more thinking it out or whatever."

This is a lot like how I think about work. I'm suspicious of people who work 18-hour or 20-hour days every day every week. You end up seeing every problem as something that can be solved by throwing hours at it, not necessarily as something that can be solved through intelligent solutions.
posted by Plutor at 12:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plutor i writes "The plane will fly. Get over it."

I've always been pro-plane taking off (though the question itself is insufficiently constrained and therefor the intent of the question is debatable.) However as kmz says that's not what I'm taking about. What I'm talking about is paulsc or others in his camp would have been all over the episode and all over Metafilter if the Mythbuster's plane hadn't taken off as if it proved something; even if hypothetical minor or major tweaks to the setup or plane would have resulted in the plane taking off.

To sum up: Given their methodology a positive result is a-OK, great even; a negative result is mostly useless as data.
posted by Mitheral at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2010


They never complained when Bush was out on vacation all of the time.

"This could benefit from President Bush's attentions."

It's fun to know you're uttering a sentiment never before voiced.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:07 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's fun to know you're uttering a sentiment never before voiced.

Haha! I see your point!
posted by anniecat at 1:57 PM on October 19, 2010


CHoldredge,

Brightness is equivalent to the sum of photons converging on a sensor. A lens should indeed be increasing the sum of photons hitting the ant -- though not the energy per photon.

Or am I missing something?
posted by effugas at 2:03 PM on October 19, 2010


I understand why some are resistant to the idea that Mythbusters is "science", but frankly the concept and application of the show, while containing quite a bit of entertainment, is a decent basic application of science, especially since it is aimed at America which has a distressing amount of anti-science elements.

And, in all honesty I can't help but like that the President is going to be on the show. I think I would say that no matter the party affiliation of the president but frankly this is something GWB, McCain or Reagan would never do, Bush the Ist maaaaaaybe.
posted by edgeways at 2:30 PM on October 19, 2010


Seriously, nobody thinks Mythbusters is pure science. In fact I'd go so far to say that it's only about 1% science, but the fact is it does attempt to test hypotheses using repeatable, controlled real-world circumstances and that makes it way more scientific than the 700 Club or Fox and Friends the vast majority of news segments that discuss "science" in any sort of serious way.

Complaining that Mythbusters isn't scientific(ly rigorous) in their testing methods takes away from the fact that it's one of the few engaging sciencey shows on TV now. The show isn't called Testing Myths with Repeatable Experiments. And the fact that they'll re-test myths if people throw out reasonable alternative testing methods gives them bonus points in my book. Sure, it's "easy programming" to re-tread old myths, but it shows they also take it seriously. Plus, they blow up stuff.

On the topic of US Presidents on TV: 40 Years of Presidents Appearing on Comedy TV Shows: Why it Never Hurt Them, from Nixon on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In to presidential-hopeful Bill Clinton on The Arsenio Hall Show.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2010


40 Years of Presidents Appearing on Comedy TV Shows: Why it Never Hurt Them, from Nixon on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In to presidential-hopeful Bill Clinton on The Arsenio Hall Show.

If they're including "presidential hopefuls" on comedy shows, why exclude John Kerry's infamous motorcycle ride-in on the Tonight Show?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:47 PM on October 19, 2010


And Bob Dole. Bob Dole is pretty funny.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:53 PM on October 19, 2010


OMG shakespeherian is Bob Dole!
posted by Sys Rq at 3:01 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Curses! shakespeherian has been found out!
posted by shakespeherian at 3:03 PM on October 19, 2010


Effugas, not at all, but from that point of view, there is a limit on how closely you can arrange those photons. If I focus my concentrating reflector on a blank wall, it will project an image of the sun. Beyond a certain point, all I can do to make that image smaller (and therefore brighter) is to move closer to the wall. As I move further back, the smallest projection I can create gets larger and larger, until eventually it's much, much larger than the wall and most of those photons are wasted.
posted by CHoldredge at 3:30 PM on October 19, 2010


For a couple of ancient technology Mythbuster shows, I would totally get cable.

They do, occasionally. One of my favorite segments was when Kari, Grant, and Tori successfully recreated a medieval Korean Hwacha.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 PM on October 19, 2010


On the plus side, his motorcade down the 101 shut down all overpasses to cyclists and pedestrians (during rush hour!). So I missed my train.

Somebody owes my nanny an apology.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2010


"My Big Fat Greek Fire Wedding"
posted by ...possums at 6:49 PM on October 19, 2010


Too bad throwing atlatls, breaking pots, burning wattle-and-daub houses, and butchering and transporting large mammals are probably not the most interesting to a TV audience.

Don't forget to burninate all the peoples.

Next, on "Trogdor Live!"
posted by ...possums at 6:53 PM on October 19, 2010


Thank you CHoldredge you've given me much to ponder in my quest.
posted by humanfont at 7:01 PM on October 19, 2010


Take, for example, the ant on a sunny sidewalk under a mean kid's magnifying glass. When she looks back at the death ray that's about to annihilate her, she doesn't see the same size sun, grown many times brighter. Instead, the sun is the same brightness (again, per square degree) as it always was, but magnified so that it fills the burning glass. Since the lens is fairly small, but quite close, that means it fills up a lot of square degrees, and the poor ant has no chance.

This rings false. The magnifying glass is only close to the ant because it is designed for reading, therefore has a very short focal length. Take a lens of the same diameter, with a focal point 2 yards away instead of 6 inches, and it will still concentrate the same surface area of sunlight into the same smaller area, thus producing the same watts per square meter, but from much further away, and taking up very little of the ant's field of view.

Are you arguing that the shorter focal distance lens is inherently vastly more efficient at producing a smaller spot?

I suspect your optical principles are talking about brightness, whereas burning is talking about energy (watts). They are not the same thing.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2010


Look through a magnifying class at a fairly dim extended light source (a frosted bulb on a dimmer, paper over an old flashlight, NOT THE SUN) and compare it to the original. Te magnified image is larger, but it will never be brighter.

Binoculars and telescopic sights aid night vision because they do make the image brighter. That's why the diameter of the objective lens is the second half of their spec, after magnification.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:36 PM on October 19, 2010


Did anyone else immediately think of the US pain ray?
posted by brenton at 12:00 AM on October 20, 2010


CHoldredge--

A lens takes photons that otherwise would have missed me (in their forward path) and causes them to hit me. The photons that would have hit me, still do (minus a bit of loss, going through the glass and all). But now I have this huge other area of space where photons are pointing at me instead.

Perhaps this is the equivalent of saying, now I have a thousand spotlights on me, instead of one, but no one spotlight is any brighter. However, I've got a thousand spotlights on me. I am, quite indeed, brighter. So much brighter, I am (alas) erupting in flames.

Correct?
posted by effugas at 2:27 AM on October 22, 2010


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