Two weeks ago, MythBusters hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage announced that the show’s 14th season, which starts in January, would be its last. And yesterday, The New York Times published a piece ably explaining why we all owe MythBusters a debt of gratitude for making science cool again.
When the show first aired in 2003, mainstream interest in science was at a low point. The Apollo missions were ancient history, Bill Nye had been off the air for seven years, and science fiction spent much of its time portraying the future as a sort of techno-dystopia. MythBusters fought this tide by showing people what “doing science” actually looked like, and making it seem fun. At the time, only 20 percent of college freshmen were entering STEM fields, and as the article explains:
Too often, science is presented as a body of established facts to be handed down to obedient students. But MythBusters isn’t about facts, it’s about process: For every myth, the team has to figure out how to test the claim, then construct an experiment, carry out the tests and analyze the results. (Penny: false. Poppy seeds: true.) Every episode is an object lesson in the scientific method. Scientists had often been depicted in entertainment, but rarely had audiences seen people actually doing science.
Obviously, experiments staged for television can’t have the rigor of peer-reviewed lab work. But MythBusters captures the underlying mind-set of science. At a time when “skepticism” too often means rejecting any ideas one finds politically unpalatable, MythBusters provides a compelling example of real scientific skepticism, the notion that nothing can be held true until it is confirmed by experimentation.
The piece adds that in some ways, so many of the weird, nerdy things that have exploded in popularity in the past decade—high school robotics teams and Maker Faire festivals, for example—is in part attributable to MythBusters. Savage says that he and the rest of the MythBusters team are happy to have encouraged people to develop a passion for science, telling the Times, “I feel really lucky that MythBusters coincided with the whole D.I.Y. movement and contributed to it. I mean, you’ve got 10-year-old girls building robots now!”