The TV Mythbusters vs. Science & Engineering

Posted On: Tuesday - September 5th 2017 7:29PM MST
In Topics: 
  General Stupidity  TV, aka Gov't Media  Curmudgeonry  Science

Peak Stupidity has categorically stated that TV sucks and has sucked since long before our average median reader was potty-trained. I am off TV, so forgive me if I don't remember all the details of the show in question. I don't even remember which "channel" or network name due to the fact that about every one of all those new different types of TV broadcasting that came out 20-30 years back have changed what they are about but kept their names.

This is the "curmudgeonry" part. It seems like one should be able to watch the History channel to see shows about history, as WAS the case, what, 15 years ago or so? Yeah, they pretty much concentrated on WWII and the European theater only, so it was the "Nazi" channel to me (now we have youtube antifa videos for this!), but that's still historical. At this point, or last I checked, this "History" channel broadcast non-stop views of people getting ripped off, or ripping people off on some cheap old Cabana-wear crap. I don't know what's that awful historical about these "pawn stars". You had your Learning channel for, I guess, learning; what is it now, nonstop Gilligan's Island, or is that another one? Oh, anyone remember MTV when it broadcast Music freakin' Videos. That ended about in the early 1990's. The American Movie Classic channel would show, let me guess, American Classic Movies, and this one was about the last one to morph.

The Weather Channel used to be about checking the weather 24/7, but now we can see "Storm Stories". Really, I do understand that times change - just for this Weather Channel example, yes, now we can get the weather on our phones, etc., so they had to do something different to keep viewers. That's understandable, but for some of the other ones, why even keep the name? There's no telling from the name what the broadcasts are about - you tune in the Animal channel, you may get non-stop episodes of I Love Lucy (along with The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy!, of course).

Finally back to the subject now, we have explained why the network name of the Mythbusters show eludes us. That is not the worst show by any means on these cable TV deals with all the 517 channels. There's much, much worse. Mythbusters is entertaining, and who wouldn't want to watch stuff get smashed, shot across the room, or run over with monster trucks? Peak Stupidity does not link to these kinds of things or do research for some of the more mundane posts (hell, maybe ANY of the posts), so we're going by pure random access memory dump here. The two guys that do all the "Myth Busting" are reasonable enough, and not too annoying with one exception.

The show purports to present these two guys as science or engineering types*, and that's what I've got a problem with. Predictions are made; final outcomes of these experiments are discussed, and conclusions are made like it is an engineering paper. Bull! The stuff on that show is neither science nor engineering. Sure, experiments are involved, but just trying different shit, as entertaining as it may be, and predicting guessing what will happen does not make an engineering/science experiment. In addition to the lack of control tests, design of the experiments to predetermine what are the variables to be tested, there is no theory.

Sure, sometimes in engineering, the theory doesn't cover the reality well (there is no math to cover the process very well, or the models have been way off before) or testing may be cheaper than heavy analysis. Still, some theory or at least engineering math is involved to at least define what the variables are, and what the results really represent. Testing must be done with a goal to cover not just the one process happening, but to at least allow for changes to the paramaters that may be different in the future.

An example would be helpful. Let's just say we are doing what sounds like a simple thing - testing the strength of seat belts. We'd want to know beforehand a range of belts to test to use the proper tensile test machine. We'd have to think of the loading rate (very high in this case, for impact), and make sure we not only use the right one, but test different rates. We'd want to know everything about the seat belt material, and how we can grip it to reduce errors from testing AND make it match the reality of the actual attachment points in the vehicle.

As far as theory, there is the simple stress calculation for axial loading, but cloth is an inherently non-homogenous material, and other calculations (based on thread patterns, etc.) must be used. Because of the high rate of loading, instead of just energy absorbed, impact theory will be involved. Why bother with this, you say, when we are going to test anyway? Well, because this way, once we get some good data and try to match theory with test results, we may want to apply this learning to avoid tests for future products (or at least have "qualification testing" only, as in just some sample runs vs. an entire test program again for every new product). That's engineering.

WWTMBD? (What Would The Myth Busters Do?)

I'll tell you what they'd do - "We're gonna drop 500 lb of barbells on the end of this long seat belt from the roof of the Chrysler Building." "I say it'll hold, guy." "No, no way, we're gonna go ahead and clear the NW corner of 42nd St. and Lexington Ave (see I did SOME research!), as those barbells are going to make some cool cracks in the sidewalk, and we're gonna film ALL of it!" "See! I told you it would hold. This proves that seat belts are safe. Quit worrying about them, viewers."

You know what, all truth be told, it was probably just that gay beret that the one dude wears that turned me off about this show. Listen, guy on the right, unless you are currently in the Special Forces or are a Frenchman or, even better, a Frenchman in the French Foreign Legion, what the hell are you doing wearing that silly beret? Take it off, take a 4-year curriculum of engineering and then go on TV. Otherwise, get the hell off the air, and put back on those episodes of I Love Lucy, ya' wankers!

* No, I'm not saying the guys have been called "engineers" or "scientists" on the show, but they just talk like they are.

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