One of the most popular television shows on the Discovery Channel is Mythbusters. Their crew of special effects experts, engineers, and scientists look at myths and popular science through the eyes of controlled experimentation for the purpose of “confirming” or “busting” rumors and myths. It is not surprising that such a show would be a hit, as the origins of modern experimental science include the reports of the Royal Society of London in their journal “Philosophical Transactions” where amateur and professional scientists from around the world reported on their putting nature to the test. Can spiders run out of a circle made from powdered unicorn horn? That’s where you would go to find the answer! In many ways, the Royal Society, with members like Newton and Boyle and Hooke and others, was the first “science club” and gave us the blueprint for the way modern experimental science is done.
In our BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research class we are looking at the efforts of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters crew to see whether their experimental approaches to testing nature in past episodes can be improved upon. Four teams of students will be watching Mythbusters episodes this weekend and presenting cases from the Mythbuster files and then improving upon the science – identifying and accounting for additional variables, improving upon the controls, etc. – for the purpose of demonstrating their knowledge of how science is done. What good is learning about how experiments are set up without actually setting some up? How better than to analyze and improve upon the experiments of others!
So what will it be: the exploding outhouse? the five-second rule? We’ll see which of the hundreds of clips and stories from the Mythbuster archives are chosen for presentations and re-thinking in the lab during the next few weeks.