MythBusters is a popular science television program produced by Australian firm Beyond Television Productions originally for the Discovery Channel in the United States. The series has since been picked up by a number of international broadcasters, including SBS in Australia, and BBC2 in the UK. The series stars American special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, who use basic elements of the scientific method to test the validity of various rumors, urban legends, myths and news stories in popular culture.
Filming for MythBusters is based in San Francisco, California, though some elements of production are done in Artarmon, Australia. Planning and some experimentation usually takes place at the cast's workshops; experiments that require more space or special accommodations are filmed on location, typically around the Bay Area. During the second season, several members of Savage and Hyneman's team ("The Build Team") were split off into a second team of MythBusters, and now typically test separate myths from the main duo.
In July 2006, an edited thirty-minute version of MythBusters began airing on BBC Two in the UK. The episodes shown on the European Discovery Channel sometimes include extra scenes not shown in the U.S. version (some of these scenes eventually make their way into "specials", such as "MythBusters Outtakes").
As the series progressed, some members of Hyneman's staff were introduced to the audience and began to regularly appear in episodes. Three such members, artist Kari Byron, builder Tory Belleci and metal-worker Scottie Chapman, split off in the second season to form a second team of MythBusters, dubbed the "Build Team". After Chapman left the show for personal reasons during the third season, Grant Imahara, a colleague of Hyneman, was brought in to round out the team with his electrical and robotics experience. The Build Team now works at its own workshop, called M7, investigating separate myths from the original duo. Each episode now typically jumps back and forth between the two teams covering different myths.
The show has had two interns, dubbed "Mythterns": Discovery Channel contest winner Christine Chamberlain and viewer building contest-winner Jess Nelson; neither is with the show now. In the first season, the program featured segments with folklorist Heather Joseph-Witham, who explained the origins of certain urban legends, and other people who had first-hand experience with the myths being tested, but those elements were phased out early in the series. However, the MythBusters still commonly consult with experts for myths in areas in which they need outside assistance. These areas commonly include firearms, for which they most commonly consult Sgt. Al Normandy of the South San Francisco Police Department, and explosives, for which they most commonly consult retired FBI explosives expert Frank Doyle. The MythBusters will also routinely ask those they come in contact with during testing (such as those supplying the equipment being tested) if they have ever heard of the myth in question.
While there is no specific formula the team follows in terms of physical procedure, most myths involve construction of various objects to help test the myth. They utilize their functional workshops to create whatever is needed, often including mechanical devices and sets to simulate the circumstances of the myth. Human actions are often simulated by mechanical means in order to increase safety, and to achieve consistency in repeated actions. Methods for testing myths are usually planned and executed in a manner to produce visually dramatic results, which generally involves explosions, fires, and/or vehicle crashes. Thus, myths or tests involving explosives, firearms and vehicle collisions are relatively common.
Tests are sometimes confined to the workshop, but often require the teams to move outside. Much of the outdoor testing in early seasons took place in the parking lot of M5. A cargo container in the parking lot commonly serves as an isolation room for dangerous myths, with the experiment being triggered from outside. However, budget increases have permitted more frequent travel to other locations in San Francisco and around the Bay Area. Common filming locations around the Bay Area include decommissioned (closed) military facilities (such as Naval Air Station Alameda, Naval Station Treasure Island, Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and Hamilton Air Force Base), and the Alameda County Sheriff's Bomb Squad and Firearm range. Occasionally, mainly for special episodes, production moves out of state, or even out of the country.
Results are measured in a manner scientifically appropriate for the given experiment. Sometimes results can be measured by simple numerical measurement using standard tools, such as multimeters for electrical measurements, or various types of thermometers to measure temperature. To gauge results that don't yield numerical quantities, the teams commonly make use of several types of equipment which can provide other forms of observable effects. When testing physical consequences to a human body which would be too dangerous to test on a living person, the MythBusters commonly use analogs. Initially, they mainly used crash test dummies (most notably one they named Buster) for observing blunt trauma injury, and ballistic gelatin for testing penetrating trauma. They have since progressed to using pig carcasses when an experiment requires a more accurate simulation of human flesh, bone, and organs. They have also occasionally molded real or simulated bones within ballistics gel for simulations of specific body parts.
Both for the purposes of visual observation to determine a result, and simply as a unique visual for the program, high speed cameras are used during experiments and have become a trademark of the series. High-speed footage of moving objects in front of a measured scale is commonly utilized to determine the speed of the object.
Testing is often edited due to time constraints of a televised episode. It can often seem as if the teams draw results from fewer repetitions and a smaller data set than they actually have. During the Outtakes Special, they specifically stated that while they are, in fact, very thorough in testing myths and repeat experiments many times in many different configurations, it is simply impossible to display all of it on the show. Beginning in the fifth season, episodes typically contain a prompt for the viewer to visit the show's homepage to view outtake footage of either additional testing, or another facets of the myths being tested. However, Savage himself has acknowledged that they do not purport to always achieve a satisfactorily large enough set of results to definatively overcome all bias.
In response to criticisms they receive about their methods and results in previous episodes, the show produced several "Myths Revisited" episodes, in which the teams retest myths to see if the complaints have merit. These episodes have resulted in overturning results of several myths, as well as upholding some results for different reasons than originally concluded.
There are some myths and urban legends the MythBusters refuse to test. Paranormal concepts, such as aliens or ghosts, are not addressed because they cannot be tested by scientific methods, although one exception, pyramid power, prompted Adam to comment, "No more 'oogie-boogie' myths, please." The program generally avoids experiments harmful to animals, though in one episode they bombarded cockroaches and other laboratory insects with lethal doses of radiation and the cast addressed this, saying that the insects were specifically bred for experiments and would have likely died anyway. The book MythBusters: The Explosive Truth Behind 30 of the Most Perplexing Urban Legends of All Time (ISBN 1-4169-0929-X) also gives a list of a dozen urban legends that are unlikely to be explored (although three were eventually tested). Savage has commented that it is difficult to test myths that require them to disprove general claims because of the inherent difficulty in proving a negative. As a result, when they do pursue such myths, they typically go about disproving specific methods that claim to achieve results. Additionally, certain myths are not tested due to various objections by Discovery Channel or their advertisers.
The show employs various degrees of safety, or courtesy-related censorship. Instead of the standard bleeping, vulgar language or the names of ingredients used in the production of hazardous materials are usually covered over with sound effects which are humorous or relevant to the myth. Other potentially offensive subject matter is glossed over with euphemisms or addressed in a strictly scientific sense. Another example would be the censoring of the valve that was used to release urine on the ballistic gel dummy in the "Peeing on the Third Rail" myth. As with audio, visible chemical labels used to produce dangerous materials are blurred out. In one such episode where dangerous chemicals were used, Adam described how to make a compound by "mixing blur with blur", comically recognizing the censorship of the chemicals. In certain scenarios (such as building a bomb), they also admit that even professionals such as themselves are required to seek special permission/assistance from the government or prohibited from engaging in a certain activity and take the opportunity to reinforce the disclaimer. In case of assembling explosives they mostly do not show everything they put into it, or how it was put together.
Many brand names of items used in the show are also edited out, usually by blurring or covering up the branding with a MythBusters sticker. The only exception is when brand names are specific to the myth (such as the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment).
Hyneman and Savage have appeared on numerous entertainment programs, such as Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, NPR's news program All Things Considered, the syndicated radio Bob and Tom Show, and in the movie The Darwin Awards (as two military surplus vendors who sold a JATO rocket to the main character). Skeptic magazine's Daniel Loxton interviewed the duo in an article entitled "Mythbusters Exposed. Hyneman and Savage spoke at the annual convention of the National Science Teachers Association in March 2006, and the California Science Teachers Association named them honorary lifetime members in October 2006. In Australia, they appeared in a segment at the 2006 TV Week Logie Awards, where they attempted to solve the myth of whether or not the atmospheric pressure at the Logies caused guests' breasts to increase in size. This segment used footage from the "Exploding Implants" myth, with a new voice-over, intro, and ending. They also are occasionally interviewed for articles by Popular Mechanics.
Hyneman and Savage occasionally appear at colleges around the United States to talk about what it's like to be a MythBuster; the show consists of an interview and discussion to give the audience the opportunity to ask the MythBusters questions. They hold lectures in both collegiate and corporate settings, though the technical colleges tend to be the most enthusiastic. They've spoken at WPI, RPI, MIT, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Michigan Tech, UC Berkeley, Northern Michigan University, Purdue University, the University of Akron, the University Of Maine, the University of Florida, the IBM Almaden Research Center, the University of New Mexico, and many others.
Adam Savage has written a primer on Moldmaking for MAKE magazine, and was a featured guest at the 2008 Maker Faire, Held in San Mateo. Kari Byron was interviewed on The Late Show, on January 16, 2006. In 2006, Kari did a photo-shoot for FHM magazine, in which she demonstrated simple home chemistry experiments (such as the Mentos and Diet-Coke reaction) while wearing a red bra and lab coat.
People involved in survival stories reported in local newscasts have sometimes mentioned previous viewings of MythBusters as an influence to their actions. Twenty-three year old Theresa Booth of St. Martin, Minnesota credits a MythBusters episode for her and her infant child's survival. On April 3, 2007 she skidded off the road into a drainage ditch which had filled with flood water from the Sauk River. In a local newscast, she is described as opening the car door as soon as it entered the water, and credits her watching of the show (specifically, the episode of the Underwater Car myth) for her knowledge of how to survive the accident. On October 19, 2007 in Sydney, Australia, a teenager named Julian Shaw pulled a fainted middle-aged man off the railway tracks near a train station to safety below the platform. He pulled back as the train passed, citing that the "Train Suction" episode affected his response.
On the May 1, 2008 episode of CSI, "The Theory of Everything", Jamie and Adam appeared in a cameo as observers taking notes during a test to determine whether a taser bolt can set someone on fire under various circumstances.
In August 2008, Hyneman and Savage appeared on the stage of NVISION 08, an event sponsored by NVIDIA, to debunk the myth that CPU was superior to GPU by drawing a Mona Lisa reproduction with a giant parallel paint gun.