Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Mythbusters" Ready To Come Back For More Mythbusting

This article previews the upcoming season of Mythbusters.

While I do love the show whenever I catch it, I will admit that I'm not a regular viewer. A few of what they did have been highlighted on here, and I think they do a tremendous public service by examining many of these myths, some true but more often, not.

Still, what got me nodding my head in agreement is what was said at the very end of the article:

More to the point, he said, he and Savage attack their work with greater clarity now, and have a better sense of what the best process is for attacking a myth. Oddly, instead of doing better science, or making things stronger or taking more risks, it all begins with the very concepts for each myth.

"The most important thing to get straight is the question you're trying to ask in the first place," Hyneman said. "It seems like a simple thing, but it's hard to get to that point and, a lot of times now, we're spending much more time defining that question before we do anything else."

I think for many people, especially the general public and many students just about to learn science, and physics in particular, this is something that they don't realize. Many times, I get asked what appears to be a very simple question, but it is laced with many ambiguities and even misuse of physics. The one that stuck to my head right now because I was asked this recently is: "Is the electron real?"

Now, most people think that we can answer this with a simple "Yes" or "No", but really, if you think about it, it isn't that easy. You need to ask the question to the other person on what he/she means by "real"? Is your mother real? How do you know she's real, i.e. what criteria do you use to qualify that she's real? Now, use the same criteria on the electron, etc. The fact that you can't 'see' an electron with your eyes isn't sufficient to say that it isn't real, because the eye is a poor detector. Besides, we define everything based on a set of characteristics and properties (you define your mother based on what she looks like, how she behaves, what she smells like, etc.. ).

In other words, just trying to clarify the question and what is being asked can be an issue all to itself. So I definitely concur with that last part of the article. I certainly find that in many instances, trying to figure out what is being asked is half of the problem.


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