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Mythbusters teaches science despite its best intentions

Can a sunken ship be raised with Ping-Pong balls? Could a car stereo be so loud that it would blow out the windows? These are the pressing issues that the Discovery show "Mythbusters" attack.

What is the most ubiquitous educator on the the planet? Why television, of course. And what is one of the most popular science programs on television? It's "Mythbusters" on the Discovery Channel, reports The New York Times,which really isn't a science program at all, but a show where two guys create mayhem in the name of science.

Jamie Hyneman and his colleague, Adam Savage, are the hosts of "Mythbusters," a show about exploding the notions taken from folklore, history, movies, the Internet and urban legends. Can a skunk's smell can be neutralized with tomato juice? Did the Confederacy come up with a two-stage rocket that could strike Washington from Richmond, Va.? Can a sunken ship be raised with Ping-Pong balls? Could a car stereo be so loud that it would blow out the windows?

Hyneman and Savage got the idea for the show after doing special effects and building gadgets for Hollywood. They come up with ways to challenge each thesis and build experiments with a small crew. If there were explosions involved, so much the better.

"Whether we get what we expected or not, any result is a good result — even if it's that we're idiots. Failure," Mr. Savage said, "is always an option."

It's really a show based on curiosity, which is fundamental to science. They are interested in any result because it either confirms or debunks a hypothesis. But unlike many experiments, Mythbusters get paid whether their experiments succeed or fail.

Hyneman and Savage say they use processes that are grounded in scientific method. They come up with a hypothesis and test it methodically. After research and experimentation, they might determine that they have "busted" a myth or confirmed it, or they might simply deem it "plausible" but not proved.

"If people take away science from it," Mr. Hyneman said, "it's not our fault." But if the antics inspire people to dig deeper into learning, he said, "that's great."