By The Metric Maven

Bulldog Edition

It is the best of shows, it is the worst of shows. It is a show that attempts to show the nuts and bolts use of scientific thinking when deciding propositions. It is also a show that promotes the worst of American disorganization and lack of planning. Yes, I said this about MythBusters. You can stop gasping now. It is a show that indicates it’s about Science! and claim they are “experts,” so don’t try this at home kids!  But they also have warnings about “Science Content” lest too much science depress their ratings. Four years ago on 2008-10-30 I wrote to the MythBusters as a Professional Engineer, another kind of “expert,” who is not on television. I pleaded with them to adopt metric only in their show,  and to encourage metric thinking. The US Mail and email I sent to these prominent “Technical Personalities”  was met with nothing but silence. Their lack of concern for metric seems to say “we’re all for science, but we just don’t care about organized measurement.”  I discovered that MythBusters  fan boards have inquired about their lack of  exclusive metric use from at least as early as 2006.  There has been nothing but The Silence of the MythBusters concerning metric for at least the last six years. But on 2012-09-30, during a Reddit Driven Q&A session, a metric advocate asked Adam Savage the question directly:

Q: Why don’t you guys use the Metric System on Mythbusters? as it is the standard for scientific experimentation

By: KyleGustafson

A: We try, we do both sometimes. But we’re both fully inculcated with the english system, sad to say. That’s how we think.

Wow, that’s it? That’s all that Adam has to say? He has been so inculcated with the Olde English non-system by our culture, that he cannot think otherwise? A MythBuster can’t think otherwise! His mind embraces disorganization and rejects organization, and nothing can be done? This is MythBusters! A show that is supposed to challenge myths, and change peoples views. But when it comes to embracing metric, all Adam has to say is “we try.”  Adam, seriously, it sounds like an excuse which is as lame as: “the dog ate my homework.” Apparently you just don’t give a damn Adam, and don’t care to. As Jamie is silent, I can only assume the same. Your show is completely counter-factual to your anemic assertion that “we try” when it comes to metric. It appears that the use of measurement units in Mythbusters is at best thoughtlessly ad hoc, and at worst, willfully ignorant. How feckless. You and Jamie find the courage to have a bridge drop out from under you while you dangle in the air 50-75 meters above concrete below, but the metric system is too scary?—too much of a challenge?

Why am I so upset about this show? Why do I care?—after all it’s just one more program emanating from “the vast wasteland.” I care because I’m very certain that scores of young American children are inspired to consider Engineering or Science as vocations because of this program. The unfortunate fact is that MythBusters propagates the inculcation of the American hodgepodge of pigfish measuring units on television. This will acclimate another generation of aspiring Engineers and Scientists into accepting the US measurement status-quo. Because of this learned comfort for a farrago of mixed measurement units is being inculcated into another generation of youth, metric will not move forward a millimeter in the US for at least another generation.

I’m an enthusiastic fan of the show’s premise, but find the execution of it by the Mythbusters cohort to be at best amateur, and at worst ignorant, when measurement units are involved. MythBusters seems to encourage an attitude of “just make it up as you go kids!—grams and inches—milliliters and ounces—no problem, don’t worry about it—–we’re doing science!”

Adam appears to be fishing for some manner of absolution by saying:: “we do both [English and metric units] sometimes.”  Why how “fair and balanced” of you. Adam, seriously, take time from being feted, and read Naughtin’s 1st Law: Dual Scale Instruments are Evil. The rest of Naughtin’s Laws are here, but I suggest you don’t take my website’s word for it, how about watching one of his lectures about metric? You will also hear his “don’t dual with dual” assertion. Perhaps you might even check out his Metrication Matters website and learn a bit about the system your show ignores and 95% of the world uses.

The story behind the creation of MythBusters is curious. Here is what Wikipedia has to say in it’s first sentence:

MythBusters is a science entertainment TV program created and produced by Australia’s Beyond Television Productions[1] for the Discovery Channel. The series is screened by numerous international broadcasters, including SBS Australia, 7mate Australia, and other Discovery channels worldwide

The entry continues: “Filming is based in San Francisco, though some elements of production are done in Artarmon, Australia.”

So MythBusters was proposed and created by an Australian Television Company!  Australia is the one English speaking country where metric is ubiquitous. Houses in Australia are all built in  millimeters and meters only. The Land of Oz is where one can purchase 300 mm, 600 mm, and 1000 mm metric only rulers (and tape measures) at the Land Down Under’s local equivalent of The Home Depot. You can be certain you’re not in Kansas anymore when that happens. You order your steaks in grams there.  Kilojoules are what one counts when on a diet in Oz, and not Calories (1000 calories = 1 Calorie). Was there not one discussion of exclusively using metric units in MythBusters by its Australian creators?! Inquiring Metric Mavens want to know.

Since 2003, the MythBusters have used measurement units with a contempt that is so reckless, that I suspect it is born of complete ignorance. I will give you one example, but choose almost any episode where multiple measurement units occur, and you will get showered with a farrago of Furlongs per Fortnight measurement units and metric mixed in without distinction.

In one program segment entitled   Fireworks Man,  Grant, Tory and Kari need to measure how much known weights will decrease the speed of a commercially available fireworks rocket. They set up a yellow and black 32 foot scale, in one foot increments, against which they photograph the rockets to determine their speed. They compute the speed of an unloaded rocket as 80 feet per second, then convert it to 55 miles per hour.

This triumvirate of technology next add nuts, which each weigh 50 grams, to reduce the rocket speed. They determine the optimum load (50% reduction in speed) is 150 grams. Grant then states: “Well with 400 rockets, 150 grams that’s 60 kilograms. That’s a carrying capacity of about a 130 pounds.” Feet, miles, grams, kilograms, pounds. The rockets were not powerful enough for 400 of them to possibly lift a man.

The myth is supposedly German in origin, which leads Kari, Tory and Grant to discover that commercially available European fireworks have more thrust than their American counterparts. The European rockets can carry 300 grams per rocket. The graphics for all the tests show the results in miles per hour against weight in grams.

In the full scale test, black powder is used to produce a synchronous ignition of the rocket engines. As Tory is pouring in the black powder He says: “Now I know this might not seem like a lot of black powder, but I’m actually using six ounces, I mean that would be plenty to fire off a cannon ball.” The MythBusters segment has now used feet, miles, grams, kilograms, pounds, and ounces (by weight not volume I assume?).

According to Wikipedia, when the MythBusters show is shown in some countries:

The United States customary units, used by the hosts throughout the show, are converted to metric in the process. Sometimes, the part where the myth is explained in sketches is completely redrawn in that language.

Seriously, is America ever going to grow up and face up to the importance of metrication? Apparently Adam’s cavalier attitude verifies to me that we need mandatory metric legislation to change our schools, industry and government to metric. Otherwise Adam Savage’s descendants will also be prisoners of “english system” inculcation. The MetricBusters have become so celebrated, they are now Dr. Adam Savage and Dr. Jamie Hynaman. According to Wikipedia:

Hyneman and Savage received honorary doctorates from the University of Twente in the Netherlands for their role in popularizing science, on the occasion of the university’s 50th anniversary, on November 25, 2011.[65]

Right through The Metric Maven’s heart! The country which has used metric the longest, awarded them Doctorates.

Well, add another 100 years before metric is possible in this country. You can thank Adam and Jamie, The MetricBusters, for doing their part. With friends like them, who needs reactionaries?

If you liked this essay and wish to support the work of The Metric Maven, please visit his Patreon Page and contribute. Also purchase his books about the metric system:

The first book is titled: Our Crumbling Invisible Infrastructure. It is a succinct set of essays  that explain why the absence of the metric system in the US is detrimental to our personal heath and our economy. These essays are separately available for free on my website,  but the book has them all in one place in print. The book may be purchased from Amazon here.

The second book is titled The Dimensions of the Cosmos. It takes the metric prefixes from yotta to Yocto and uses each metric prefix to describe a metric world. The book has a considerable number of color images to compliment the prose. It has been receiving good reviews. I think would be a great reference for US science teachers. It has a considerable number of scientific factoids and anecdotes that I believe would be of considerable educational use. It is available from Amazon here.

The third book is not of direct importance to metric education. It is called Death By A Thousand Cuts, A Secret History of the Metric System in The United States. This monograph explains how we have been unable to legally deal with weights and measures in the United States from George Washington, to our current day. This book is also available on Amazon here.

6 thoughts on “MetricBusters

  1. Why not propose metrication as a ‘myth’ to test: the myth that you cannot easily and quickly convert to metric, without having to use dual-unit tools or continuously convert back and forth.

    Round up all their imperial tools, replace them with metric ones (preferably millimetric) and switch all digital equipment to metric. Give them a ‘conversion-jar’, like a swear-jar, but with a penalty every time they convert something to/from imperial rather than working in metric, or purchase imperial components/stock from a supplier that offers metric stock. Give them a week, and see if they still want to go back afterwards!

    • Good one. We should flood them with that request. I wish there was a ‘conversion jar’ at my work.

  2. I cringe every time they said “we are what they call experts” – not only are they using legacy units – they often do not understand what a real experiment would be and often are clearly not ‘experts’ other than making Hollywood props.

    ( Besides being a metric proponent, I am quite concerned as what now passes as science – most of the public not only is mired in obsolete units, they confuse correlation with causation and think computer models are the same as testing reality. We have peer reviewed papers published with headline seeking titles and hidden information (ferinstance – “high fat” diet studies that use sugar in the high fat diet – the diet contents are not in the paper – one has to pull up the supplemental information – download the data-sheet from the feed manufactures web site.. not making this up – and they will tell you “everyone does it”.. )

    I suppose we should realize that they most often are more interested in blowing things up than demonstrating science. If I compare this to the B/W science shows I watched in the ’60s it becomes clear why we are now in serious economic decline.

  3. In one episode i saw a few years ago, I was completely confused when they were talking about how much gun powder they were using. For example, they said they were going to use “15 grains” of gun powder, which I thought was a very very tiny amount. It turned out, I mistakenly understood a grain of powder in the same sense as a grain of sand, and not as a unit of mass.

    I found out later that a grain is an archaic unit of mass still apparently used in the US for gun powder and that 15 grains is equal to about 970 mg. It would have been much better if they just measured and calculated amounts in milligrams instead.

  4. This is not confined to Mythbusters, unfortunately. Recently I watched a Nova program about the Mars rover, Curiosity. All of the scientists talked about their work in kilograms and metres. The unseen narrator used USC measurements to describe things.

    One of the reasons given for Australia’s metric conversion, among many others, was that news and entertainment from overseas would be increasingly using metric units, and if Australia did not convert we would not be able to understand it fully. Also, the converse would be true, foreigners would not be able to understand news or information sourced from Australia.

    Do the Americans not realise the same thing is happening there?

  5. As to mythbusters using metric, it won’t happen with money trumping common sense every time.

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