After the Myths: An Interview with MythBusters' Jamie Hyneman

The former co-host of MythBusters talks about life after the show; America's need for rational thought; and what he's doing with surplus army vehicles.
MythBusters co-host Jamie Hyneman got his start in the special effects industry. (image source: BigSpeak / Jamie Hyneman)  

Jamie Hyneman is pretty much satisfied. After 14 years as the co-host of the hit TV series MythBusters, he says he's left no myths behind. There's no hint of regret or even nostalgia when he talks about his time on the show, which premiered in January 2003 and ended its run in March 2016. Hyneman, who will be delivering a keynote address at Pacific Design & Manufacturing on February 7, talks about the show in the same way any other person might describe a productive day at the office – rewarding, but another chapter closed all the same.

“There's enough episodes of MythBusters that you could watch it for a couple of weeks,” Hyneman said via phone from his workshop in San Francisco – the famed MythBusters workshop that he now calls his own. “After 14 years the material did start to thin out. We figured it was time to throw in the towel.”

The very nature of the show – Hyneman and his co-host Adam Savage tackling all manner of urban legends, curiosities, and sometimes just outright intriguing questions, all via scientific experimentation – meant the MythBusters crew was among the hardest working in the television industry. “We didn't know how things would turn out,” Hyneman says, “For the most part it was legitimate experimentation. We may not have had large sample sizes, but we were actually experimenting and there had to be unpredictable results. We had to build things ourselves on a tight time frame.”

But through all of the crazy experiments Hyneman says the MythBusters team was never attached to the outcome. “We didn't care. We would experiment and present the data. Whether it was true or false was irrelevant. It's what the data said. Over the course of 14 seasons the show took on myths as varied (and dangerous) as whether using a cell phone near a gas pump could cause an explosion (it won't), to whether you can kill someone with a penny dropped from the Empire State Building (you can't), to stunts like determining whether you can survive two identical, simultaneous explosions by standing halfway between them (nope).

“One thing we did discover however is that the scientific process is a pretty good template for storytelling. You start with a hypothesis, you have a body of work in the middle, then you come up with a conclusion.”

Getting Methodical

Hyneman had several careers before landing on a hit TV show. He was raised in Indiana farm country and holds a degree in Russian from Indiana University, an honorary degree in engineering from the University of Maine, an honorary doctorate of engineering from Villanova University, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

He cut his teeth and satiated his interest in engineering by working in the special FX industry. But in the time before starting his own FX company Hyneman worked, among other occupations, as a dive master, wilderness survival expert, boat captain, linguist, animal wrangler,

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Comments

One of my favorite shows. Great to watch with kids as it easily got them interested in science. Thank you.

I agree that too many people choose to believe in superstition despite scientific facts - even while surround by technology. And that the new Presidential administration should be a red flag to scientists and engineers. So we need to trick them by playing against their fears. If they insist on being fools, treat them like fools.

This attitude is precisely why many are skeptical of global warming (to the extent that a big disaster is coming). "...need to trick them by playing against their fears." The fear mongering coming from global warming proponents and alarmists is so shrill and politically one sided that it makes everyone question whether it is real, or whether certain academics and elites are simply pushing an agenda because it is the popular train of thought and because it is self serving for continued funding.

I would like to address the notion that science and religion, or "belief" are somehow in opposition. First, I believe a lot of things I have not discovered for myself. For example, that men have been to the moon. I believe, but I have no experimental information to that effect. Furthermore, most of the greatest scientists that have ever lived have been and are believers. Nicolaus Copernicus was a clergyman and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology.

The only people the new administration should serve as a red flag for is the psuedo scientists who were quite willing to ignore facts and pursue avenues to support the science of political platforms! For the past 2 or 3 decades, politics determined the science and then scientists were chosen to justify the political decision.

Very interesting. I didn't get to watch very many of the original episodes, but now I will try to see them when I can. The rocket powered car could have worked if the engines had been positioned differently and had been steerable, like real rockets. Lacking "intrinsic stability" was what was the problem. Thanks for a really great posting.

Great article - loved watching Mythbusters! This has really spawned somewhat of a cottage industry all over Youtube. For every Mythbusters episode, there are now 100 or 1000 videos of someone doing some crazy experiment or making something. Thinking of channels like the backyardscientist, colin furze, hacksmith and others..

Great interview with a very interesting scientist. I think throughout history the "person in charge" had a choice between listening to the court magician and listening to the observations of scientists of the day. Human kind has lost a few orders of magnitude of progress to the time wasted on magicians and hysteria. Thanks to people like Jamie for communicating the scientific thought process to unsuspecting magicians.

There is still a lot that needs to be done. People need an advocate, tutor, etc. who knows how to educate and entertain. For example, autonomous cars need debunking. Email servers and security needs to be explained. The actual types of emissions catalytic converts put out that are not tested by EPA standards needs to be exposed. Etc. There are thousands of higher level topics that desperately need to be exposed.

I only saw the show when traveling...no TV at my house/ 'hope kids learned something about the process and hope they carry on/ as the US will abandon STEM-- as an academic darks-ages is coming/the rocket car is my favorite legend and I was disappointed the ramp failed and car didn't launch-but it was a learning experience regardless!

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