I have just finished watching the final episode of Mythbusters, and I must say that it was a great ending to a truly great television program. 

I still remember the night when I was working late writing up one of my first academic papers as a graduate student, just beginning my doctorate in theoretical physics, and had the television on in the background to keep me company. Suddenly instead of the usual dull nature programs or documentaries, there were these two guys applying the scientific method in a way that I had never seen in the popular media before.

There had been many science programs before of course. I myself remember as a small child being inspired by people like Julius Sumner Miller or Mr. Wizard or Dr. Zed, and being fascinated by their science demonstrations. However in all of those programs, they were presenting well known and understood phenomena to the viewers, and there was no mystery involved. The presenters always knew what would happen.

But that is not the way that science works in the real world. In the serious scientific research, the results are not known ahead of time. A hypothesis is made, and then an experiment is designed to test it. And that experiment must be carefully constructed to remove all other variables and explanations, so that only the original hypothesis is being tested. And then the results are presented to the public, regardless of whether the results are positive or negative. Even a failure should be reported. (Unfortunately this level of rigour is rare even among career scientists, because full disclosure and honest reporting of results often conflicts with obtaining research funding and achieving career advancement)

And yet the Mythbusters captured that methodology. Admittedly it took them a couple of seasons to really perfect the scientific method and to find myths whose results were genuinely unknown, but when they did they did an amazing job of it. And of even greater importance than the results of any specific myth they tested, they taught an entire generation of students how to think critically and use rational thought in a world full of hype and obfuscation.

And they made science exciting and cool. They made students want to be scientists and engineers. They inspired parents to talk with their children about the experiments they were conducting, and how the children themselves could do their own experiments.

The Mythbusters was an amazing television program, and they have certainly made history. And who can say what that seed they planted in fertile young minds might one day lead to.