Monday, October 18, 2010

MythBusters to feature guest star … President Obama?

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‘MythBusters’ title screen

I’m not sure how to feel about this. Is it just an effort to stay relevant? I can’t imagine what’s more public than already holding the most prestigious political office in the world and being the most powerful man on Earth. Maybe it’s a last-ditch attempt to bolster his popularity with younger voters? Or maybe he just has that big of a hard-on for science. (Hey, it happens.) Either way, this is a whole new kind of neat: President Obama is set to make an appearance on MythBusters to help settle (somehow), once and for all, whether noted Ancient Greek genius Archimedes really did use a Death/Heat Ray to set fire to an invading Roman fleet.

Legend has it that during the Siege of Syracuse, circa 214 B.C., Archimedes destroyed the enemy ships with fire, the result of a “heat ray” involving a series of mirrors set up on the coast. But the question has long remained: Did it really happen that way?


“Did Greek scientist and polymath Archimedes set fire to an invading Roman fleet using only mirrors and the reflected rays of the sun?” a press release for the show asks. “Will Adam and Jamie be able to pull this off, or will they have to report back to the president that they failed?”

Producers of the television series are not saying exactly how Mr. Obama will help prove — or disprove — that myth. But the first presidential appearance is intended to help spur interest in math and science as part of the White House effort to increase American competitiveness in those subjects.

Mr. Obama plans to announce his participation in the show during a White House science fair on Monday.

(I can see the right-wing blog headlines already: “TV show with lots of mirrors brings out conceited Obama” …)

As awesome as this is in itself, I can’t help but feel slightly queasy due to its timing. This strikes me as little more than an effort to try and make himself look cooler to the percentage of voters who watch the Discovery Channel; in itself, that’s okay, but it feels a bit desperate.

Another issue is why the show is taking on the fabled Archimedes anti-invasion weapon once again when they’ve already tested (and debunked) it twice before. The first time, they used age-appropriate mirror technology aimed at a half a vessel’s wooden hull, but they could never focus the beams enough to raise the temperature to anywhere near combustion point. The second time began as a contest to see who could build the best mirror array, but the MythBusters eventually went with their own design and, with help from MIT, were able to generate plenty of smoke and some charring, but once again, they failed to set the floating boat alight. Not to mention that they really went the extra mile in taking the myth to task in the latter revisit, taking the time to debunk it 7 times over. Myth very much Busted.

It’ll be interesting to see what role the President plays in the upcoming December 08 episode, at any rate. Too bad Discovery Channel Canada will only air it months later, though, so I’ll have to wait an extra long time to see it. You will point me to reports (or torrents!) when they appear, right? Right? Thought so.

(Frankly, it probably would’ve been just as interesting, and especially, more relevant, if they’d taken on the real-life Pain Ray being secretly installed by the Obama administration in prisons to test on unwitting prisoners. I really couldn’t help but think about that as I wrote this post.)