Sep 092010

Recently my friend Jan Gregor gave me several vintage technical magazines. One article in particular caught my eye, as it had to do with a prop seen in an episode of Mythbusters. In this case the article was about the infamous “Chicken Gun.”

If you watch the Mythbusters video, the “myth” is detailed as having been an interaction between British Railways and NASA. Well, right there the myth is a priori “busted.”

This magazine article is from 1943, which pre-dates the creation of NASA by about 15 years!

Now, to be fair, I believe that Mythbusters did useful testing in trying to determine whether it matters if a frozen chicken has different terminal ballistic characteristics than a thawed chicken. But as you can see if you compare the Mythbusters video with the REAL chicken gun, it’s clear that real researchers use unplucked chicken carcasses rather than plucked carcasses. I’m sure it was easier for Mythbusters to get their hands on frozen chickens, and I’m sure using unplucked chicken carcasses would have drawn viewer complaints.

Ruffled a few feathers as it were…

My essay is not really a criticism of this particular episode of Mythbusters. But one of my longstanding issues with the TV show is that they do a uniformly poor job of prior research into the “myths” they want to test. Or if they actually do the prior research, it’s never mentioned. Real science always includes references, but with Mythbusters we have “TV science” which almost always cuts corners.

Again, to be fair, several episodes have identified quite specific instances where the “myth” or more properly the claim originated. I thought raising a sunken boat with table tennis balls was quite an elegant episode.

A higher resolution scan of the original Chicken Gun article can be seen here.

 Posted by on 09/09/2010 Science 2 Responses »