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Old May 30 2013, 03:20 AM   #46
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

This week, "Battle of the Sexes 2."

"You throw like a girl": I can see how this saying would've originated in the past when athletics were seen as only a male thing and women were expected to be homemakers and stuff. In that case, it would've been a matter of experience and practice rather than innate difference. So I guess the question is whether there'd be any meaningful difference in today's more egalitarian society.

The fact that the males had more speed and less accuracy seems a pretty natural result; they'd tend to have an advantage in upper-body strength, which would allow for throwing harder/faster, and a tradeoff between speed and accuracy is predictable enough -- you'd need more training to be able to optimize both at once. So it shows that a different ability isn't necessarily an inferior one. Which was pretty much their final conclusion.

It was an interesting hypothesis that maybe men are more adapted for throwing because of evolutionary specialization as hunters. But they did a good job debunking it by the simple expedient of having people throw with their non-dominant hand and removing any effect from training. That did seem to suggest that males' better throwing form was down to cultural conditioning -- boys are typically taught to throw from a very early age.

I'm not sure I agree with their statement that the professional female pitcher had the same form as the professional male one. She too seemed to stay more upright than he did, even though her pitching performance was just as good. I wonder if difference in body shape and mass distribution might be a factor there -- maybe with more weight concentrated on the front of the chest, throwing your upper body forward could create more risk of overbalancing.

I just tried this out on myself, sort of, pretending to throw something and seeing what my form was like. And as I expected, I stayed pretty upright -- the only time I angled forward was when I was self-consciously thinking I should do that. I don't have the ingrained training to do that. Which kinda makes sense, since I was never much for athletics. But on the other hand, I remember that I was into baseball when I was very, very young, like three or four years old, and I did play catch with my father at least occasionally, though I don't remember if I (or he) was ever any good at it. So maybe if it is a learned cultural skill, it can be unlearned due to lack of practice.

Anyway, I appreciate the thoroughness of their methodology on this test, trying to separate out innate differences from cultural differences. It's too bad this was the only test they did that for.

(Oh, and nice to see Adam and Jamie returning to their old ILM stomping grounds.)


Multitasking: Okay, a pretty straightforward result, with the women doing better at multitasking in the scenario they set up. But they didn't really test whether it's a cultural/experiential difference or something more basic. And I have to wonder if setting it up as a homemaking/parenting sort of scenario stacked the deck in favor of women, who in our culture are more likely to have experience with that. What if it had been, say, playing an MMORPG, burning a CD, and making microwave popcorn at the same time? Or something more gender-neutral like doing a written test, an oral test, and a jigsaw puzzle at the same time?

Oh, and Baby Buster was cute. And those ham sandwiches looked good.


Asking for directions: This one had the kind of result I like, totally contradicting the stereotype. Almost everyone asked for directions when lost, with just one exception for each sex, but the men actually asked sooner on the average.

What interested me most here, though, was not the thing they were testing, but the way the drivers they were testing talked to themselves once they started getting lost. Did they know they were on camera and were offering commentary, or did they think they were alone and just talking to themselves? The thing is, I talk to myself all the time, and I've always kind of assumed that was unusual, a habit I picked up from growing up lonely. I definitely get vocal when I'm behind the wheel, or at the computer, and worried because of something going wrong. I'm interested to know if other people are just as prone to talk to themselves in similar situations. It would certainly make the use of soliloquies and thinking out loud in fiction seem less contrived.


Parallel parking: Ohh, this was unnerving for me. I'm not a good parallel parker. The problem was that my driving instructor taught me how to maneuver around the cones to pass the test, but never really explained to me how to translate that to the real-world experience of parking. I can see in the abstract how the same principles apply, but I wasn't given the training that would let me get a feel for how to maneuver around cars instead of cones and sticks. So I generally try to avoid parallel parking unless I can find a nice wide space, even if it means I have to walk a few blocks farther. I've never actually bumped another car while trying to park yet, but that's mainly because I'm too nervous about the possibility of doing so and resist taking chances.

And again, no effort to determine if the difference was cultural, though I guess that's a hard thing to test in this case. Although I suspect it would be, since I think my own technique would be closer to the women's, more cautious and meticulous.

I think Kari and Tory were a bit oversimplistic in how they evaluated the statistics. The averages for both sexes may have been the same, but it seemed the standard deviation for the women was distinctly wider, and that's a significant difference. Again, not necessarily better or worse, but different. It would be worth investigating why there was a greater range of parking skill levels among the women.
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Old May 30 2013, 03:57 AM   #47
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

I have to say that the parallel parking result was not a tie. When you look at the numbers the top 5 parkers overall were women, followed by the 10 men, and then the other 5 women. So if the myth is "the best parallel parkers are women" then that is a clear confirmed. But they worded it as women (in general) are better than men (in general), so it was busted.
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Old May 30 2013, 11:45 AM   #48
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

I found it interesting that men were 12% more accurate and only 4% slower when throwing with their non-dominant hand which does suggest that maybe there is some genetic difference between men and women.
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Old May 30 2013, 02:32 PM   #49
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

intrinsical wrote: View Post
I found it interesting that men were 12% more accurate and only 4% slower when throwing with their non-dominant hand which does suggest that maybe there is some genetic difference between men and women.
I don't think it suggests that. It seems to me that if you're not accustomed to throwing a ball with one hand or the other, then you'd aim more carefully before throwing, and that could lead to greater accuracy. It seems paradoxical, but it's actually pretty commonplace for people who are just learning a skill to take more care to do it right than people who are accustomed to it and whose overconfidence about their skill makes them be less careful (for instance, people who've learned to drive fairly recently are more careful about basic safety practices like checking their mirrors and signaling and the like than veteran drivers often are).

So on the one hand, girls/women in our culture, who'd tend to have less practice throwing a ball in general, would aim more cautiously before throwing, leading to greater accuracy; while men asked to throw with their non-dominant hand would also be taking more care to aim. So in both cases, the difference would be a matter of experience.

(There's also the fact that a sample size of only 20 people from one city isn't really large or random enough to draw firm conclusions from. A difference in accuracy of only 12% could fall within the error bars. Conduct the same test with a different group of 10 men and 10 women and there might be no measurable difference in accuracy, or a difference in the other direction.)
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Old May 31 2013, 01:56 AM   #50
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

I ran a simple t-test on the data from the multitasking test, and found that there's a 26.7% chance that the difference in means was due to chance. Not even close to statistically significant, and yet they called it "totally confirmed."

I thought the mythbusters were a little more versed in science than this.
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Old May 31 2013, 02:27 AM   #51
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

^I think that the methodology in the Kari-Grant-Tory experiments is generally somewhat sloppier than in Adam-Jamie experiments. Which is odd, because you'd think it would really be the show's writers/researchers, the people you don't see on camera, who come up with the actual experimental designs.
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Old May 31 2013, 02:55 AM   #52
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

Christopher wrote: View Post
^I think that the methodology in the Kari-Grant-Tory experiments is generally somewhat sloppier than in Adam-Jamie experiments. Which is odd, because you'd think it would really be the show's writers/researchers, the people you don't see on camera, who come up with the actual experimental designs.
Yes, in the very same episode we have Adam talking about how a bigger sample size gives better results, and yet this principle seems mostly ignored on the other team.

Kari did at one point refer to the parking data as "a statistical tie" however, which usually refers to it being within a margin of error 19 times out of 20, which is a more complex statistical concept than simply comparing two means.

It is possible that they consider a 75% chance that the test reflected a real difference good enough for their purposes. It does strike me as better than "plausible," I must admit.
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Old June 6 2013, 03:11 AM   #53
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

Motorcycle skimming on lake: I was surprised when the wheel actually rose up to skim on the water on that test with the speedboat. But even so, I could immediately see why it wouldn't work the same way with the actual motorcycle, because the vehicle would have to retain that speed. The wheel hanging off the boat could retain that speed because something else was actually propelling the boat. But motorcycle wheels on water wouldn't have enough traction to keep up the cycle's velocity, so even if it skimmed for a couple of moments, it would rapidly slow and sink.

I was surprised that it worked at all, even for 50 to 100 feet, but I guess that was just momentum. And I don't think Jamie's 300-foot ride proves that the bike was able to exert thrust to stay in motion. For one thing, in the previous test, the rear wheel was skipping on the surface like a stone, meaning it would only intermittently be in contact with the surface, not good for generating thrust. For another, I bet if you were driving a bike at 80 MPH and shut off the motor, you could probably coast for 300 feet easily. So while they confirmed the basic myth, I don't think they resolved the question of coasting vs. thrust.

I'm still a little unclear on the physics of just how the spinning wheels kept the bike afloat. I wish they'd talked about that. I guess it's that as the wheels spun, new portions of them kept hitting the water and meeting surface tension, and by the time that gave way, the wheel had moved on and a different portion was now meeting the water. Kind of the same principle as the Jesus lizard running across the water -- it's sinking a little with every step, but takes new steps so fast that it doesn't sink very far each time.

These days, the show tends to do a brief 30-second segment in the middle of the commercials between the final two acts. This time I was disappointed that the bonus segment was essentially a commercial itself, with Jamie extoling the virtues of that brand of motocross bike.


Hotel room parachute: This was an unusual category of "myth" for the show: something that someone actually thought might work, but never got the chance to test. Although as the gang's tests showed, the criminal was lucky he got arrested before he attempted to use his parachute. (But they missed the chance to say "It's curtains for Buster.")

As for the final big parachute, I was surprised at how quickly it decelerated Buster to a survivable landing. I would've expected it to be more gradual than that. I'm a little disappointed that they didn't test it against a real parachute for a baseline comparison.

Speaking of baselines, in the first test, did they really need to drop Buster without a chute as a control? Don't they have plenty of data for how hard Buster hits when falling from a variety of heights? Although I guess this iteration of Buster may not have weighed quite the same or had quite the same air resistance as his predecessors; for one thing, most of his head was missing.
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Old June 6 2013, 04:37 PM   #54
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

I think dropped buster without a chute for the same reason they blow stuff up when they don't need to. It's fun and makes for a good television moment.
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Old June 6 2013, 05:39 PM   #55
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

I liked the episode, entertaining and convincing, solid testing.
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Old June 6 2013, 07:52 PM   #56
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

There's an episode of Top Gear in which a modified 4WD vehicle races a snowmobile across a lake in Iceland, and neither sinks. (It was summer and the lake was not frozen.) It appears that momentum alone keeps them afloat. Of course, you can't really tell how deep the lake is from the video. It could only be inches in depth on the part where they drove.
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Old June 7 2013, 07:50 PM   #57
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

Gotta say, watching Jaime race across the water on a bike was one of the coolest things I've seen in a while. Even if it was nothing but sheer momentum, it was still impressive as hell. And definitely not what I was expecting after seeing all their other attempts to either run or drive across water.

But then I guess if you have something that can slap the water hard and fast enough, like the tread of a motorcycle tire, you'd be able to create enough resistance to stay on top for awhile. At least that's my guess as to what's going on.

As for the parachute myth, I kinda wish they didn't give themselves that 3 hour limit. It would have been interesting to see if they could have come up with a design that worked using only the items in a single hotel room. I'm sure the drop still wouldn't have been survivable, but the results would have been a little better, I think.
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Old June 8 2013, 07:34 AM   #58
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

Given that the final parachute required materials from 20-odd hotel rooms, I thought it was pretty conclusive that a single hotel room simply does not have enough materials to make a survivable parachute regardless of how much time they had.
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Old June 8 2013, 12:50 PM   #59
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

^Well, yes, but Mythbusters standard practice is that once they debunk that a myth could work given the described parameters, they then try to find out what would be required to replicate the results. Which often requires going to such obviously impractical lengths that it just reinforces the absurdity of the myth.
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Old June 8 2013, 02:30 PM   #60
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Re: MYTHBUSTERS 10th Anniversary Season

davejames wrote: View Post
As for the parachute myth, I kinda wish they didn't give themselves that 3 hour limit. It would have been interesting to see if they could have come up with a design that worked using only the items in a single hotel room. I'm sure the drop still wouldn't have been survivable, but the results would have been a little better, I think.
To be honest, I was surprised the results were as good as they were, even if the dummy died anyway.
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