Star of “Mythbusters” addresses SXSW crowd with talk on science, art

By: 

Managing Editor

Wearing his signature black-rimmed glasses, Adam Savage, star of the hit show “Mythbusters” on the Discovery Channel, led the keynote session Monday at the Interactive portion of South by Southwest.

Speaking in his typical fast-paced manner, Savage’s discussion focused on the “maker age” in regard to science and art in today’s society. After a 20-minute presentation, Savage answered various questions from audience members on Twitter about his personal life,  “Mythbusters” fame and his opinion on science education.

There are three major problems with the way science and art are perceived from a cultural perspective, causing the ideas to drift further apart, Savage said. People see science and art as opposites as well as separate entities, and do not try to understand seemingly difficult concepts if they believe they cannot do so, Savage said.

“Ignorance doesn’t equal bliss,” Savage said. “The world isn’t perfect. We need to pay attention and talk to each other about it as part of culture. If we think we can opt out of culture, we’re idiots.”

For those who claim they “aren’t a math person,” Savage said basic science is not too difficult to understand, as it is even used in sports calculations. It is “culturally imbued” in society that science is the death of art, which Savage said is a fallacy.

“Art and science are how we converse about who we are and what we’re doing,” Savage said. “Since the first caveman picked up a stick, was utilizing science. When he told his compadres — how did he tell them? By painting it on the wall. Art and science have always been the twin engines pushing us forward as a species.”

Savage said there has been a cultural “steering away” from discussing failure in science, and people are often under the wrong impression that a “mountain of facts” must be memorized to be successful. For example, Savage said he doubts the success of his own experiments and learns from mistakes every day on “Mythbusters.”

“Seventy-five percent (of the way) in I will think, ‘This is total crap and I don’t know what I’m doing,’” Savage said. “I just have to push past that point and don’t stop even when I want to.”

Co-star Jamie Hyneman, known for his beret, glasses and mustache look, hired Savage for his first job in special effects 21 years ago and later called him up in 2002 to help him produce pilots for what soon became “Mythbusters.” The show premiered 11 years ago and has since catapulted Savage to become one of this generation’s science idols. Savage said he hopes school officials are inspired by “Mythbusters” to implement more funding and opportunities for hands-on science and art programs in the future.

“I’m a big fan of Edward Snowden,” Savage said. “He’s talking about social science and very complex issues—it bears directly on art, science and everything. We owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves exactly what they mean instead of reading the headlines on Reddit and thinking we know what it means. I’m guilty of this too sometimes.”