Episode 61: Deadly Straw

Air Date: September 6, 2006

A piece of straw can penetrate all the way through a palm tree if propelled by hurricane-force winds.

busted

Propelling a piece of straw at a palm tree at a distance of 50cm at 320mph (the world record for recorded wind speed at ground level), the straw only managed to penetrate the tree a quarter of an inch. Even firing at the tree while it was bent (to increase the size of the pores in the surface of the tree) at point blank range added no additional distance into the tree. A piece of reed was tested as the sturdiest organic object that might be mistaken for a piece of straw. At both ranges, the reed only managed to go about two inches into the tree. Additionally, Jamie tried a piece of piano wire, and at 50 cm, it flew not only through the tree but through a sheet of plywood on the wall behind it, partially embedding itself into the cement wall.

Wind alone can blow the feathers off of a chicken.

busted

Even wind speeds faster than those ever recorded could not remove any of the feathers of a tethered chicken. The whole bird would more likely be blown away completely.

Polygraph tests indicate that all living things share some form of interconnected consciousness.

busted

Tests were done by connecting plants to a polygraph’s galvanometer, and then employing actual and imagined harm upon the plants or upon others in the plant’s vicinity. The galvanometer showed some spurious readings (showing some kind of reaction about 1/3rd of the time), so a much more accurate EEG machine was used. When Grant and Tory used a machine that dropped eggs randomly into boiling water, the plant had no reaction. Additionally, Tory’s leukocytes had no reaction when Kari shocked him with a stungun.

42 Comments

  1. Andrei says:

    1) I am not quite sure that EEG machine is the right device for this test. Brain activity generates electromagnetic field. But I think any living cell does not in general. Or even if any cell generates some EM field it is much smaller than that in brain.
    2) to my mind the test with boiling eggs is not satisfactory. Are you sure eggs are live (if you bought them in any mall they might as well be dead). Then why would the plant “care” about eggs’ suffering? I would suggest to burn another plant (same kind) while the original plant is connected to a polygraph machine.

  2. jamoecw says:

    i can’t remember if the straw was wet or not, which makes a huge difference, also i don’t remember the tree being wet as well, again a major difference.

    • Tim says:

      And also being fired in a cluster.

      The thing that let the piano wire through was it was solitary and the tree could expand around it. The cluster of star hit at once crushing itself in as other pieces hit.

  3. Didier says:

    I would love to know the filter settings on the polygraph experiments. I suspect the low cut-off frequency was much lower than on the EEG device. If plants have emotional responses, I would wager that the frequency of that signal is in the less-than 1 Hertz range… Quite unlike EEG which is generally between 1 and 40 Hz.

    Just a thought…

  4. JourneymanWizard says:

    In the aftermath of a tornado, I have seen some strange things, including a piece of newspaper embedded through a tree. While velocity of the object plays some part, moisture and ambient air pressure do as well.

    My two cents worth, from tornado alley (SE Kansas).

    Disclaimer: I have not seen this episode, so don’t fully know the parameters of the straw test.

  5. Ethan says:

    The problem with the way they tested the straw is that straw is just too weak. It is possible that the people who say the “straw” could actually have been hay which is much stronger. Some hay actually looks a lot like straw for color but isn’t. I have played with hay and straw quite a lot, the hay is much stronger and heavier then straw.

    • Irvin says:

      Straw is the remnant of wheat after harvesting. It is MUCH stiffer, coarse and stronger than hay. Hay is mown grasses and much softer, I know, I’ve baled a alot of it. It is also much heavier, as straw is hollow, like a birds bones(hollow/lighter). Either way, it is IMPOSSIBLE for a piece of straw to pierce the cellulose of wood under ANY circumstances. This is strictly urban legend!!!

  6. Calvin says:

    True story, in 1976 or 78 a tornado went through the kansas town of Galena and stuck a drinking straw about half way into a telephone pole. It stayed there until the pole was replaced in 1983

    • Peggy Farmer says:

      After a tornado went south of Meadville, MO, we went down and certainly saw both straw sticking through a telephone pole without being broken, and one sticking through the glass in a door without breaking the glass or it being broken. that tornado happened in 1975.

    • Irvin says:

      A plastic drinking straw is stronger/denser material than wheat straw. How do you know it went halfway through? Most likely, up to 1-2 inches at best. More urban legend.

  7. Davin Enigl says:

    Re: Plant Stimuli Response. As a Philosophy of Science writer, I found it disturbing that the Myth-Busters were not more interested in testing their postulated cause of the 35% positive results. They merely changed the experiment until they got a busted myth. This myth is far from busted. See Paul Feyerabend’s article The Strange Case of Astrology, in Patrick Grim’s (1990) Philosophy of Science and the Occult. Plants respond to stimuli, it’s fact – but the cause depends on your interpretation based on theory dependence. What is needed is a theory-independent interpretation – see articles on theory-independent methodology.

    • Sam Jay says:

      I agree, they did change the experiment until they got the result they wanted. Mythbusters were very biased at this test.I had no idea where the eggs came into the experiment from . I guess their “scientific” ego’s would have been hurt if this because true. So they had to disprove it.

    • Argh Science Pirate says:

      “Philosophy of Science” sounds like you might be a scientific ethicist, or maybe a pseudoscientist. That is, someone who waves crystals around and talks about Virgo. Oh wait, you’re not a trained “Philosopher of Science”, you’re just a writer ABOUT the philosophy of science. My mistake.

      A random reaction 1/3 of the time means nothing conclusive was happening. If a plant felt the pain of another plant, you would expect to see a reaction almost every time.

      Because they couldn’t find a connection with one experiment, they kept trying to find a connection. They couldn’t find a connection no matter what they tried.

      I can predict the result of a coin flip 50% of the time. You need something pretty good to say your test results are anything but statistical noise.

      Please start citing sources that are not stupid. Also please include page number.

      Finally, theory-independence is garbage. It’s an attempt to de-legitimize modern scientific principles with the hope that pseudoscience will rise to prominence as some kind of alternative to discovering information about reality. It’s both a tool of flim-flammers and one of their weaknesses: because these people lack rigor, they attack their own credibility by opening their mouths and allowing foolishness to gurgle forth. Theory independence doesn’t even exist in pseudoscience; in fact, these charlatans are more likely to let their entrenched beliefs remain despite all opposition.

      Sure plants respond to stimuli, just like rocks and olives and helium atoms.

      • Davin Enigl says:

        1.I am POS trained (not ethicist), Karl R. Popper Scholar (1992-2002), MEAS degree University of Wisconsin and MS in microbiology. Specialties: Demarcation of science and pseudoscience, astro(micro)biology theory of life, Non-Earth-Centric Life Detection “NELD” Project for space agencies. Your baseless assumption is wrong. See Appearance and Reality by Peter Kosso (1998) pages 102 and 181.
        2.Plants are alive. The proof is proprioception, unlike rocks, helium atoms. Olives can have it too. Plants react to electrodynamic stimulation, QED, electro-physical and ultimately by photons. The Mythbuster’s lab equipment was all correctly based on electromagnetic systems, but not designed for plants. Hence that was a problem as they found out. See Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol 5 no. 3 (1998) pages 260-294 by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone U. of Oregon.
        3.The myth was sort of a quantum-like “action over a distance”, proprioception and reaction. The “pain” idea was human-centric and therefore wrongly put. Reaction to nutrients and pathogens would be better – plant-centric (e.g. phytoalexin chemical reactions have been observed).
        4.Why do you expect a reaction “almost” every time if true? Why not all the time? Statistical significance in experimental cases can be analyzed, but it is still theory-dependant. That why I said theory-independence is required. You said it was garbage because you do not understand the error-statistical approach in the philosophy of science.
        5.Therefore I ask you to read Deborah G. Mayo’s (1996) Error and the Growth of Experimental Knowledge (esp. pages xii (Karl Popper’s quest), 4-7 (kind of errors), 15 (statistical increases in accuracy), 18 (standard errors), 443-4 (three steps to POS experiments), 447 (roles of stats), 449 (4 error types), 452 (3 rules of methods), 454 (inter-subjectivity), 455 (rules for statistical tests) and the final summary on page 464.
        6.From these you will find that what you call “statistical noise” and “pretty good” is not acceptable in science. It’s a dismissive explanation, plausable but not correctly put and is my objection to the explanation by the Mythbusters. See Imre Lakatos’ (1978) The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes pages 8-26 and 110. Plus pages 1-7 are a not introduction to demarcation of science and pseudoscience. We do not demarcate sci from pseudosci, but sci-method from non-sci-method. That is my objection with the Mythbusters in this case. They are usually much better.
        7.On the contrary, you might like Paul Feyerabend’s (1975) Against Method.
        8.To see two differing views read For and Against Method, by Lakatos and Feyerabend. Lakatos is correct IMO.
        9.As you requested, the page numbers in Grim’s (1990) are 23-27 (Feyerabend). It (ironically) discusses the very baseless objections you had to my statements. How interesting.

  8. Davin Enigl says:

    The eggs must be fertilized for this test. All eggs sold are unfertilized unless otherwise stated. The Myth-Busters are busted on this one.

  9. Emerilis says:

    In the case of the palm tree I think both the palm three and the straw needed to be wet. During an actual huricane, there is plenty of water to soak any straws that might become projectiles and the palm as well.

  10. judy says:

    I just saw the plant and the EEG device episode, (better late than never) I don’t agree with the results, you put the plant in a container to block out all electical activity and you honestly think being on the out side and sending thoughts could get through? Why not have Tori on the inside and do the same thing. Also the eggs were not alive so why would the plant care? I think if you were going to give this a real chance then all equipment has to be on the outside of the container and just people on the inside, that I think would be a true test.

  11. Christopher Treptow says:

    I wounder what would happen if the straw hit a human torsoe, would go all the way through.

  12. Allan - Queensland Australia says:

    Hello All, Re straw through a tree. On March 26 2006. Cyclone Larry Devasted a large part of North Queensland around Cairns. Government officials took Measurements and photographic evidence after the cyclone had passed in order to measure wind strength and to gather information for future construction. The link below will lead you to a report where amongst other things you will see on Page 37 a very large piece of timber that impaled and was stuck in and completely through a tree… Not a piece of straw but something far far bigger. Myth not busted.

    • swann2001 says:

      Hello Allan, my purpose for looking for this site was to dispel the 9/11 conspiracy theorists who say and aluminum plane would be destroyed before it entered a steel building. Say what? If a straw board or whatever can penetrate a tree at 200 to 300 miles an hour then it stands to reason a plane traveling at 500 miles an hour would penetrate a building that has not only a thin steel outer shell but mostly windows between the steel. Some of these people are truly scary when they are denying that planes even hit the World Trade Center but bombs where planted. They are the same ones who deny that man landed on the moon. It is scary that these people are allowed to vote and have children.

      • visitor says:

        yes, only those who believe the state’s conspiracy theory should be able to vote for their state!

        btw, which commercial airliner goes at 500+ mph at sea-level?

  13. Buster says:

    what type of electronic valve was used to re;lease the compressed gas firing the Straw? Does anyone remember?

  14. Seto says:

    The legends of straw and other seemingly weak material being imbedded in a tree from strong winds comes from the tornado belt. There are many reported examples of the “wind” blowing straw and sticking it into a tree after a tornado passes. A tornado is a point of extreme low pressure trying to equalize with high pressure. The point of equalization forms a tornado. Not unlike the whirlpool seen when the bathtub is drained.
    This low pressure is very significant. Houses are destroyed not only from the wind but also from the differential pressure of the high pressure in the inside of the house verses the low pressure outside the house when the tornado passes. ( you can see house just “blow up” when a tornado pass by on some tornado videos.)
    What is really happening with the “straw in the tree” myth is that the extreme low pressure of the tornado is pulling or attempting to pull the bark off of trees. This leaves a gap in the bark where a piece of straw or other weak material gets lodged. Then when the tornado passed the bark collapse back around the tree with straw stuck in the gap. It looks like straw has blown into the tree but the straw was really caught by the bark when the bark was expanded by the low pressure pulling it away from the tree.

    • Peggy Farmer says:

      Try again. I don’t know where you are coming from, but the “straw” through the tree, and through glass is no “myth”. Nor is it simply getting under the bark. I’ve seen it through, note through, not partway, a telephone pole and a window and it was certainly not imagined or anything close to what you are describing. Oh, by the way, I’m a very skeptical science teacher, with a few hours under my belt to back it up. When I say it went through, I know what I’m talking about.

      • Bookend says:

        I once had a skeptical science teacher named Peggy Farmer. She was splendid. I only wish I had been a better student. Last I visited my former home of Wheatland, none knew of her happenings or whereabouts. To imagine encountering her while trying to validate the occurrence of straw piercing wood and glass!

  15. joshua tinnell you biggest fan says:

    the show was outstanding i loved it you are the best and crazy really crazy i loved the eposode when you took a air tank through the wall.
    sep 09,08 10:57 am

  16. Liz Ramsey says:

    If they had tried a Sabal palmetto (common along the SE United States) which is what we deal with during a typical Atlantic hurricane, the outcome may have turned out differently. Since most of the US hurricanes are on the Atlantic coastline, that would have made sense.

  17. jacque says:

    >Polygraph tests indicate that all living things share some form of interconnected consciousness.

    the things being tested, have to be living..the eggs…were already dead!

    ..and, the waves emitted are detectable by poly and not eeg -

  18. Richard says:

    There is confusion on the straw thing, the force of the winds is not what cuases straw to go through trees. Hurricane winds are not the same as a tornado. Tornados have been known to produce results that can no be recreated in a lab.

  19. Matt Warren says:

    Incorrect data! Although the myth is about a palm tree and straw in a tropical storm. They get the wind speed from Oklahoma City, hardly a tropical location. It is part of “Tornado Alley” in the Midwest. Tropical Hurricane wind speed is 75-150mph. Tornadoes can vary from 40-318+mph

    Kansas Resident

  20. Mike Henley says:

    The piano wire test is interesting. Years ago, I had a blowgun, which was an aluminum tube, 4 feet long, with an inside diameter of .38″ It had a rubber mouth piece at one end. I ordered it from a magazine advertisement. The darts were made from steel rod, about the diameter of a regular pencil lead. To make a dart, you heated one end of the wire, and plunged it into a plastic bead, which was slightly smaller in diameter than the tube.
    This setup was powerful and accurate. After practicing regularly, I could hit a postage stamp at 25′ I could hit a human head sized target from about twice that distance. I once set up a heavy winter coat, pressed against a two panel sliding door. I fired a dart, and it penetrated the arm, both sides of the main jacket, the other arm, and both doors.
    Sharpening the darts seemed to have no effect on their penetration. I wish I had been able to test the blowgun with a chronograph, as I have no real idea how fast the darts traveled.
    My point in writing this is to suggest a segment to bust or confirm my claims. It would use a similar tube, and darts, fired with varying pressures of compressed air. With a chronograph, and high speed video, the tests would establish the base performance level, and maximum effective range and accuracy. And, of course, it could be “super-sized” into a truly MythBusters style weapon!

  21. Fraser says:

    The straw would have been more effective if it was a single piece of straw rather than a bunch. Are these guys idiots? Why didnt they shoot a bunch of piano wires. Scientists my ass, you should only change one parameter at a time!

    • bender says:

      totally agree on my side.

      i asked myself all the time trough how they could miss this point?

  22. NOAA says:

    According to the NOAA website this phenomenon does occur. Also a study performed by the University of New York in the 60′s confirmed it using an air cannon and various soft and hard woods. The issue is probably the use of “measured winds” – we know winds in tornadoes often exceed what we can measure, in the lab a speed of 480mph was needed to get total penetration of a toothpick into hardwood and since we know from observation this has occurred the only possible answer is that winds of that speed have been reached in storms. They also found much lower speeds would sometimes work, there must be random trajectory at work as well.

  23. Darryl says:

    http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/severeweather/tornadosafety.html shows PROOF of a straw through a telephone pole, as I’ve always heard the story.

  24. Kevin says:

    Not only are the eggs dead, but why did they leave the building? If the myth is all living things share some form of interconnected consciousness then logically the test should include a living non–human interconnecting with a living human. If they leave the build there can be no connection. They stated that there were removing the variable, but it is not a variable, but part of the myth.

  25. Frank Rizzo says:

    I recall when they did the straw through a palm tree experiment someone told them they had the wrong kind of palm tree, which was a Washingtonia (it was not said if it was a filifera or robusta). Washingtonia palms are native to Mexico and the SW United States, including the Pacific coast of Mexico and the bottom of California as well as Arizona. Therefor, since hurricanes do hit that part of Mexico (that part of the US coast has never had a hurricane) where both kinds of the palms grow the palm tree they used was a good one. Of course there are many others as well.

  26. bender says:

    I am really a bit angry towards the mythbuster team for their sloppy efforts on their side:

    1.) why the hell did they abandon the unexplainable part on the plant plot?
    how could they possibly be more interested in getting no results that digging into the interesting parts that gave them results?

    2.) how could they not see the difference in blowing a dozen straws into the tree (which need to push a lot palm tree aside) to shooting one single piano wire…

    • Davin Enigl says:

      I’ve been doing scientific experiments as a profession for over 30 years. When I get 35% unexpected results, I look into why. That is where the interesting new science discoveries often come from. See my comments above.

  27. Chip says:

    I think the main point that they missed with the straw through the tree is the barometric pressure differences.

  28. keegan says:

    I don’t see how a high winds effect the straws sturdiness enough to propel it into a tree. Wouldn’t the straw just be mashed against the tree?

  29. 4puf says:

    Totally agree with bender and all the other comment about.

    one straw instead of many and focus on the first part of the experiment with the plant.

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