Jumping The Shark Week

This year, Discovery’s “Shark Week” started off with a program (teaser here) offering “evidence” that there are still prehistoric Megalodon super-sharks living today. But except for a short, vaguely-worded disclaimer at the end of the show, its producers failed to point out that the program is essentially fiction. Christie Wilcox fumes:

No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist. The evidence was faked, the stories fabricated, and the scientists portrayed on it were actors. The idea that Megalodon could still be roaming the ocean is a complete and total myth.

Here’s what I don’t get, Discovery: Megalodons were real, incredible, fascinating sharks. There’s a ton of actual science about them that is well worth a two hour special. We’ve discovered their nursery grounds off the coast of Panama, for example. Their bite is thought to be the strongest of all time—strong enough to smash an automobile—beating out even the most monstrous dinosaurs. The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality. You chose, instead, to mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct.

The above video is from Discovery’s Megalodon special from last summer that presents a fascinating but fact-based look at the extinct predator. Wil Wheaton thinks the network has now betrayed its core audience:

An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!

The Megalodon special was the highest-rated “Shark Week” program ever, and a producer is still defending the program as some kind of journalistic enterprise. Chris Kirk notes a growing trend:

This isn’t the first time Discovery Communications, the media company that runs the Discovery Channel, has broadcasted dubious documentaries, and judging from the ratings it won’t be the last. The company also runs Animal Planet, which aired two pseudo-documentaries claiming to show scientific evidence of mermaids. The second documentary attracted 3.6 million viewers, unprecedented for the network.

These faux documentaries, which can best be described as anti-educational, seem to have grown more common on in recent years. The Disney-owned History channel, for example, has earned criticism for airing pseudoscience programs like Ancient AliensUFO Files, and the Nostradamus Effect instead of programs about, you know, history.

If these programs offer any signs that they are fictional, they are brief and inadequate signs. Unsurprisingly, then, many viewers buy into the false claims these documentaries peddle. Shortly after Discovery’s documentaries aired, for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association found it necessary to assure the public that “no evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found.”

Recent Dish on mermaids in their proper place – fiction – here and here.