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Shark Week "Mockumentary" Outrage

by Stephen Propatier

August 7, 2013

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Donate Last Sunday the Discovery Channel aired a "documentary" about a living Megalodon (giant prehistoric shark) to start Shark Week. There is an uproar in the skeptical scientific community about Discovery Channel running a fake documentary. This mocumentary is akin to running a documentary about a Cryptid like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I understand why people are upset by this, given the format. A living example of a Megalodon would definitely qualify as a Cryptid. It was presented as science fact, rather than fiction. Yet I cannot seem to get fired up about this scientific gaff.

In my opinion, the Discovery Channel regularly shows tons of Woo programming. This mockumentary is just a popular visible example. They have a long list of questionable scientific programming. For a long time I have thought that Discovery Channel has diverged from being a scientific channel. Its sister channel Animal Planet is rife with crap programming like "Finding Bigfoot" and recent "Mermaids" mockumentary. Discovery regularly allows woo into it's science programs, like Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman on its "science channel". Animal planet constantly runs ideological nonsense. So why is this show so polarizing? Because it is so clearly fake and recognizable to people. That is exactly the reason why the general media has picked up the story. Where was the outrage for other programming on other channels Crossing Over, Ghost Hunters, Finding Bigfoot, silence of the bees et al..

At least Megalodon did actually exist at one time, and there is fossilized evidence of its existence. To me this is like doing a documentary about finding Tyrannosaurus Rex in a jungle in the Amazon. The majority of people are very unlikely to believe this as fact. It may spur scientific interest in kids. Kids love this type of low level scare programming.

Megalodon's are well known and popular prehistoric animals. Most people know them, are familiar with their history, and understand that they haven't been around for a long time. I think this is very different than doing an extended piece about Orang Pendeck evidence or other some other poorly known Cryptid.

Frankly this didn't even make my skeptical meter needle bounce. If Discovery Channel wants to produce and broadcast a fake documentary about a living example of an extinct animal, I have no problem with that. They have done much worse. I would not rely on the Discovery Channel for scientific information anyways. If that makes me jaded complacent skeptic so be it. I only have so much outrage to go around in any given month.

by Stephen Propatier

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