Fake science creates a crisis of truth for fans of real natural world


My partner and EMA’s executive creative director Tom Merrick felt cheated, and therein lies a crisis for the Discovery Channel, and purveyors of fraud science.

If you’ve been anywhere near a TV the last two weeks, you’ll know that this week is Shark Week, the annual mid-summer thrill ride that maintained a reputation for credible natural science, but is now apparently less scientific and more fake than the great white in Jaws.

The show opened with a supposed documentary about the Megalodon, a huge dinosaur-like shark that reached 70 feet and was probably the most fearsome creature in any ocean — until 1.5 million years ago. Right. Extinct. Kaput. Fossilized.

But that didn’t stop the supposedly truthful, scientific and credible Discovery Channel from … making one up.

As Tom wrote: “Which actually disappointed me, because I tune into Discovery Channel and especially “Shark Week” to discover real stuff about our real world. I wasn’t alone.”

Apparently the network fired a disclaimer across the screen at the end of the show. How convenient. How duplicitous. And how contrary to the usually truthful programming to which viewers are accustomed.

As Rich Juzwiak wrote perfectly on Gawker:

In fact, showing up for Shark Week (up till now a series of earnest documentaries) only to get two hours of a fake dinosaur hunt is kind of like showing up for history class and being taught Downton Abbey as if it all actually happened.

Why does a previously credible series that for all appearances represents true science resort to fakery? Money? But is it really worth it to destroy a series’ pedigree?

As you might expect, after being ripped by fans and critics, Discovery Channel tried to defend the sleight of hand:

“With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore  the possibilities of Megalodon,” Michael Sorensen, executive producer of Shark  Week, told FOX411. “It’s one of the most debated shark  discussions of all time: ‘Can Megalodon exist today?’ It’s Ultimate Shark Week  fantasy.  The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

Yeah, well, I think 95 percent of us really know. With two marine biologists in the family, I can tell you that the only thing worse than bad science is fake science.

Discovery Channel deserves fans like Tom an apology — and one as well for the rest of us as we struggle in a world where fact and fantasy seem overlays of each other way too often.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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