Not Just Sharks — The Junk That Passes for Science on the Discovery Channel

By George Johnson | August 6, 2013 3:23 pm

I dimly remember when the Discovery Channel was a place to learn about science and to enjoy the creative ways it could be presented on TV. Or maybe I am imagining that. Christie Wilcox did a great job yesterday on her blog debunking the pseudoscience that Discovery is foisting off on the public in what purports to be a documentary: “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives” (the problem being that it doesn’t). The backlash from viewers has been an encouraging sign that there is a demand for quality, and the fallout from the scandal led me to check out what other fare is currently offered.

Here are some of the shows Discovery is promoting: Airplane Repo, Amish Mafia, Auction Kings, Naked Castaway, Pot & Cops, Texas Car Wars, and Warlocks Rising.

Meanwhile on the History Channel, another once reputable source, the lineup includes Counting Cars, Pawn Stars, God, Guns & Automobiles, and Swamp People.

This plunge in quality comes at a time when television drama is experiencing a renaissance that began with The Wire and encompasses brilliantly written and produced shows like Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards (both versions), and The Killing.

The Discovery and the History channels aren’t even producing good fiction.

@byGeorgeJohnson

CATEGORIZED UNDER: pseudoscience, select, top-posts
  • Tom Yulsman

    My recommendation to everyone who will listen: Kill your television. (Or at least all but basic cable.)

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Joe Breig

      I agree. Can’t believe the crap they’re showing now. That megaladon special was just terrible. Like hunting bigfoot, andit wasn’t even good for a laugh.

    • Buddy199

      It’s easy to find good TV among the dross almost any night of the week. And on off nights there’s Netflix.

    • Tambit

      There is no need or reason to have cable any more. Web services like Hulu, Netflix, Amazon (Prime is better), Crackle, et al, have almost every show desirable among them. And if not, most channels offer their shows online, either for free or a small fee. And if you are willing to pay a small fee, buy the show you want on iTunes. I haven’t had TV in years and I have never once regretted the decision. Even the nightly “news” is not missed, as I can easily get more accurate, more up-to-date, more global, and just plain more news online. I got too tired of the crap that is on the tube and realized, hey, I could actually write a book instead of watching TV. So I did.

  • Marie DeMars

    There was a point when I realized that everything on the History Channel had become aliens and Hitler and Nostradamus 24 hours a day. Considering it was one of three channels I had a cable subscription for, the subscription was promptly cancelled.
    Still not regretting that.
    PBS on the other hand…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Eric Gilmore

    I realized a while back that most of the educational channels had fallen prey to the lame drama tv lineup that is so popular. Its a shame when channels purport to be dedicated to education and science and all they serve up is played out scripted crap drama shows. Through the Wormhole and the reruns of The Universe are the only decent show left. And lets not even talk about TLC (The Learning Channel) Honey Boo Boo and Toddlers and Tiaras?

  • BeanSoupMagyar

    I thought TLC stood for “The Lamest Channel”?
    All in all- though- it’s not just the TV “educational” channels. It has happened to science magazines too. “PopSci” is more about the “Pop” than the “Sci” now. “ScientificAmerican” is all about politics now.
    Discovery has a fair share of fluff, but it’s usually on-topic and interesting fluff.

  • http://www.thealders.net/blogs Doug Alder

    The truly sad thing is they broadcast what sells. Welcome to 3 or 4 decades of constant undermining of education in the US by politicians. Here in BC Canada I at least have the CBC and in BC the Knowledge Network (similar to PBS) and the NatGeo channels. Can’t get Hulu or most of the ones mentioned though do have a Roku box that gives me access to Netfilx and Crackle amongst others.

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About George Johnson

George Johnson writes about science for the New York Times, National Geographic Magazine, Slate, and other publications. His nine books include The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine's Deepest Mystery (August 2013), The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments, A Shortcut Through Time, and Fire in the Mind. He is a winner of the AAAS Science Journalism Award and has twice been a finalist for the Royal Society science book prize. Co-founder and director of the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, he can be found on the Web at talaya.net. Twitter @byGeorgeJohnson.

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