Fraud, Deception And Lies: How Discovery’s Shark Week Became The Greatest Show On Earth

By Christie Wilcox | July 18, 2014 11:42 am
Feejee_mermaid

P.T. Barnum’s Feejee mermaid—perhaps Animal Planet will feature it in their next “documetary”? Image from Wikipedia

In 1842, the infamous showman P.T. Barnum unveiled a truly bizarre creature. In his autobiography, Barnum described it as “an ugly, dried-up, black-looking, and diminutive specimen… its arms thrown up, giving it the appearance of having died in great agony.” The Feejee mermaid, as the mummified remains were called, possessed the torso of a monkey with the tail of a fish. Naturalists from around the world came to examine the specimen, enticed by letters explaining how a Dr. J. Griffin had hooked the strange creature while fishing in the South Pacific. At first Griffin was reluctant to share his find, but somehow, Barnum convinced him to reveal the mermaid to the public. Huge crowds swarmed the Concert Hall on Broadway just to get a glimpse.

Things were not, however, as they appeared: The letters were written by Barnum himself. “Dr. J. Griffin” was only a character portrayed by Barnum’s close friend, Levi Lyman. The so-called mermaid was purchased from Japanese sailors in 1822 and leased to Barnum by Moses Kimball. Barnum even asked for a professional opinion, and was assured by a naturalist that the mermaid was a fake. The tale of the mermaid’s capture, Griffin, and his reluctance to unveil the animal was a publicity stunt. The Feejee mermaid, in all its grotesque glory, was P.T. Barnum’s first major hoax. His knack for trickery, manipulation and showmanship proved highly profitable, and over the years, his circus became known as “The Greatest Show On Earth”.

In his autobiography, Barnum explained how he manipulated so many into believing in the Feejee mermaid. “How to modify general incredulity in the existence of mermaids, so far as to awaken curiosity to see and examine the specimen, was now the all-important question,” Barnum wrote. “I saw no better method than to “start the ball a-rolling” at some distance from the centre of attraction.” So he wrote letters, which appeared in New York papers, from Alabama, South Carolina, and Washington DC. “I may as well confess that those three communications from the South were written by myself, and forwarded to friends of mine, with instructions respectively to mail them, each on the day of its date. This fact and the corresponding post-marks did much to prevent suspicion of a hoax, and the New-York editors thus unconsciously contributed to my arrangements for bringing the mermaid into public notice.”

You might expect such deception and fraud from P.T. Barnum, one of the most notorious showmen of all time. But it seems the executives at Discovery Channel are cut from the same cloth.


On July 10th, a video began circulating showing a suspected bull shark stealing fish off a line in Lake Ontario. That video went viral (with over 500,000 views, and counting), spreading through the media and seeding fear throughout Ontario. The Natural Resources Minister, Bill Mauro, even urged citizens to be on the lookout. “They should report any sightings of this animal and then we can take whatever steps we think are necessary,” he said Wednesday. “If there is a shark in Lake Ontario we need to know about it.” But, it turns out, the whole thing was just a big publicity stunt by Discovery’s Shark Week.

“This video has certainly sparked the conversation around sharks” Paul Lewis, President and General Manager of Discovery, is boastfully quoted as saying in a news release on Bell Media’s website. “We’re ready to feed this fascination next month with more Shark Week hours than ever before.”

The chipper explanation assures us that “Discovery wants to quell the concerns of Canadians everywhere” by coming clean about the hoax. Discovery’s confession is of little comfort to many in the Ontario region who spent the week worrying about what lay beneath the lake’s surface. “It’s got a lot of parents being wary,” Erin Whalen, a waitress at a restaurant on Wolfe Island, told the National Post.  “I was really fearful,” local resident Laura Staley told the Vancouver Sun.

Christine Archer, an Aquatic Animal Technician with the University of Ottawa’s Animal Care & Veterinary Service, lives and works about 2 hours from Wolfe Island, where the video claimed to have been shot. “Despite being relatively ‘landlocked’ here, we still like to flock to the water,” she said. “I had people (students, staff) coming to the office and asking me about it in the halls. Everyone seemed a little freaked out.” As someone who works with a diversity of aquatic animals, Archer wasn’t fooled by the video. “Sharks don’t ‘porpoise’ their bodies like that to dive,” she said. “I insisted that the video was clearly fake, but it is hard to convince people.”

When the news confirmed that she was right, Archer wasn’t amused. “I feel that this publicity stunt was in extremely poor taste and irresponsible,” she said. “Not just for the residents and visitors of the region, but for sharks themselves.”

“Sadly, I’m not surprised that Discovery made this video. Shark Week has been getting less and less informational for many years now.”

University of Guelph marine biologist Jim Ballantyne—who was also skeptical of the video from the onset—similarly wasn’t impressed with the viral campaign. “It sort of seems a bit unethical to frighten people,” he said.

It seems unethical because it is. 

“There’s no way around it: this video was posted with the intent to deceive,” says Janet Stemwedel, an ethicist and associate professor of philosophy at San Jose State University. “Discovery willfully deceived members of the public—members of its intended and actual audience—which is really hard to reconcile with its claim to be the #1 non-fiction media company. The lie itself, released into the world, damages trust.”

The Ontario shark stunt wasn’t benign—it directly harmed the Lake Ontario community. “There’s more than damaged trust here,” said Stemwedel. “Official statements from Natural Resource Ministers distract attention (and undoubtedly some resources) away from non-fabricated matters of actual importance.” Government officials have expressed concern over the PR stunt, troubled by the very real fear that the local public felt over the fake video.

Though Discovery might think the publicity was worth a little distress, feelings of fear and anxiety are real harm to the community that felt them, says Stemwedel, and says a lot about the kind of relationship Discovery has with its viewership. “They didn’t just lie about the shark, but also about how much their viewers could trust them.”

So why would they create such a video in the first place? University of Miami shark scientist David Shiffman has an answer. “Shark Week seems to believe that real stories about real animals aren’t enough to get the public’s attention, so they lied,” he said. “I wish this surprised me.”

Shiffman is alluding to the fact that forgery and deception seem to have become par for the course for Discovery and Shark Week. It was bad enough when, a few years ago, their child network Animal Planet released a pair of “documentaries” on mermaids, in which they faked video footage to plant the idea that mermaids exist but are being covered up by the government. Those specials, at least, carried a disclaimer that flashed briefly explaining that parts of it were “fictional”. Then, spurred by the popularity of those programs, last year’s Shark Week kicked off with Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, which opted to use the word “dramatized” over “fictional” in its lightning-fast disclaimer. More than two-thirds of their audience, by their own poll, was convinced by the entirely faked “documentary” into believing C. megalodon may indeed still roam the seas. Discovery didn’t care that their audience and shark scientists worldwide were outraged by the program—they got record ratings, after all.

This year, Megalodon: The New Evidence is among the programs that will air during Shark Week. But another fauxmentary just wasn’t enough for Discovery—they, for some reason, felt the need to drum up fear in Canada to get more people to watch their unscientific nonsense. This time, they’ve gone too far.

“From the perspective of a professional researcher, to have a self-described scientific channel do this sort of publicity stunt is infuriating,” says David Kerstetter, Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center.

But for Kerstetter, the lasting issue is that Shark Week has not only failed to provide real, scientific programming: their constant campaign of fraud is damaging to shark science and conservation. “Frighteningly, they’ve somehow done the impossible and actually contributed negatively to scientific research.”

“Rather than having Shark Week engage the audience with stories of the very real (and quite enthralling) research going on with elasmobranchs, those of us in the field now spend our public outreach efforts debunking silly things like “mermaids” and the continuing existence of Megalodon.”

Shiffman has echoed Kerstetter’s concerns over twitter:


There’s little doubt that this kind of  publicity stunt undermines Discovery’s credibility and is harmful to scientific progress and outreach. Last year, I warned Discovery that their burgeoning reputation for being loose with facts was going to drive scientists away—scientists that they need to create the high-quality, educational programming they purport is their mission. So I asked scientists whether they would work with Discovery.

Some made it clear that they have no interest. “BBC – yes, Discovery – No,” said Eric Heupel, a graduate student at the University of Connecticut. “unless I and any other scientists on show had approval power on the edited version (so final airing version) of the show.”

Unfortunately, such control over content is rarely given to scientists that appear on Discovery. They’re asked for their time and expertise, but rarely get to read scripts, let alone write or correct them. Just look at last year’s Shark Week, for example, which featured the work of shark scientist Neil Hammerschlag and his colleagues in their “Great White Serial Killer” program, but completely distorted the research (and didn’t consult them on it).

“Maybe 5 years ago I would,” tweeted Erik Klemetti, a volcanologist at Denison University. “Right now, it would be hard to be convinced that it wouldn’t be total pseudoscience nonsense.”

Most, however, were hesitant. “It’s tempting to say no on the basis of their recent and future programing,” said Mike Lowe, a post-doc at Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institution. “But given the right opportunity and some serious soul searching, I would have to consider it.”

“I’d be worried about how it would appear to my colleagues,” said Rebecca Helm, a graduate student at Brown University. “For me there is very little incentive in collaborating with organizations that are likely to misrepresent me and my research.”

“I think this is completely tragic, because organizations like Discovery also have a huge reach, and I want to share science with a large audience. It makes what they’re doing even more hurtful and damaging,” Helm added.

Many were hopeful that the ship could be righted. “I think it’s extremely important to keep trying,” said Victoria Vásquez, Deputy Director at Ocean Research Foundation. “Nothing reaches that sort of audience for sharks, the ocean or any other wildlife. Consequently, I think it’s important to be vocal and consistent with what we want out of Discovery and take every opportunity to change it.”

“If it were on a cool, real science project, then probably yes,” said Greg Gbur, associate professor at UNC Charlotte. “My policy with a lot of problematic publications/channels is to vocally support the good and vocally blast the bad.” Jim Gelsleichter, Assistant Professor at University of North Florida, echoed the sentiment. “You can’t stop trying,” he said,”the best that you can do is learn to speak to the media in a manner that reduces the chances that the unintended message will get out and select wisely.”

I would like to believe there’s cause for such hope.

Alas, the path Discovery as set themselves upon leaves me with little to cling to. It seems unlikely that they will ever go back to being the trustworthy media company I used to watch religiously. Instead, they seem hellbent on distorting science and fabricating content to capitalize on fear. Their sensationalized programming, shoddy fact-checking, outright fictions and unethical PR have transformed them. Like P.T. Barnum and the showmen of old, they happily sacrifice the truth to draw a bigger crowd and do whatever it takes for money and fame. Discovery no longer seems to care about the ‘highest quality content’—so long as they can become The Greatest Show On Earth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: More Science, select, Top Posts
  • JoAnna

    Did you reach out to Discovery? Have they made ANY statements about their pseudoscience programming?

    • J. Fischer

      We KNOW what they’ll say — a lot of words that boil down to ‘We’re more interested in ratings than education, now.’

    • Terry

      I agree with your opinion. Discovery must be given the opportunity to respond to this critical article, otherwise the article itself is stooping to the same level as they purport Discover to be in that a journalist would be objectively trying to get both sides of the story – if there is one. I was waiting for some declaration of the Discovery response as I read the article – even if it was to say they were contacted several times and did not respond with comments. The comment that you “KNOW” what their response will be should be not acceptable.

      • badbriar

        Well, I understand that they did issue an apology of sorts about the phony Lake Ontario shark video, but it was short on apology and long on self-promotion. And saying “sorry, we really didn’t think that people would believe this and be frightened” doesn’t quite cut it.

  • Axel Blaster

    infotaintment

  • Van Carney

    Discovery Channel and History Channel have both abandoned educational programming and focused on catering to Red Necks and Tabloid readers. They have about as much interest in promoting science or showing educational content as the Playboy Channel. At least there’s still NatGeo and PBS

    • Geraldine Spicer

      Animal planet isn’t always about animals anymore. All the new
      programs lately seems to be pointless.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Angie Churchill

      It irritates me no end that most of the time History channel is playing some reality show, or shows about “aliens”..sigh

    • Glaisne

      Discovery (all their channels) and History have really gone down hill. Too much pseudo science UFO, ghosts, Big Foot, etc crap. Also too many shows about people destroying nature instead of protecting or studying it. Even NatGeo and PBS have gone downhill too but have yet to reach the depths of History and Discovery. Such a shame.

    • Sophia Webb

      I used to love both Discovery and History channel, but I seldom watch either of them any more. They just don’t include any programming that appeals to my family’s interests at this point. Poor quality sensationalist drivel is just not as fascinating as the real world we love to explore.

  • mjkbk

    I’m a little disturbed that a science grad student quoted here considers Discovery to be a NEWS channel.

    In the meantime, the ACTUAL news media may be almost as bad, when it comes to science-related ‘wordsmithing’ whose sole purpose seems to be to frighten the public.

    Who is worse, Discovery, with their latest, Greatest Snow-Job on Earth? Or the Associated Press–who recently reported a “hot spot” was responsible for melting pavement at Yellowstone National Park? How many members of the public were unnecessarily scared by THAT little bit of ‘creative writing’?

  • Drew Scerbo

    So yell “fire” in a crowded theater and you go to jail. Lie about a shark being in a popular lake during the height of summer and you call it your 1st Amendment right for self promotion?

    Seems we’ll cut a break for any corporate interest nowadays.

    Thank you, Discovery; for showing us just how low you’ll stoop to gather ratings.

  • http://www.JPAttitude.com/ J.P. Travis

    Why is this written from a perspective that implies Discovery Channel is somehow unique among media companies? Did the writer miss the edited tapes and false imagery concocted for the Trayvon Martin case? Journalists lie, that’s what they do, and it doesn’t matter whether the story they are inventing is about science, crimes, or politics.

    • Mark Terry II

      I think it doesn’t imply that Discovery is unique. Rather that it is particularly egregious when a channel that purports to be rooted in science and education documentary content is deliberately disseminating lies and promoting pseudoscience using subterfuge.

      The focus being on Discovery does not imply that no one else is guilty of similar conduct. The author is particularly incensed by this particular channel’s behavior most likely because it is her area of interest and expertise. As a science-related article it would be straining applicability to venture into a broader territory regarding ethics of news outlets.

      This isn’t about a broad expose of journalistic ethics. This is specifically about scientific documentaries presented by Discovery Channel which are ostensibly providing factual data gathered and presented by experts but in fact are little more than elaborate science-fiction schlockumentaries.

      We should take care not to infer that a lack of mention implies a lack of culpability. The article was focused, not exclusionary.

  • http://feldmanfile.blogspot.com Len Feldman

    John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Communications, was unwilling to compromise scientific accuracy for ratings. However, investors and managers who took over the company after Hendricks left day-to-day management are primarily concerned about increasing viewership (and thus revenues,) and accuracy has taken a back seat. Discovery Network now has reality television programmers running the show (“reality television” being an oxymoron.) It’s unfortunate that accuracy is seen by Discovery’s executives as an impediment to ratings.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Robert Lensch

    ANYTHING seen and heard on TV needs to be vetted at Wikipedia. Grains of salt should be distributed to voters by the Feds at no charge. Intelligent voters are at an all time high. Check it out at MSNBC.

    • Honor

      NOTHING should be vetted at Wikipedia.

      • Bruno

        Wikipedia cites its sources, it’s pretty easy to follow a link to a cited source or look up the source itself if it’s in a book or periodical.

    • Mississauga_Dad

      “Check it out at MSNBC” Surely you are being sarcastic. MSNBC makes Discovery look like ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Robert Lensch

        Thank you ladies and/or gents for being perspicacious. My faith in humanity has been bumped back into line.

    • h h

      om, guys, while i could be wrong, i’m pretty sure robert lensch was being sarcastic.

  • XaurreauX Pont DeLac

    The Discovery Channel has been swinging its beads under a lamp post and yelling “Hey, sailor!” for decades.

    • BinaryWatcher

      Not too many decades. The broadcast channel isn’t 30 years old yet.

      • XaurreauX Pont DeLac

        Just two–and that’s enough!

        • BinaryWatcher

          Didn’t start out like that, though. I used to watch it, and I’m a scientist. So no, not multiple decades.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

    No scientist should cooperate with Discovery until by chance they apologize for and explicitly disavow this, plus what happened last year.

  • Smarter than Your Average Bear

    I hope the province of Ontario and he affected lakeshore communities launch a class action suit against the Discovery Channel and put them out of business.

    • badbriar

      I’d actually like to see the community of Hout Bay in South Africa sue them as well, since both of the mockumentaries about Submarine and Megaladon took place there (geez, Discovery Channel, couldn’t you get at least a little creative and locate your second show somewhere else?).

  • Vera Comment

    not trying to give them a pass here, but a bull shark in freshwater is very well known. In other parts of the world, they’re named after the water where they’re found. (Zambezi Shark in Africa)

    the’ve been documented in the Mississippi as far north as Ill, and the Potomac.

    and in the early 1900’s, what they think was a bull or great white ate people in NJ.. 90 miles upstream (from the ocean) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Shore_shark_attacks_of_1916

    • Rietha Crafford

      This is very true, the bull shark (Zambezi) can enter freshwater for many kilometers……….you find it all along the south east coast of South Africa and Mozambique

  • WSBK

    Correction: Infauxtainment

  • carl a

    Wow….a graduate student from Brown Rebecca Helm shows her true colors by casting aspersions on Fox News for distortion of her facts. I wonder if confirmation bias extends into her efforts as a scientist as well? Shame on the author of this piece for allowing such politicizatio

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Jerry Stuckle

      What do you expect from grad students nowadays? They’re just repeating what they’ve been taught for however-many years. All the universities teach is liberalism. But then most professors are academics and have little or no real world experience in what they teach. For instance, ask how many business-related professors have actually run a company with employees, payrolls, benefits and a product or service they have to market and sell. Not many.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Robert Lensch

        But…but…what good is real world experience when you have the incalculable benefit of ideology!! Long live utopia!!

      • Sophia Webb

        I have attempted 2 master’s degrees (both of which were aborted due to funding cuts by presidents who wanted the money to fund military expenditures), one in English education and one in history. I have always been taught by my professors to actively seek primary sources of information–diaries, letters, and other first-person accounts of events–rather than accept secondary sources of information when writing about historic events and to be extremely careful about my sources and interpretation in English. Not all academics are extreme liberals. Most of them want to publish works that are of real quality.

        Fox News? Honestly, they aren’t any better as far as accuracy is concerned as any other news network and their “fair and unbiased” reporting has a fairly obvious conservative bias.

  • minnix2

    Like everything else, it comes down to the root of all evil, money.
    I stopped taking the Discovery channel seriously when they aired that idiotic mermaid “documentary”. Unfortunately, we are a gullible species and they are taking advantage of that fact.

  • John Raguso

    I stopped watching Discovery Channel for some unknown reason. Now I know why.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Peggy Emrey

    These are not the only lies Discovery is promoting these days. They are constantly adding “new” shows which are only repeats of already shown episodes of popular series with only a few tweets added to make them “new.”
    The Discovery channels ethics are hitting bottom!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Sylvie Savage

    Why the surprise here? This is not the first nonsense from Discovery Channel which is nothing more than a TV version of supermarket checkout tabloids. The program is consistent with the genre.

  • http://batman-news.com Randall Roebuck

    Almost every one of the very few times I’ve watched programs that I thought might be interesting on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel, I’ve been disappointed by the sensationalistic approach they’ve used in what were supposedly “documentaries”. As someone with a lifelong interest in both scientific subjects and in history (not to mention also having a BA in the latter), I would have been very interested in becoming a regular viewer if they had exhibited genuine professionalism in their productions. So they lost me as a part of their audience years ago.

  • nantucketbob

    Who owns the History Channels? Discovery corporation? I am deeply concerned they run, day after day, week after week, “conspiracy theory” shows as well as “ancient aliens.” These shows are not “history” and they are harmful.

    • irememberallthelies

      Actually if you take out some of the alien hoopla it’s very informative on ancient man. I have watched it and some things i have researched myself. It seems there are many myths, writings, drawings out there that suggest something was going on back in the day. You have to understand aliens is just their one perspective as there are many more that don’t involve aliens. You always have to keep an open mind when looming into stuff no matter how silly it seems. You know the saying the truth is always stranger than fiction

      • nantucketbob

        The Alien phenomena is part of the wider “conspiracy theory” phenomena. There are no alien invaders, and there never have been, but it is an enticing idea. Many years ago, I carried camera equipment everywhere I went, wanting to be prepared if I ever saw a UFO. Once I learned something about real astronomy, I realized it was pointless. There may be “aliens” on other planets, but they are most likely bacteria. And they are so far away, we will never know they exist. All the so-called alien works can be best explained by real science. Those alien shows are fraudulent, encouraging superstition and harmful conspiracy theories. They are not harmless.

        • irememberallthelies

          I know humans don’t fit in with evolution where everything else does. We are the only species who uses 3 pressure points when we walk which is very inefficient which is why out bottom half wears put so fast I.e. hip implants etc. It’s like something got lazy in designing us. Many ancient cultures have writings that some being with higher intelligence created us like the whole anninaki thing. History also shows throughout time we all of a sudden used new technology that came out of nowhere. Then you habe stories like promethius teaching man about fire. Then you habe other “serpent” gods who taught the maya and many others. Ironically Satan is a serpent like being and the church has been hell bent on destroying scientists work over the years like they were against technology. There are many biblical paintings showing people flying in the sky and the sun used to be behind jesus. If people can believe christianity then they can be lead to believe this because it’s pretty similar as far as out there goes. A man living in the clouds and we go to heaven. Since its the youngest religion on the planet then did everyone go to hell before jesus. That usually debunks it there because they all say “they were not taught about it so they were ok.” This to me sounds rediculous. Either your are saved or not lol. You have ancient sandskrits from India that read like star wars describing nuclear blasts and in Pakistan there is a place that looks like a bomb went off because of rock vitrification. I know people have imaginations but the things they wrote about they had no understanding of at all.

  • preciousbwallace

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  • Ron Brison

    Unfortunately, this pandering makes business sense. Ratings = revenue for TV channels. For every scientifically literate person or skeptic out there, there are probably half a dozen gullible folks who will watch anything that is sensational. It has always been a trait of humanity to quickly adhere to extreme or outrageous beliefs. This inclination may have had some survival value since it is still so prevalent. Think…if you believe there are sharks in a body of water, you may avoid it. Right away your chances of drowning, real predators, and water borne illnesses drop. You teach your children the same things. World without end, amen. As a result there are far more ignorant people out there. The very curiosity that drives us to learn and find out the truth about the world would seem to get us killed more often than sheer gullibility. This depressing observation explains why even so-called scientific channels air such crap-ola. There is more money in WooHoo than the truth.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Dennis Demeyer

    I must have missed the merger of Discovery and SyFy.

  • Dana Ehret

    I wish they would actually interview a shark PALEONTOLOGIST (cough cough) to comment on fossil sharks…

  • http://www.russellpi.com John Russell

    Please sign our petition to stop Shark Rodeo Cowboys in Palm Beach County Florida!

    See FWC on arrest information at http://bit.ly/1hDQj6d

    Sign our petition here http://chn.ge/1lyxhtG

  • http://www.russellpi.com John Russell

    The sharks had become so aggressive she had to get out of the water…………

    The Florida Dive boat operators were trying to skirt the regulations. Read about the investigation that led to their arrests. Protect sharks from divers. http://chn.ge/1lyxhtG

  • http://www.russellpi.com John Russell

    Petitions Against Shark Feeding and Shark Baiting

    Continue the prohibition of shark feeding in state waters Fla. Admin. Reg. 68B-5.005. Stop Baiting-Feeding of Sharks: increase fines, protect federal waters and punish offenders. http://chn.ge/1lyxhtG

    Continue the prohibition of shark feeding in state waters Fla. Admin. Reg. 68B-5.005. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/683/006/717/

    Stop Baiting-Feeding of Sharks outside of Florida’s territorial waters. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/269/368/868/

    John Russell

    Detective and Dive Industry Professional

    http://www.RussellPI.com

  • kevin godfrey

    Sorry if this has been said somewhere else, the dissemblement and weasel words from Discover, History etc aside, the spreading of panic, the loss of earnings aside, if adults can be convinced – The History Channel, The Discovery Channel (names implying that they’re an ‘authority) – it’s even worse for children who can be even less able to discern fact from fiction but will at some point use it in say, an exam question. Whilst we’re about it, lets argue that it’s windy because the trees wave their branches around.

  • Jay Ruggio

    psht – greatest show on earth is at FACEBOOK DISCOVERY PROMOTES STOLEN VALOR and FACEBOOK UNOFFICIAL JOSEPH TETI – pt barnum would be impressed , even Brother Love showed up -there was the GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH

  • http://www.theAdaptiveMarketer.com/ Gerardo A. Dada

    And this is only the beginning. Animal Planet’s Mermaids show is 100% misleading but had the highest viewership ever for the channel. Finding Bigfoot is another one.

    Discovery channel is letting the world down and sacrificing ethics for profits while misinforming and misleading millions of people. Could the FTC fine them for false advertising?

    http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/77675-mermaids-new-evidence-2013-discovery-channels-new-show-explores-mermaids/

  • irememberallthelies

    Shark week used to be awesome and I learned a ton about them. Now, not so much

  • Barret

    Discovery, History, TLC, et al have been in decline of quality for years. PBS and the BBC are the only places I’ve seen decent scientific TV programs lately.

  • Jay Ruggio

    DISCOVERY PROMOTES STOLEN VALOR JOSEPH TETI FACEBOOK is an interesting site on this networks decisions on programing and actors – check it out , Mykel Hawke of Man Woman Wild/ Lost Survivors posts there .

  • badbriar

    I actually live on the mainland in Kingston, right across from Wolfe Island, and the idea that people were genuinely frightened by Discovery Channel’s stupid stunt is appalling, not to mention the possibility of any economic hardship if people were afraid to go to the island. Paul Lewis, the President and General Manager of Discovery Canada, says that they didn’t think that this would actually scare people, that they thought that the reaction would be more “is it or isn’t it fake” than “hey, a shark, run away!”. Well, when half of their programing (real and fake) is about shark attack and which sharks are the deadliest, and they fake a video of a bull shark (which, according to one of their own shows, is the most deadly) in one of the Great Lakes, how could they be so stupid to think that people weren’t going to be frightened of this? Oh, silly me…they don’t care. As long as people watch their programs. Well, unless things change drastically, I think that I’ll be giving Shark Week a pass next year.

  • Dinoslay .

    This is what happens when reckless people gain influence in the media industry. Make no mistake, counter-intuitive fraud is a form of moronic supply designed to generate more moronic demand. It is not real education. What makes it creepy is that it is by no means limited to monetary gain;

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlueAndOrangeMorality

    To the ordinary watchers of Discovery and it’s kin: Beware of this phenomenon and what it can do to your children! Nuff said.

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About Christie Wilcox

Dr. Christie Wilcox is a science writer and postdoctoral scholar at the University of Hawaii. She is renowned in the science blogosphere for her delicate balance of contemporary science and scientific perspective seasoned with just the right amount of wit. Her award-winning posts have landed on the pages of major media outlets including The New York Times and Scientific American. To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

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@NerdyChristie on Twitter

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