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The Downfall of Science Television


The Discovery Channel screwed up. As Wil Wheaton would tell it, they screwed up big time. It seems that when they opened up Shark Week, they did it with a mocumentary about megalodon sharks that survived into modern times. The way angry nerds are talking, it’s like the modern-day “War of the Worlds”.¹

They aired this show without any kind of disclaimer, leading many to say that the Discovery Channel lied to them. I didn’t watch it myself. I really couldn’t tell you the last time I turned the Discovery Channel on…

Actually, no, I remember the last time I watched the Discovery Channel, it was an episode of Amish Mafia that the girlfriend had turned on. It was one of those things that we just couldn’t believe could actually be happening. A show called Amish Mafia? On the Discovery Channel? It has to be a mistake on the programming guide, but no, it was a real show. Well, “real” in the sense that it actually exists, not “real” in the sense that anything on the show has any basis in fact or reality.

For people to wait until they make a silly movie to have some fun during Shark Week to get upset is just a little absurd.

Hell, I’d take a mocumentary over Amish Mafia any day. Some of those “What If” type shows can be pretty educational too, just make sure that you put some kind of disclaimer up for the people who don’t get the joke, and then fill it with real science.

This is where some people are probably a little confused. You’re probably asking yourself, “did he just say REAL science in a show about fantasy creatures?” Well, yes, I did. This works in a lot of different ways. First, you can talk about the history of the subject, where did it originate from, what are the legends and history behind the creatures. Then you move into speculation on how this creature could actually exist. You talk biology and compare it to real animals and how they function.  Bring in some experts in what ever type of ecosystem the creature would live in to talk about what kind of impact it would have.  You make these things the main point of the show, and wrap it around some scientist who “found” a live specimen or whatever. Play up the actual science, not shock footage of submarines being eaten by giant CG sharks.

Essentially, they need to be more Nova and less SyFy.

A show like that would be awesome. One of my favorite nature documentaries was based almost solely on speculation. “The Future is Wild” featured looks into what evolution has in store for the planet Earth millions of years into the future. They talk about what will happen with our orbit and the different stages of the sun and how they will affect the planet. They got biologists to look at various trends in evolution and work up some theories on what animals may look like in the years to come.

OK, some of you may not like that idea. While they still talk about the science behind it all, it still kinda pushes fantasy over actual science, so how about this…

Ancient Science

The show would be a hard science parody of Ancient Aliens. It starts off with some crazy haired psuedoscientist excitedly talking about some event in history that he claims occurred due to aliens or bigfoot or something when suddenly, the screen slides over and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, or Alex Filippenko (I wish this guy would do more stuff on TV, but he’s probably too busy doing looking at exploding stars…) takes over, and tells you why everything you just heard is bullshit, then they bring out the real experts on what ever the show is about. Every now and then, the crazy haired guy comes out and tries to derail the science with more talk of ancient astronauts, but they just keep throwing more hard science at him.

The silliness keeps it interesting for people who don’t like watching documentaries, and maybe pulls in some of the Honey Boo Boo crowd, but is always done in a way to enforce the actual science that is at the core of the show.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just a little nostalgic for a time when we had good science shows on TV…

¹Seriously, I have seen complaints by intelligent, fully grown men and women, that were upset that they fully believed that there was a giant prehistoric shark sinking boats in the middle of the ocean. Children believing this I can understand, but adults? First questions for you is this, if a giant shark was sinking ships since WWII, don’t you think there would have been coverage anywhere else? Maybe on the news? Maybe on any other documentaries? Perhaps in any text books? Would they seriously wait until Shark Week to release that kind of information? If your reason for being upset with Discovery Channel is because you fell for it, then its your own damn fault.

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