Animal Planet’s Monster Week tones down the hype for 2016

jump_the_sharkIt’s business as usual at Animal Planet channel. It’s Monster Week. You know, it’s not that bad to air shows like The Cannibal in the Jungle for one week or on occasion. But AnPlan has gone too far in the past several years by suggesting that mermaids, Megalodon and cryptids exist by co-opting bad or outright FAKE science to make people think there is more support for these claims than there really are.

Animal Planet and Discovery channel (both of Discovery Network) often share shows so you may have seen a variety of strange offerings on both. (A complete list of paranormal programming in English, go to my list here.) For AnPlan in particular, fiction began to overtake nature programming in 1997 with the show Animal X about mystery cryptids. Then, they got into the Pet Psychic shows from 2002-2004 and again in 2010. But seriously, pet psychic shows are not even interesting and are kind of ridiculous even to the average person who believes in psychic abilities. River Monsters began in 2009 and is still going. It’s not exactly an unnatural program but occasionally does hype up the drama and lead viewers to misleading ideas. This hinted at what was to come – actual cryptid hunting.

Finding Bigfoot was a ratings success at AnPlan starting in 2011, becoming its top rated series (for a time – I think River Monsters may now hold that spot). Then, in 2012, the shit really began to hit the TV screen. Mermaids: A Body Found was a fictional show that was made to look like an actual documentary. The two-hour special used fake footage, CGI, fake “underwater sound recordings”, and had actors portray scientists to discuss the thoroughly dismissed “aquatic ape theory”. There was an immediate response. People who expect to see science on AnPlan thought this was science! There were some who actually believed mermaids were real and the government was hiding the truth! The NOAA had to issue a public statement to assure the nation that, no, mermaids were NOT real. The network had gone off the deep end but took the position that ratings were more important than information about real animals. After the raging success of Mermaids for Monster Week 2012, a sequel came in 2013 with even more misleading content and fake scientists. Also included in the 2013 Monster Week were programs that sounded like Roger Corman movies: Man-eating Squid, Invasion of the Swamp Monsters, and Invasion of the Mutant Pigs. Discovery Channel meanwhile was basking in the glow of confusing the public again with a fake documentary on an extinct giant shark that they wanted you to think was still around. Cue fake footage and doctored photos. This was the end of association with the network by many scientists who had had enough.mermaids-e1368894096230

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John Oliver f**king skewers media science

John Oliver skewered pop media “science” coverage on his recent show. It wasn’t all that funny but it was true. And depressing. What has our society become? So smart, we get stupid.

As an observer of the relationship between science and the public, he’s totally right for pointing out disturbing trends of morning news shows hyping one bad study, news orgs blowing a single study out of proportion, press releases jazzing up a study to get coverage, and headlines that don’t reflect at all what the study is even about. This sets us up for a whole lot more trouble than we already have when it comes to science literacy in the U.S. Take a look…Read More »

Rule No. 1 for being Internet-smart: Never read NaturalNews

imagesNatural News is the worst of the internet.

Would you get your medical advice from a non-medical doctor with inadequate training? How about one investigated by the FBI for supporting killing of scientists? Would you get your news from a site that denies the basic tenets of science and how the universe works? How about a site that promotes policies that can result in death (AIDS denialism, anti-vaccine, homeopathic remedies for deadly diseases such as Ebola)? Is a site led by a alt med salesman that pushes baseless conspiracy theories and calls respected doctors and scientists names (or worse) a reputable source of information?

No. And this is really serious. NO.

Learn the name NATURALNEWS.COM 

and avoid it entirely. They call themselves “The world’s top news source on natural health”. They are the top source for health misinformation and pseudoscience. This is not in doubt:Read More »

Practical skepticism about being “closed-minded”

open mindIn my last post, on accepting strange ideas because “science doesn’t know everything”, I unpacked a comment from a person who was invested in believing psychic powers were genuine. Next in my series of responses to credulous, and rather vehement, commentators, I reply to accusations that I’m closed-minded, not thinking “out of the box”, stuck in the “establishment” of science. According to these “open-minded” thinkers, this attitude limits my ability to perceive and be sympathetic towards non-materialistic [1] conclusions about strange things in the world.

I’ve addressed this before because it’s really annoying. It’s used so frequently, and was brought up by a few people regarding my rejection of a TV ghost hunter’s claim that a house in Indiana was a source of actual demonic activity. Zak Bagans’ Ghost Adventures airs on the Travel Channel which suggests it has a goal of being entertaining, emphasizing exciting and mysterious places that lend themselves to adventurous exploring. That’s fine, that’s entertainment. But when Bagans suggests his outrageous adventures are evidence of paranormal reality and that he’s being scientific or careful in his investigations, I’m calling bullshit as warranted. He’s not a good investigator and television shows are not research. I called BS on this Indiana demon house story from the very beginning when it sounded exactly like a Hollywood horror movie even including physics-defying feats by so-called possessed people. The story had no credible support. I was criticized for saying that the eyewitness accounts from police, a priest, and some hospital personnel were of no special importance because it was their story and not independently verified. I think something odd was going on with that family but demon possession was NOT it.

In a nifty twist, Bagans swooped in and bought the house within days of the story breaking and apparently made a documentary there (yet to be released). Based on his credibility (which is nil), I’m not that interested in his POV. Does that make me closed-minded? About this particular situation, yep, but not without damn good reasons. Good reason is what this haunted house story lacks completely.

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Practical skepticism on “science doesn’t know everything”

I could spend hours and hours responding to really poorly thought out and terribly spelled comments to my blog posts on Doubtful News. But it would be pointless. Half the people wouldn’t read it and the other half would just argue and put up another bunch of syntactical garbage. I typically conclude that people who are vehemently and rudely opposed to what I say have their reasons for being that way, whatever they may be. Perhaps they value personal experiences and what they are told by people they trust. They probably don’t have any experience in critical thinking or were not given the tools to learn how to be objective. Or, they simply prefer to hold a position that is comforting to them in some way – by making them seem special or powerful. I’m trying to understand why some people feel the need to comment as they do but it’s hard because I can’t put myself in their place and imagine I would react the same.

I thought I would share some of the responses that I did not post and answer them on this blog. I don’t post lousy comments to any of my blogs because I employ a strict moderation policy of added value. These folks didn’t give evidence, they made fallacious arguments that didn’t add to the discussion but distracted from it and they are often rude and ignorant. I’ve heard these same arguments countless times before. It would be worthwhile to take some time and formulate a full response. I expect to refer to these piece often as these same situations arise. For the first response, I tackle “AnnMarie” and her position that science can’t explain everything.

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I wrote a piece that was extremely skeptical about 19-year-old “celebrity medium” Tyler Henry and disagreed that we need ANY such TV shows that portray psychic powers as “reality”. I question why Tyler is doing a TV show instead of demonstrating his powers to scientists and parapsychologists studying mediumship who could learn about life after death. This would be valuable for humanity, not just the Kardashians…
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Book Review: Dawkins’ Brief Candle

Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in ScienceBrief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel this book helped me understand Dawkins considerably more than I did previously. It also deepened my appreciation for him and his life’s work – in zoology, evolutionary biology, religion, philosophy, and science in society.

There is no sign of him being mean-spirited, and I have not seen that from him in his daily life either. I may not always agree with him but he presses me with his arguments to examine why I do not. In that way, he is a great teacher.

His emotions are simple, direct, and natural, while his intellect is deep and thought is complex. I do not think he will be remembered by history as a bully or strident or insulting (none of which do I think he is); he will be memorialized and regarded for pushing us to think and for challenging society on some topics (and certain people and bad ideas) that REALLY needed to be challenged.

Other than some long quotes from other sources, and poems that I could do without, this was a good read for those who know Richard Dawkins’ work.

View all my reviews

100 Things Popular Science Thinks Science Got Wrong, but Didn’t Quite

I was in the grocery checkout line a few weeks ago. I sometimes scan the magazine rack impulse grabs but never buy them. This week, the crop circle cover photo of a special edition of Popular Science caught my attention: Mistakes and Hoaxes – 100 Things Science Got Wrong

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What did science get wrong about crop circles? “Science” (be wary of the tone of generality used in the title) never assumed there was anything worthwhile about crop circles. They were a man-made (and quite nifty) phenomenon. Thumbing through the issue, I saw pages about phrenology, cigarettes are good for you, bloodletting, humans evolved from apes, and so on – topics that may appear to have once had scientific backing. But several other standard hoaxes were cited in the list – spirit photography, alien autopsy, Loch Ness Monster, King Tut’s curse…

So, it was a mishmash of rejected thinking, errors, and hoaxes but not everything had to do with science. Lots of these “myths” were popular in the public or the media but gained zero traction as legitimate science. I bought it to see how these popular myths (if not popular “science”) were treated. It was a mixed bag.

The issue, considered a Time Inc. Book, priced at $13.99 is a snazzy coffee table edition. Each “myth” takes up one page or less. It’s well illustrated and a casual read for those who are not specialists in science. I would recommend it to those who find science stuff interesting but don’t have a formal background in it. As with typical “popular science”, specialists will find plenty of nits to pick in the text. But overall, it’s not flawed except in the egregiously wrong title. There was no introduction or editor’s note, the content started immediately with Myth #1: Neutrinos Are Faster Than Light – a legitimate story that described how an experiment went awry. Read More »