Monster sharks and yetis on a supposedly educational channel.
Despite widespread backlash over fake documentaries, supposedly educational networks are turning to them more and more in efforts to net viewers and in the process are making people dumber.
Last year's two-hour special on Discovery, called "Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives," convinced 70% of viewers that the giant prehistoric shark still existed even as outraged scientists insisted that the show was ludicrous and almost entirely fictional. It didn't help that Discovery made coy comments about the documentary being a legitimate contribution to scientific debate.
This summer, Discovery followed it up with "Megalodon: The New Evidence," which became the highest-rated episode of Shark Week with 4.8 million viewers.
The network recently also aired a fabricated documentary called "Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine" and reportedly lied to scientists to get them to appear in another documentary, "Voodoo Sharks."
The similarly bunk "Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives" aired on the channel in early June. The special follows a filmmaker as he researches footage apparently showing the deaths of nine hikers killed in 1959, but perhaps the bigger mystery is how the doomed hikers got access to a high-quality digital camcorder in the late '50s.
Discovery-owned channel Animal Planet has aired two other fake documentaries in recent years — replete with actors, fabricated events, CGI, and faked footage — which explore the apparently scientific evidence for mermaids.
Although Animal Planet admitted in a subsequent press release that its "documentary" was science-fiction, the show presented itself as rigorously scientific.
Many viewers seem to take them at their word, with children being especially vulnerable to deception.
Despite mermaids being neither real animals nor existing on the planet, 3.6 million viewers watched the latest mermaid special, breaking all records for the channel.
Not to be outdone in the field of fake science, The History Channel has also joined the trend of undermining its credibility, airing programs like "Nostradamus Effect," "Ancient Aliens," and "UFO Hunters" in recent years.
Each documentary, across all the networks, inevitably contains X-Files-like references to cover-ups and official denials.
We're now claiming that government officials and scientists are lying to the public and that you shouldn't trust them. FFS #sharkweek— David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) August 24, 2014
From mermaids to monster sharks, the Discovery Channel's fakes tend to follow a cookie cutter formula.
Megalodon uses amateur footage, news reports of fatal attacks, and several interviews with shark experts to make its case. The crew bases its narrative on the research of marine biologist Collin Drake as he travels the world speaking about the shark and gathering evidence.
But while the shark itself was real — swimming the oceans two million years ago — the same cannot be said for anything else in the special.
The documentaries show "found footage" from a fatal attack off the South African coast that apparently left three people dead. It's fake; no such attacks took place.
The documentaries show news reports from "3 News" in South Africa. It's fake; no such channel exists.
The documentaries air photos from the Second World War showing the fin and tail of the shark next to a German U-boat.
This image is an altered still from a historical video, which we tracked down online.
An internet search for the world-renowned marine biologist Collin Drake only finds references to the documentary …
… but IMDB reveals that he's actually the slightly less qualified actor Darron Meyer, although he did play a doctor in a 2010 sequel to "Free Willy."
The documentaries contain no disclaimers to inform viewers they're watching fiction, though some brief text shown at the start acknowledges that one or two scenes may have been "dramatized" — quite the understatement, unlikely to be of use to children, and totally useless to anyone who starts mid-show.
The shark expert David Shiffman told National Geographic: "Discovery is a joke, with the megalodon fiasco only being a confirmation of what has been clear for some time."
But despite many viewers (and scientists) voicing their anger at the Discovery Channel, the network stands by its fabrication.
Claiming there was legitimate scientific debate, the Shark Week producer Michael Sorensen told Fox News: "The stories have been out there for years, and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?"
Marine biologists seem to know, and they haven't been quiet about it.
"Is it possible that a prehistoric shark measuring 70 feet long is still roaming our oceans today?" No. No it is not. #SharkWeek— David Shiffman (@WhySharksMatter) August 24, 2014
Schiffman told National Geographic: "Discovery bills itself as the premier science education television station in the world, and they're perpetuating this utter nonsense."
Indeed, much to the Discovery Channel's disappointment, every expert who has commented on either documentary agrees the Megalodon went extinct roughly 1.5 million years ago.
If there were any actual scientific debate, the Discovery Channel probably wouldn't have needed to doctor footage, fake news reports, and pay actors to play "scientific experts."
Business Insider reached out to History and Discovery for comment on these criticisms but did not receive a response.