August 3, 2014

Time to Stop Watching the Discovery Network Channels

Discovery HQ Shark Week 2012
Discovery HQ Shark Week 2012 (Photo credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks.)
Did you enjoy Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey when it aired on television? Based on the number of favorable mentions the show received in the online atheist community, I'll assume that many of you did. It was refreshing to see something factual on our TV sets for a change, wasn't it? I remember watching the first episode of Cosmos and thinking how nice but unfortunately rare it was to see something on TV aimed at getting kids interested in science.

Cosmos seemed to find a solid balance between providing factual information and being at least somewhat entertaining. Maybe "entertaining" isn't the best word; I like "stimulating" better here. In any case, I remember thinking that I'd really like to see much more of this sort of thing (i.e., shows that present factual content to inform viewers).

For those of us who liked Cosmos, it makes sense that we'd want it to succeed and that we'd like to encourage more shows like it. And yet, it seems like this is really only half the battle because we are also up against a number of channels that regularly broadcast absolute nonsense masquerading as factual information. And given the sorry state of scientific literacy, skepticism, and critical thinking found in much of their audience, that is a problem.

I have written previously about the garbage that airs regularly on channels that present themselves as offering factual information (e.g., History Channel, Discovery Channel, Learning Channel, Travel Channel). It isn't just a matter of my not liking much of this content; I fear that it produces misinformed viewers. These channels present themselves as providing fact but instead feed fiction, which gullible viewers may not recognize as such. In essence, they are engaging in deceptive practices by pretending to deliver facts when little of what they provide is factual.

Sharon Hill (Doubtful News) has reached her limit with the Discovery Channel and their sister channels on the Discovery Network and is calling on those of us who are upset with the crap they broadcast to do something about it. Her argument, a well-supported one I must say, is that the Discovery Channel is misinforming viewers with their ridiculous shark hoaxes to boost ratings. She accuses them of inciting panic by providing "deliberate misinformation." And far from being an isolated incident, she explains how their latest shark hoax is part of a larger pattern.
Not only does Discovery fail to provide factual information, they are bent on inserting harmful MISINFORMATION into the mainstream, actually sabotaging the initial intent of shark week programming – to inform and help reduce the stigma around sharks.
Sharon asks that if you are upset about this sort of thing coming from the Discovery Network Channels (i.e., Discovery, Science Channel, Animal Planet) that you consider contacting their viewer relations department and letting them know.