Shark Week vs. science: the Megalodon affair

A battle over the existence of an extinct shark highlights shoddy coverage

For the Discovery Channel, Shark Week, an annual week devoted to shark-related programming, is prime time for ratings and, supposedly, a moderate win for science. After all, underneath all the gore, a week of documentaries about marine life is presumably a vehicle drumming up interest in science, right? But Discovery aired a program on Sunday chronicling the search for a giant shark named Megalodon—a shark that is extinct. Angry biologists and science writers raised an online stink over the misleading nature of the program.

The tension increased Tuesday afternoon when the Discovery Channel not only refused to issue an apology but also released a statement claiming that, because parts of the ocean are unexplored, Megalodon could be out there. The scientists couldn’t prove it, which is a great way to piss them off.

Scientific inquiry doesn’t search for proof; it compiles evidence. But even within such a paradigm—like with the search for aliens and Bigfoot—it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist (though there are certainly more people who are looking for extraterrestrials than Megalodon).

Marine biologists and science writers were not amused, and we captured some of the discussion in a Storify:

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Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: , , , ,