Megalodon fossil cast
Megalodon fossil cast, image by MeanLouise.

edited at 8:20 p.m. to update some links.

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week opened last night with a pseudo-documentary that is so abysmal that the words “fraudulent” and “bullshit” and “lies” are among the kinder assessments I’ve seen thus far. And I haven’t even looked very far.

The wildly differing goals of fiction films and documentaries are, I think, pretty well understood by most reasonable people. Crappy sci-fi or horror production houses aren’t big on maintaining a stable of science advisors. Hell, even the biggest budget movie or tv show will throw science to the wind in the pursuit of good storytelling.

It happens.

Sometimes, this becomes an opportunity for interesting conversation or an opening for some innovative science education programming. Other times it’s just a fun opportunity to get together with your science-y pals and have a few laughs.

Discovery is not the SyFy channel. Discovery purports to be a purveyor of science. Discovery needs to be held to a higher standard than Hollywood.

Discovery’s annual ichthyological bacchanalia has become an increasingly irresponsible blurring of fact and fiction and their sensationalization of the behavior of sharks – animals that are already misunderstood, over-fished and, in some cases, endangered.

This year, Discovery has taken things a step further, casting aside science in favor of science fiction delivered in a deliberately misleading fashion.

Christie Wilcox’s excellent piece, “Shark Week Jumps the Shark: An Open Letter to Discovery Communications,” is vital reading for anyone who doesn’t understand why paleontologists, conservationists, science communicators, documentarians, and ocean scientists, among others, are already pulling their hair out and tweeting madly about this year’s Shark Week.

This year’s Shark Week kick-off special, Megalodon: The Monster Shark That Lives, claimed to provide evidence that these massive beasts are still out there, using scattered anecdotes and scientific testimony to support the assertion. There’s only one problem: the entire “documentary” wasn’t real.

No whale with a giant bite taken out of it has ever washed up here in Hawaii. No fishing vessel went mysteriously missing off of South Africa in April. No one has ever found unfossilized Megalodon teeth. Collin Drake? Doesn’t exist. The evidence was faked, the stories fabricated, and the scientists portrayed on it were actors. The idea that Megalodon could still be roaming the ocean is a complete and total myth.

The heart of her argument is this:

The real science of these animals should have been more than enough to inspire Discovery Channel viewers. But it’s as if you don’t care anymore about presenting the truth or reality. You chose, instead, to mislead your viewers with 120 minutes of bullshit. And the sad part is, you are so well trusted by your audience that you actually convinced them: according to your poll, upwards of 70% of your viewing public fell for the ruse and now believes that Megalodon isn’t extinct.

The letter continues on as Wilcox outlines the reasons for her fury and ends with samples from Discovery’s facebook wall that show that she is far from alone in condemning their absurd content. You should go read the whole thing. It’s not that long, you can spare the time.

I was even more disappointed in Discovery for Megalodon: The Monster Shark that Lives than I was for the hoax-y “mermaids are real” programs they’ve run the last two Memorial Day weekends. See also: Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post article, Mermaids: The official U.S. position (yes, there is one) (which raises serious points. Go read it). See also: Southern Fried Science – Mermaids: The New Evidence is a Fake Documentary. See also: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s statement on aquatic humanoids.

Jacquelyn Gill has a timely guest-post on her blog, The Contemplative Mammoth, by PhD students Meghan Balk and Catalina Pimiento. I suggest reading The Megatooth Shark: Megalodon to learn actual things.

If your kids watched this fetid show, I suggest downloading the University of Florida’s Megalodon educator’s guide. UF is also the home of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, a great source for dispelling some of the myths and rumors programming like Shark Week disseminates in the name of ratings and profit.

Want some interesting (and intelligent) shark week commentary (52 weeks a year) on twitter? Start with David Schiffman, aka @WhySharksMatter. And perhaps turn off Discovery in favor of Nat Geo Wild’s Sharkfest. I’ve heard rumors it will have real science. Instead of, you know, bullshit and rumors.

updated to add links to other indignant blog posts:
It’s Okay to be Smart: “Shark Weak” (good title).

Wil Wheaton: “Discover Channel Owes it’s Viewers an Apology.”

Opossum 2

Image of North American O/possum By Cody Pope (Wikipedia:User:Cody.pope) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

I can control opossums. With my mind.

With my mind, people.

My mind.

Incidentally, since I can’t decide whether to use “possum” or “opossum” I’ve decided to go with o/possum from now on. The o/possums will understand.

I don’t know how useful this ability will be, but I like the idea of it, even though o/possums weird me out.

Damn. Now the o/possums know they weird me out. Shhhhh!

Although I don’t really believe I almost burned down Gatorland with my mind, as I have previously suggested, I choose to believe I’ve got this o/possum thing locked down.

I’m going to be sad if it’s the only X-man power I ever develop, though.

So what proof do I have of this ability? I’ll admit it’s a maybe possibly a little bit sketchy…

Dana was one of the winners of my inadvertently o/possum-themed blogiversary give-away. Yesterday, I decided to drop her prize off at her house, which is less than 1/2 a mile from mine – well within any rational person’s acceptable o/possum mind-control perimeter.

Before I arrived, one of her neighbors told her he’d seen an o/possum run into her yard. There is only one explanation (that is currently being posited here on my blog) – I sent this o/possum to her house!

I believe that I shall stop short of declaring myself the o/possum queen, because no good will come of that.

I’m also not going to be brushing their teeth anytime soon.

I forgot to take a picture of Dana’s present, but once all of the blogiversary presents have been received there will be some picture posting. Also, since I’ve decided that everyone who commented but didn’t win the drawing will be receiving a postcard I still need to send some emails and round up some addresses.

As a child, I ran a bit hot and cold on the whole Curious George issue. I loved him when I was 5 and devoured all the books in short order (I was a precocious reader). In the first grade, much to the chagrin of our school librarian, I found the situation of a monkey in an urban environment problematic. Which was odd considering I lived in a weird place that – in addition to the wide-range of eccentrics, roadside attractions, and sanctuaries, was the winter home of the circus – and didn’t give much thought to the variety of exotic animals all over town.

In the present, discussions erupt now and again in the MeanLouise Lair about whether George is a monkey or an ape. Sometimes other people are involved in these debates, other times I’m just talking to myself.

I think we can retire the subject once and for all because bioanthropology blogging heart-throb Kristina Killgrove has written a truly fab post on her blog, Powered by Osteons, that explores the question, “Is Curious George a Monkey or an Ape?” in fascinating detail.

I bet the Fabulous Miss P. and Heather will both find the post interesting, if not for the science than for the cultural context of those books.

precious. precocious. one of those. my proofreader failed me today ;-)

kittenneeson
I made the mistake of letting the kittens watch Taken last night. Kittens, it turns out, love Liam Neeson movies. They spent the duration of the movie alternately stalking the TV and napping on the airbed so I thought we’d at least dodged the nightly 2 hour KittenCrazyFest.

I was mistaken.

Just as I got into bed, they got the signal from the Mothership. A few minutes of attacking the bed. And each other). A frantic episode of racing around the house. A few minutes of attacking the sheets. And my feet. And each other.

Rinse. Repeat.

They were so cute I hauled myself out of bed, grabbed the camera and sent Husband a video of the fun he was missing.

Then I grabbed the water pistol and put an end to the game and we all went to sleep.

I love the attack and flip maneuver (seen at 1:55), which never stops being adorable.

IMG_3857

I was drinking coffee and watching sandhill cranes by the lake this morning when a woman, who obviously lives in the neighborhood, let her yaptastic dog scare them off.

Well, you don’t scare a 4 foot tall bird away so much as you annoy it into leaving. I rather jealously wished I could fly away with the cranes.

Now, I enjoy incessant barking and owners who don’t clean up after their dogs as much as the next person, but I decided to make a little small-talk to let this woman know that by not controlling her dog she was harassing protected birds in a designated habitat, not to mention that walking her dog like that was going to result in tragedy sooner rather than later.

Admittedly, I was a little short with her as I watched her tiny terror run around.

Me: “That’s a bad idea.”

Her: (sneering) “You don’t believe the rumors about an alligator in the lake, do you?”

Me: “I did count 8 in there this morning.”

Woman: (condescension in full bloom) “HOW did you count them?”

(What kind of question is that?)

Me, pointing at the alligator her dog was barking at (who would have been about a foot outside the frame of this photo of the gator in question): “One…”

IMG_2005

click to view larger image

It amazes me how willfully ignorant people can be about their own environment. You aren’t in the city anymore and there are wild animals here. There’s ample, reputable information about alligators that’s easily obtainable (including in the neighborhood newsletter).

People make me tired.

It’s hard to convince people to read stories about vultures, even stories about the endangered status of 7 out of 9 South African species due to the fact that people are smoking vulture brains to try to make themselves clairvoyant, so I’ll give you the whole final paragraph as a pull-quote to entice you to go read the whole article to see how the author gets from the lottery to brains.

The vulture’s extraordinary looks and activities have resulted in an undeservedly bad reputation. But by cleaning up dead bodies, they perform an essential role in the ecosystem. One I do not wish to live without. If only the South African government could have predicted that introducing the Lotto would have led to a dramatic increase in the death of these animals. But then, nothing can help you see the future. Least of all, smoking vulture brains.