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Discovery Channel

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From its inception in 1985 to about 2000, the Discovery Channel was a TV network with many interesting documentaries and other popular science educational programs. Then around the turn of the century something snapped[1] and since then there's been a significant increase in reality shows (which are okay, if you're into that) and programs promoting pseudoscience: mostly cryptozoology, UFOs, pseudohistory, and paranormal nonsense. The best that can be said about those programs is the complete absence of anything even closely resembling alternative medicine (which is probably for legal reasons, more than anything else). Discovery still makes and airs real documentaries—and even some programs with a sceptical point of view—but for the layperson it's not always easy to distinguish between the real science programs and the pseudoscientific and pseudosceptical programs.

There are also a few spin-off channels, most notably Animal Planet (since 1995), Science (since 1996), TLC (since 1972, take-over by Discovery in 1991), and some others.

Programs[edit]

This is not a comprehensive list, just the best and worst of programs that relate to RationalWiki's mission. There are many more programs that either sit somewhere in between or aren't related to our mission. The dates are the original run dates, but many programs are re-run (and some, like Cosmos, are syndicated from another network).

The list combined programs from Discovery, Animal Planet, and Science.[2]

Good[edit]

Some of the better programmes promoting science and/or scepticism.

Name Year Original content Description
Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe 1995 No Sequel to the more famous (and better) Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious World. Looks at genuine mysteries as well as some non-mysteries with a critical mind. Basically, it shows you how to have an open mind about all topics but not be a crank by having a mind that is so open that your brains have fallen out.
Connections 1979, 1994, 1997 No (PBS) for 1979 series; Yes for others Explores connections between various scientific developments. The original was a BBC program shown on PBS in 1979, but the follow-ups (Connections2 and Connections3) were aired on Discovery and TLC.
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage 1980 No (PBS) Carl Sagan's famous documentary explaining science and astronomy in particular.
Deadliest Catch 2005-Present Yes Discusses the subject of marine biology.
Into the Universe with Stephen HawkingWikipedia's W.svg 2010 Yes Examines aliens and time travel from a reality-based perspective.
Mostly True Stories?: Urban Legends RevealedWikipedia's W.svg 2002-2004 Yes Mostly good; did copy a deliberate hoax from Snopes though; oops![3]
MythBusters 2003-2016 Yes Mostly good but with some bad (but mostly good).
Phil Plait's Bad Universe 2008-2009 Yes Phil Plait explains how the universe is trying to kill us.
Through the WormholeWikipedia's W.svg 2010- Yes Hosted by Morgan Freeman, this series explores various topics on biology, cosmology, neurology, astrophysics, but also futurism, aliens, and transhumanism. They tend to steer away from endorsing pop science, but did have a controversial episode on Race and intelligenceWikipedia's W.svg.
Wonders of the Solar System, Wonders of the Universe, Hacking The Universe 2015[4] 2010, 2011, 2015 No Like Cosmos, but British. With Brian Cox.

Dubious[edit]

Not quite crap enough for that section, but not entirely kosher either.

Name Year Original content Description
Amish MafiaWikipedia's W.svg 2012- Yes Pretends to be a documentary with genuine footage, but its authenticity has been widely disputed.
Brainiac: Science Abuse 2003-2008 No Might be somewhat fun (although repetitive), but it's not science. It's what you get when a 14-year old tries to mimic MythBusters; it's all about blowing stuff up ("cool!") and their "research" completely misses the scientific method. Calling it "science" only serves to misinform the public on what science really is.
Dark Matters: Twisted but TrueWikipedia's W.svg 2011-2012 Yes The show talks about certain controversial scientific experiments like MKULTRA, Agent Orange, Tuskegee experiment, but also gives far too much credence to the Philadelphia Experiment, the Lost Cosmonauts, and Nazi UFOs.
Eaten AliveWikipedia's W.svg 2014 special Yes Advertised as a guy who gets eaten by an anaconda, but this never happens in the actual airing. Not exactly pseudoscience, but it's a good example of the sensationalist nature which all too often features on Discovery.
Whale Wars 2008- Yes Follows the questionable exploits of Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Offers very little critical commentary.
Moonshiners 2011 Sort of If I was making illegal moonshine, going on a TV show would be the last thing I'd do.


Crap[edit]

These programmes are mostly crap. Like most crank material they can be decent (and sometimes even good) sources of popcorn fodder. You just have to be willing to ignore what's being sold as science on what used to be a channel that knew what science was.

Name Year Original content Description
A Haunting 2005- Ghosts and other paranormal nonsense.
Animal Face-OffWikipedia's W.svg 2004 Like Deadliest Warrior but with animals like bear vs. alligator. Fun when drunk with friends because it's just laughably bad. The creators and "experts" take it embarrassingly serious though.
Finding Bigfoot 2011- Well, they haven't found it yet.
Ghost Lab 2009-2011 More ghosts.
Ghosthunters 1996-1997 And more ghosts... Not to be confused with the better known Ghost Hunters from Syfy.
Lost Tapes 2008-2010 Various nonsense of the cryptozoological variety.
The Lost Tomb of Jesus 2007 Claims to have found the tomb of Jesus. Spoiler: it's not Jesus' tomb.
Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives 2014 special Claims that some ancient giant shark (Megalodon) still lives.
Mermaids: The Body Found 2013 special Aquatic ape and mermaid nonsense.
NASA's Unexplained Files 2014- Features some real science, but also a lot of pseudoscience. Suffers heavily from balance fallacy.
The Pet Psychic 2002-2003 Yeah, this is really what the title suggests. Features Sonya Fitzpatrick as a pet psychic.
Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science 2003 Also a book; looks at Sasquatch, Bigfoot, etc. In spite of the name, it's mostly pseudoscientific and ends with the conclusion that it's likely that Bigfoot exists. For example, it uncritically accepts the Patterson filmWikipedia's W.svg and doesn't even consider the possibility that it's a hoax.

Please just make it stop![edit]

Name Year Original content Description
American ChopperWikipedia's W.svg 2003-heat death of the universe Fun at first, but soon got increasingly embarrassing as it focused more on petty fights. Everyone thought the embarrassment finally ended in 2010, but then it spun off American Chopper: Senior vs. Junior (2010-2012)—which is so embarrassing we're not even linking to it—Orange County Choppers (2013-2014), and a number of one-off specials. It will probably never end.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Y2K? Though an easier answer might be that they discovered these shows are easier to market
  2. Many programs were aired on more than one channel, and some programs aired on Science in the US but on Discovery in Europe.
  3. http://www.snopes.com/humor/mediagoofs/sixpence.asp
  4. It was called Human UniverseWikipedia's W.svg when it aired on BBC.