Fake documentaries have been around forever. Fake documentaries about truly wacky stuff are rarer, and making them truly believable, rarer still. With the advent of affordable and quality computer graphics, more and more fictional presentations are tricking people to believe in fictional stuff. One of the more recent examples of this are two “mockumentaries” on Animal Planet that purport to show evidence of the existence of mermaids. The evidence is convincingly presented in the form of supposed YouTube videos, everything from crappy cell phone vids to video from remotely operated subs to the inevitable government conspiracy videos.
But it’s still fake. And it seems to be irritating marine biologists.
This week, Animal Planet aired two fake documentaries claiming to show scientific evidence of mermaids. I say “fake documentaries” because that’s exactly what The Body Found and The New Evidence are. The “scientists” interviewed in the show are actors, and there’s a brief disclaimer during the end credits. … It is, after all, airing on a network that claims to focus on educating viewers about the natural world. “The Body Found” was rightfully described “the rotting carcass of science television,” and I was shocked to see Animal Planet air a sequel.
The author of the piece goes on to give reasons why promoting “mermaids are real” is a bad idea, mostly revolving around the notion that the ocean and its resources are in trouble. But there is a more fundamental issue: convincing people to believe in stuff that simply doesn’t exist is bad for society as a whole. Mermaids, “ghost hunters,” “ancient aliens,” “Nazi flying saucers,” “bigfoot hunters,” “pet psychics (or *any* psychics),” and all the rest of it are all based on wishful thinking rather than facts and critical thinking. By promoting such things as worthwhile endeavors, the producers are promoting a worldview where it’s ok and common to believe *anything* so long as it’s interesting or entertaining. Given how readily so many people will believe in utter rubbish anyway – faith healing, “intelligent design,” belief that vaccines cause autism, collectivism, so on – promoting a lack of skepticism will only make things *worse.*
An upside might be that when people realize that “Mermaids” and others are just fictional BS, maybe they’ll realize how easily they can be tricked, and will be more skeptical going forward. But history does not really support that thin hope.