A member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and the American Elasmobranch Society (AES), Joshua Moyer is an ichthyologist specializing in the evolution, biodiversity, and morphology of sharks and their relatives. Joshua has co-authored multiple scientific articles about shark teeth and routinely lectures in courses on marine biology, vertebrate biology, and evolution. He earned his Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and is an instructor in the massively open online course (MOOC) in shark biology offered by Cornell and the University of Queensland through edX.org. Follow him on twitter!
What is a shark without its teeth? For that matter, what is any animal without the ability to process and ingest its food? So important are teeth to the way many jawed vertebrates survive, that you can tell a great deal about an animal just by looking at its teeth, or in some cases, lack thereof. Sharks are no different. By asking a series of questions, you can look at shark teeth and begin to piece together a more complete picture of the shark whose teeth you’re studying.
As noted earlier, David and my paper on twitter, social media, Shark Week, and fake documentaries came out last week. Since scientific publishing has a “long tail” — the time between when we actually wrote the paper and when it was published, in this case, was almost 9 months — we thought it might be a useful exercise to discuss our paper in the context of the months leading up to and following the most recent Shark Week. Enjoy!
You can find the original paper here: Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media.
Yesterday, after months of waiting, David and my magnum opus on our efforts to stem the tide of fake documentaries was, at last, made available online: Fish tales: Combating fake science in popular media.
What role should scientist play in correcting bad science, fake science, and pseudoscience presented in popular media? Here, we present a case study based on fake documentaries and discuss effective social media strategies for scientists who want to engage with the public on issues of bad science, pseudoscience, and fake science. We identify two tracks that scientists can use to maximize the broad dissemination of corrective and educational content: that of an audience builder or an expert resource. Finally, we suggests that scientists familiarize themselves with common sources of misinformation within their field, so that they can be better able to respond quickly when factually inaccurate content begins to spread.
The entire paper is published open access and written for a non-specialist audience. Please read, share, and enjoy.
This, incidentally, is the first of two papers this year that were funded, in part, through contributions from my Patreon patrons. To those who have contributed, an extra special Thank You!
These reviews were all posted on my Facebook Fan Page the night each special aired, and are stored here for easy retrieval.
Here’s my review of Shark Week Night 1!
1) Shark Trek! The latest in a series of good specials about Dr. Greg Skomal’s research on great white sharks in New England. Last year they upped the ante by adding an underwater robot that followed and filmed sharks, and I wasn’t sure how they could top that. This year, they added an adorable ten year old shark-o-phone named Sean, and brought Greg down to Florida. He also went diving with several other species of sharks, including my favorite, the sandbar shark! We also got to see Bulls, blacktips, a great hammerhead, and a tiger. A solid natural history and science documentary. A-
2) Island of the mega shark. This special was…not good. It chronicled the efforts of non-scientists doing what they referred to as scientific research. They claimed that no one had ever used a clear shark cage before, but it’s even been shown on past Shark Week specials. Also, this cage was apparently not safety tested before they put someone in it around great whites- he couldn’t close the door! They also had a silly floating shark-shaped ruler, which is not useful in measuring sharks unless they swim right next to it. They referred to a fat shark as “clearly pregnant,” when in reality this method is about as reliable for sharks as it is for humans. On the plus side? No wildlife harassment and no completely made up nonsense. D-
3) Monster Mako. This special focused on efforts by the Texas A&M Center for Sportfish Research to study the world’s fastest shark. Some needlessly dramatic narration, but the content was great! Lots of amazing footage of makos and of spinner sharks, including an amazing breach! I’d happily watch a version of this special for dozens of other shark species. Another solid natural history and research documentary! A-/B+ (some marks off for goofy narration).
Shark species seen so far: 8
Female scientists seen so far: 1
Megalodons seen so far: 0
Conclusion: So far? Shark Week 2015 is much better!
I’ve collected 1,000 Shark Week 2015 tweets from myself and other marine biologists and conservationists. They include fact-checks, commentary, reviews of each special, and suggestions for improvement. I’ll post my own more detailed reviews of each special tomorrow.
Cynthia Wigren co-founded the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy and the Gills Club. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management and a Masters in Business Administration. She is an avid traveller and a scuba diver with a deep appreciation for wildlife on land and sea. Her underwater experiences with whale sharks, great hammerheads, nurse sharks, and great white sharks led her to leave the corporate world and establish a non-profit to support shark research and education programs.
This year, Shark Week has promised us more science and no fake documentaries (thank you Rich Ross!), but their ‘Finbassabor’ line-up leads me to believe that the majority of researchers featured will be men, once again. As long as Shark Week ditches mockumentarties for real science does it matter which researchers it features? With 42 million people tuning in during the week, I believe it does.
Rachel Pendergrass is a writer, performer and science communicator in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the assistant director of the Dragon Con Science Track, a program contributor for the Atlanta Science Festival, and producer/host of a monthly science variety show called Solve for X. When she’s not sciencing, you can find her performing as a storyteller, making nerdy sketch comedy videos with Dragon Con TV, enthusiastically ranting about sharks, or working on her sommelier skills by drinking fancy wine. Find her on Twitter at @sharkespearean.
Shark Week started on Sunday. This week long celebration of all things elasmobranch (Okay, let’s be honest, mostly Great White sharks and very little else) has inspired artists, comedy shows, and even possibly Super Bowl halftime shows!
Shark Week has also inspired more than a few musicians to show their love for fintastic festivities through song. Even Billy Idol got in on the Shark Week song action!
Here are the top 12 picks for your Shark Week playlist.
Jonathan Davis is a marine biologist, shark researcher, and Fish and Wildlife Tech for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department based out of Sabine Lake, Texas. He has researched elasmobranchs for over 10 years all around the world from New Zealand to Australia and along the U.S. coast from Massachusetts to Texas. Currently, he is continuing research as part of his PhD along the Texas coast focusing on bull shark ecology. In addition to research, Jonathan does outreach to inform the general public about sharks and inspire interest rather than fear to promote conservation rather than destruction.
This year marks the 27th Shark Week. For the past 27 years, Discovery Channel has had the unrivaled and incomparable attention of the world for one week in regards to all things ‘shark’. These 27 years have brought out the best in shark science in the beginning but have sadly declined by bringing out the worst in fear-mongering and sensationalist misinformation more recently. As a shark scientist who grew up watching Shark Week for the science the last several years have been disheartening to say the least. The science seemed to all but disappear and replaced by completely inaccurate information, scary attacks that never happened, and an epidemic of Megalodon sized proportions. Not to mention the fact that my lifelong dream of being on Shark Week was fulfilled only to have my research superimposed into a show about a ridiculous mythical shark #VoodooShark. In the midst of all these years of Shark Week, real shark science has been increasing and advancing. Sharks are an integral part of our ecosystems but many are endangered and in need of conservation. This is why shark scientists work in the background to learn as much as possible about these creatures that spark such awe and interest worldwide, not to feed fear-mongering and sensationalist desires of money hungry producers. With that being said, it would behoove all of us to utilize the unparalleled platform that is Shark Week to spread correct information and promote shark conservation.
I’ve been critical of factual inaccuracy and fearmongering on Shark Week documentaries for years. But how big of a problem is this, and how do we know? I asked some of the authors of three recent scientific studies* to summarize the evidence.
Many species of sharks are in desperate need of conservation. Twenty-four percent of all known species of sharks, skates and rays are considered Threatened with extinction by the IUCN Red List. Using a variety of different methods, scientists have documented rapid and severe population declines in many species of sharks all over the world.
Conservation requires public support. In a participatory democracy, new policies and regulations require some public support to pass. It’s easy to get public support to conserve cute and cuddly animals, but ugly animals need protection too. So do animals that scare people, like sharks.
Dear Rich Ross, new President of the Discovery Channel,
I was excited to learn about your commitment to no longer show fake documentaries on the Discovery Channel. These shows have been incredibly damaging not only to Discovery’s goals of being the “number one non-fiction media company in the world” by”telling compelling and accurate stories,” but to public understanding of science and conservation. In recent years, the Discovery Channel has tried hard to actively muddle the fact that these documentaries were fake, including hiding vague disclaimers at the very end. I’ve spoken to hundreds of schoolchildren about sharks, and every time someone asks me about megalodon or mermaids. Viewers believed that they were real, and your channel actively bragged about the fact that people believed that they were real.
By claiming that megalodon isn’t extinct and mermaids are real but the government is covering this up, these shows resulted in scientists receiving threats and harassment, and resulted in important government agencies getting so many angry phone calls that they had to issue public statements. Producers for some of these shows intentionally lied to scientists to convince them to appear onscreen, intentionally lied to journalists about the facts behind them, and intentionally caused a real-life public panic. They actually showed a documentary about a legendary (read as “fake”) shark called Hitler. In short, I will be glad to see Shark Week and the Discovery Channel return to your roots of fact-based programming.
However, while “we won’t actively lie to viewers anymore” is an important step that I applaud, Shark Week and other Discovery Communications programs have many other problems that should be addressed. Shark Week 2014’s “Zombie Sharks” glorified wildlife harassment for no reason, as the entire stated goal of the show was for a non-scientist with a history of wildlife harassment to try to answer a question that scientists have known the answer to for decades. This problem is not limited to Zombie Sharks, but pervades Discovery Communications shows.