imageThe subject was a Discovery channel “documentary” about mermaids: supposedly real, sort of like the Yeti (the Abominable Snowman) or Sasquatch (bigfoot). Well, as Brad Newsome (pictured) who writes the Sceptic Science blog for the Sydney Morning Herald puts it, it all gets lumped together along with the Shroud of Turin. Too bad. He writes:

The version that I saw doesn’t even do viewers the courtesy of admitting that it’s fake until the credits are about to roll. ”Ah,” I hear you say ”but the story is obviously bulldust anyway”. Well, yeah, but Discovery (Animal Planet’s parent network) puts bulldust to air with a straight face all the time. Whether it’s demon hauntings, the chupacabra, Nostradamus’s prophecies or James Cameron’s ideas about the ”Lost Tomb of Jesus ” *cough*, Discovery is happy to create the impression that such things could be real — or at least that it’s up to sceptics to prove that they aren’t. (No, Discovery doesn’t excel at identifying where the burden of proof lies). (emphasis mine)

. . . And it’s not as if Discovery and Animal Planet are on their own in pandering to an audience that’s more interested in ghosts and aliens and biblical apocalypses than it is in real science or history. National Geographic has done some seriously cynical stuff about everything from UFOs to the supposed 2012 apocalypse, BBC Knowledge has touted ”new evidence” that the Shroud of Turin is the real deal, and the History Channel always seems to be happy to have  conspiracy-theorist American preacher Tim LaHaye on to talk about his lurid rapture fantasies.

imageHis criticism of the documentary in his posting, “Mermaids and demons: science on the box” is valid, I would think on the basis of science. So why does he try to bolster his argument with skeptoid lumping of everything together? He forgot the Loch Ness Monster, Crop Circles, Leprechauns and the Gray Aliens, weeping statues of Mary, (see how that works, I could put in almost anything and and get a skeptoid cheer).

But the real issue – and it is an issue for the Shroud of Turin – is what I emphasized above with bold font: the burden of proof. It is not about carbon dating issues or the mysterious images. It is about burden of proof and the belief by skeptics in the inerrancy of that argument. You can’t prove the shroud is real. You can’t prove that God exists. Sticks and stones and Bertrand Russell’s flying teapot.

We don’t know how old the shroud is. We don’t know how the images were formed. We may never know. Therefore we can believe it is real or we can believe it is bulldust. Personally, from an abundance of evidence I think it is real. I would love to debate Newsome using substantive scientific arguments. Why does Newsome think it is not real.  It is regrettable when the argument is skeptoid lumping instead of substance.

As for mermaids. I agree with Newsome. And frankly, all the so-called documentary channels do their fair share of junk science programming. I agree with that as well.