How Mermaids Became a Real Problem for Scientists

Discovery Channel “Documentaries” About Mythical Creatures Erode Public Trust in Science and Government

“If NOAA is lying to us about the existence of mermaids then they’re definitely lying to us about climate change.”

It was August 2014 and I was flying home from the Third International Marine Conservation Congress in Glasgow, Scotland, where I has just chaired a session on the impact of fake documentaries on public understanding of science. When my seatmate—a fifth-grade schoolteacher—found out that I’m a marine biologist, she decided to share this insight with me.

She was referring to “Mermaids: The Body Found” and “Mermaids: The New Evidence,” a series of …