i-3b4f1ddc3f49b28877598ae283b051d9-flowers.jpgChris Mooney has made an “appeal to authority” (Randy Olson) in asserting that Expelled is a success by Hollywood standards, and this may be correct. PZ Myers and his comet tail may have increased that success as per Mooney’s Framing TOE, but the reverse is also true: the science blogging share of the blogosphere has expanded and participation in that community has significantly increased. Oh, and nobody understands me.

What Chris actually does is to cite Olson, who in turn makes the argument. One could ask why Chris did not make the argument himself because the argument should stand on its own no matter who makes it, even if a pseudonymous blogger makes it. But in truth, life does not really work that way. For someone who knows nothing at all about how “success” and “failure” in the movie industry (especially documentaries) is defined or measured, I can easily imagine reading three or four internally consistent documented arguments that give different conclusions, and not knowing which argument to accept, if any. What Chris did was to say “Look, there’s this guy, Randy, who knows the biz, and he’s saying that Expelled! is a success. And, he’s one of us, so he’s not biased in the opposite direction, so we better listen to him.”

That’s actually a reasonable approach, a good example of where “authority” (defined broadly) matters, and it may well be correct that by the same standards we may have judged Olson’s film “Flock of Dodos” we may be forced to admit that Expelled! is a success.

Some of you may say that and think “Hey, Laden has reversed his opinion, what’s up with that?!?” but you would be wrong. I did not express an opinion on the success of Expelled! even though I have been cited as having done so in Opposition to Chris. But that never happened. Furthermore, I’m not expressing an opinion on it now, really. I’m saying the argument may be good, but to be honest, I’m not sure. I’m not sure if when we throw around the word “success” that we are all thinking the same thing. It may be more complicated. So what you were thinking (if you were thinking that) is a misunderstanding. Nobody understands me…

It does seem to me that people are saying that the success of a documentary needs to be understood over the long term. Many documentaries start off small and grow, so you can’t really use the”opening weekend” statistics to measure success. Is that true? If so, why are we measuring success now?

It also seems to me that if the number of people who see a film is our measure, then Expelled can’t miss the mark, because a huge percentage of the American population consists of creationists who are going to love this movie no matter what, and go see it at least once. Are we surprised by this?

Some time ago Chis made the argument that the significantly increased activity in the blogosphere regarding Expelled! that came about as a consequence of PZ Myers being expelled was actually helping Expelled! go gain free publicity. A lot of people jumped on him for that. Well, in my opinion, Chris may have been right about that, but people (myself included) were also right to jump on him.

You see, the point is that it is necessary for the National Center for Science Education to come out in strict opposition to the contents of a film like this, and for bloggers like PZ Myers and the other, minor bloggers such as myself who ride along as dust particles in PZ’s comet-like tail to document nefarious acts on the part of the producers lies and hypocrisies in the film, and so on. We should not be considering the “all publicity is good publicity” effect. Those of us who are dedicated to keeping up the good fight cannot ignore the flow of misinformation. Not just because it is there, wrong, and annoying, but because in the long term, that information has to be contextualized. I made a detailed argument as to why this is case in one of my most ignored yet most important posts ever. Why have you not read “Saving Science from Creationists and Framers: In support of a diligent, relentless critique?” Man, nobody understands me….

Now, I am bound by honor and contract to not reveal certain information to which I am privy regarding the internal workings of scienceblogs.com, in particular, the page view counts and similar data. But I want to say something about this in veiled terms that hopefully will get the point across and not get me fired.

There are seventy-one bloggers on scienceblogs.com. A huge percentage of the traffic is to one site, Pharyngula. One reason it is bad to give details is that there is more than one way to calculate this. Just trust me that it is a lot.

If we compare the total number of page views scienceblogs as a whole received over the 20 days prior to the PZ Expelled! event to the 20 days after, there is a very significant increase in traffic, possibly as much as a quarter. In addition to that, the relative rate of commenting on several blogs, especially PZ’s, went up as well, so there are more hits and way more comments. This is a palpable change because it is the reason commenting sometimes goes very slowly or produced errors (have you noticed this?) and for other problems we seem to be having at the back end.

When an “event” happens that brings a lot of people to a particular post or set of posts on the blogs, it is usually a spike. This was not a spike. This was a shift in the number of people who read our blogs, especially PZ’s, and perhaps science blogs in general, and dare I say it, perhaps blogs in general.

Now, this huge increase does show signs of going back down to some extent, but it is very likely many thousands of individuals have joined the broad science blogging community because of this event. In other words, what concerned Chris regarding the publicity for Expelled! may have had a very positive effect.

Now, I want to make a couple of points about what people are saying I’ve said.

It has been stated that

“Greg was a bit of an asshole for calling you a “closet creationist.” He shouldn’t have done that. It was just plain stupid.*

,,, and reference has been made to “Laden’s mind-bogglingly ill-advised and just plain dumb line about “transmorgifying into a creationist apologist”

Even after blogging for over a year, I still forget that people read blog posts and comments very quickly and rarely carefully. That, added to the fact that nobody understands me, causes confusion.

Was I nice to Chris? No. Was I an asshole? Yes. Am I pissed at Chris and Matt telling PZ and his comet tail to pipe down? Yes. Do I think Chris is a dweeb for saying that Expelled! is a success? No. (Gotcha.) But what about these horrific statements made above?

I’m reminded of one of my commenters who shall remain nameless who is incapable of understanding analogies or metaphors. When I use a metaphor, she examines the ways in which the elements of the metaphor are different from the case at hand, and points them out as errors. In other words, the only metaphor that would satisfy her would actually be a cloniphor, and what good would that be.

This is a problem, though, of glossing. the reader is simply attributing meaning that is not there, or getting the meaning wrong, because she is not reading carefully. Let’s take that idea and look at the present controversy.

Say I know you (no anonymity here) and we have a mutually respectful relationship. (Social relations matter, despite what you are told by some.) One day I approach you and say … “You know, when you do X, it makes it seem like you are Y.”

Perhaps, “You know, when you slam the door on my face it makes it seem like you don’t like it when I follow you home” for instance.

Or, “You know, when you take out a restraining order on me, it makes it seem like you don’t like it when I follow you home” for instance.

Or, to be less creepy about it: “You know, when you use vernacular terms, it makes it seem like you don’t know the scientific terms” or “You know, when you wear that dirty tee shirt, it makes it seem like you don’t care about your appearance.” And so on.

So Chris: “When you ask your fellow bloggers to leave Ben Stein alone, you seem like a creationist apologist.”

I think Chris’s credentials (authority, if you like) regarding his knowledge of and approach to “war on science” issues are unimpeachable. I think Chris and Matt have adopted “framing” as a Theory of Everything, which I feel it is not (though it is not irrelevant). Indeed, I think Chris and Matt have made a major contribution: They are into this quirky thing called science, whereby they want to actually apply the methods of science to understanding science eduction. They want to measure and count things and test hypotheses about what works and what does not work, and what the effects are.

I think this is a useful approach and needs to be done. I do think that we have the tail wagging the dog a little here, whereby we are admonished to not move forward with our exhortations for fear that those numbers will not move in the right direction (see my post, Saving Science from Creationists and Framers: In support of a diligent, relentless critique for why I think this). In which I say:

Reporters, teachers, policy makers, citizens in general, would be left with the impression that the creationist perspective is pervasive and normal. As it is, because of this diligence, the critique of creationism is very much part of the available information. It is part of the background. Because of this, news reports like that of Brian Rooney’s can happen. In the absence of this widely disseminated critique, they could not.


  1. #1 Dana Hunter
    April 22, 2008

    Exactly so. And now I am going to go make a point somewhat similar but containing a lot more profanity.

    Thanks again for your insight, Greg. You’ve earned another regular reader. And, can I just add, I’m one of those who stumbled on ScienceBlogs because of the whole evolution vs. ID debate, and stayed because people like you and PZ don’t let political correctness steal all of the force from your defense of science. If ScienceBlogs were what Mooney and Nisbett seem to want it to be, I doubt there’d be much of a readership. And thus, fewer people armed against creationist arguments and tactics.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    April 22, 2008

    I didn’t think you were an asshole with your post – so what does that mean? I mean, what’s my framing, my motivation, my world gestalt?

    IMO, it simply means that the bottom line is that Expelled the movie sucks, it will always suck and the IDCists and creos spent money on a piece of s*&t movie that they will not spend at Ham’s Flinstone Museum.

    I don’t care what Randy Olson thinks, he is not the boss of me, and if I lost a bet and DID have to play cards with IDCists and creo leaders, I would be on the lookout for cheating, big time. Chris Mooney might have nice hair, but who died and made him king? Right. Nobody. He has his opinion, I have mine, but I think he needs to get out more.

    So, Greg, yeah, don’t be an asshole, but that’s my mantra every day. I don’t think IDCists and creos have the same one… it’s ok to lie for Jesus is slightly different. Right Cris? Right Randy?

  3. #3 Paul A
    April 22, 2008

    I still reckon Chris’s appeal to Olson was extremely weak and that Olson too, despite being a filmmaker, may be looking at a very specific and narrow definition of success.

    Did the movie make its money back? No. Did it break any records? No. Did it meet its producers’ definition of success (remember, these guys are filmmakers too so we should give equal weight to their definition if we’re playing this game)? No. Did they change anything at all, other than creating a traffic increase for ScienceBlogs? Can’t say for definite but I’ve got a feeling that’s going to be a resounding no.

    Also, as someone pointed out on Chris’s blog, why are we giving much weight to Olson’s opinion anyway. Sure he’s a filmmaker but he’s hardly the most recognised, experienced, accomplished, etc. Indeed few people outwith the whole science vs. creationism rumble even know his name.

    But meh. In a few months no-one will even remember that Expelled existed. It’s a textbook teacup-storm.

  4. #4 Science Avenger
    April 22, 2008

    I thought you were an asshole Greg, as I have been, and with good reason. There are only two reasonable conclusions on Expelled at the moment: it’s a flop, or we need to wait and see what happens in the long term. Calling it a success, based on what has happened so far, is spinning of the highest order, since it has lost money, alienated potential allies, and has shown no evidence that it reached anyone who wasn’t on their side already. Randy may know how to make films, but he obviously has no idea how to evaluate their success.

    Some people would rather reinvent what “success” means than admit their precious little social theories, or their application of them, suck. It’s as simple as that. Had Expelled come out with a $12M weekend, I’d have been the first to say I was wrong, and that we’re in trouble. It’s time for “the framers” to acknowledge the reality. Expelled, so far, is a flop, which means, so far, they’re wrong.

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    April 22, 2008

    What Science Avenger said. You are one of my favorite assholes.

    And I don’t understand you, either.

  6. #6 DouglasG
    April 22, 2008

    I think you touch on a very big part of what Chris and Matt missed. While it may be the case the the PZ flap gave publicity to the movie, it also gave potential viewers ammunition against the movie. That is, many people would not be taking the movie at face value. They would be somewhat more informed. Thus, while the movie may have a larger audience, that audience would be less receptive to the lies. Hence, if you only go by box-office receipts, it may be a success, but if you go by people negatively influenced it may be a wash or a failure. I think this is the main point that Chris and Matt miss.

  7. #7 Catherine
    April 22, 2008

    I’ve learned more from SB in this last year than I ever did at school. My friends and co-workers are sick of hearing about evolution, fossils, creationism, science, atheism, you get the idea. I’ve gotten into debates with my father-in-law (who is a lawyer, I’m “just” a hairdresser) about the id/evo controversy and how his misinformation could affect my daughter’s science class. UUUGH! I’M ADDICTED TO SCIENCE! In the last year I’ve read more science books than every one of my acquaintances combined. Remember, I’m a freakin’ hairdresser! On my nightstand right now is “Your inner fish” and “Freethinkers”, I am currently reading “When life nearly died”, and have read “Evolution”, “Origins”, “God, the failed hypothesis”, and of course all of the atheist books (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, etc.).

    The reason for this crazy long post? What I’ve found here at science blogs is invaluable to me! I have learned more and challenged myself more. People will always call you an asshole when you don’t agree with them. I say to them “toughen up!” So please continue to be an asshole, and I’ll continue to be a bitch, and the world will be a better place for it.

  8. #8 desfido
    April 22, 2008

    I feel the whole commenting on the success or lack thereof of Expelled (particularly claiming it is a success) is a bad way of framing the issue, by the standards of framing and public relations as I understand them.

    So, basically, as I read their arguments on how things should be presented, Mooney certainly shouldn’t be posting now, claiming that Expelled is a success. It’s exactly the kind of “possibly right in point, but undermining claimed goals” type of communication that is supposed to be avoided according to his standards. In this case, since he has outlined what should be done, and is doing the opposite, it does tend to lend more evidence to the “seems like a creationist apologists”.

    Also, as per usual, good points.

  9. #9 ancientTechie
    April 22, 2008


    If you decide to institute your own version of PZ’s Molly Awards, I’d like to nominate Catherine as the first recipient. Sometimes, one post is enough.

  10. #10 negentropyeater
    April 22, 2008

    Hey Catherine, very well said, and I completely feel the same way as you.

    Also, Greg, your thread is very good. You have convinced me. I’ve discovered Scienceblogs about a year ago (via PZ of course) and at first I wasn’t convinced that this was the best tactical means to start changing the deplorable status quo of America’s religious fundamentalism.

    At first, I did see some value in Mooney and Nisbett’s ideas about changing things by making nice (what I think they call “framing”, but I’m still not sure, as after a year or so, I still don’t see anything concrete), but this post Greg, has touched me deeply and convinced me that “relentless critique of creationism” is the only way to go.

    Well done !

    BTW, I think Expelled is a success, maybe not for its original intent, but it does give us, the defensors of reason, a concrete motive to focus our “relentless critique of creationism”.
    In other words, this movie has opened a can of worms that will not stop spreading. And that’s the golden rule with creationism, better not give people a reason to start thinking critically.

  11. #11 Joel
    April 22, 2008

    The Scienceblogs are bar far the most interesting places on the Internet. I discovered them when a friend sent a link.

    In my opinion the whole framing thing is dishonest and unnecessary. Science has truth on its side and there is no need to do anything more than speak the truth.

    I don’t think you were an asshole at all in your post about Chris Mooney, but then I think I understood what you meant. Keep up the good work, I read your blog much more than PZ Meyers, frankly you’re more interesting.

  12. #12 tincture
    April 22, 2008

    Of all the SciBlogs bloggers, only Greg Laden truely understands the need for swift, covert, strikes against office plant life.

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    April 22, 2008

    I think the utility of assholes is underrated, particularly by the framing advocates. It’s often easier to sympathize with a visceral response than with even a well-reasoned one. Hence the march to war, Patriot Act, etc. Some (most?) of my best friends are assholes under the appropriate circumstances. They’re scarily effective people. There’s even some shred of evidence that I might qualify from time to time.

    You can add me to the list of people who don’t understand you, but I do at least understand “seems.”

  14. #14 Bob
    April 22, 2008

    I see Mooney is still trying to vindicate himself after the whole “sit down and shut up (so I get more pageviews)” fiasco.

    I will agree with him that the movie is a success, with one qualification: the measure of success is inseparable from its definition.

    Is “Expelled?” a financial success? All things considered, it’ll probably make back its investment.

    Is it effective propaganda? Doubtful; it’s pretty much preaching to the choir and I doubt it will incite any significant or lasting social change among the pro- and anti-science populations.

    The movie provides much more heat than light, and even then, not so much of that. Subtract the historical revisionism, stock footage, and Stein’s incessant droning and what’s left? A short, tiresome illustration of Godwin’s Law.

    My guess is that “Expelled!” was created to provide a safe, modern bit of Creationist propaganda to fundie churches, akin to that unsolicited Jesus video that showed up on my doorstep a few years ago. It has the “credibility” of being shown in theaters, rather than being a straight-to-video “failure” and had its costs paid for by the general public, so it’s not as much of a loss-leader as other religious propaganda films.

    So yes, it’s a success, Greg – just not as we know it… :)

  15. #15 Aerik
    April 22, 2008

    What one has to understand when judging the success or failure of Expelled is this:

    They were not claiming it would be a good documentary. They did not predict success as a documentary. They were speaking in blockbuster terms. They were claiming predictions of really shaking up the nation. They weren’t comparising themselves to Michael Moore or anything like that.

    They compared themselves to Galileo n shit. So it is by those standards that we must judge the success or failure of Expelled!. That is the objective path to its criticism.

    That’s why it’s an utter failure.

    That’s why anybody who says it’s a success is either ignorant, or a liar. Just like every defender of a wrong idea is either ignorant or a liar.

    Guess which I think Mooney is?

  16. #16 Physicalist
    April 22, 2008

    Nice flowers!

  17. #17 Bri
    April 23, 2008

    Greg somehow forgot to include his original quote re Mooney, which was:

    “Chris Mooney, who every day seems to transmogrify more and more into a creationist apologist…”

    The seemingly vast distance between “seems to transmogrify” and “is transmogrifying” might be less than Greg thinks it is for purposes of reducing the extent that he’s being insulting.

    And as for the Instapundit-like dodge that “I wasn’t expressing an opinion on Expelled’s success, just extensively quoting people who said it wasn’t successful,” well you can buy it or not.

    OTOH, the “Obvious Next Step” post was good.

  18. #18 Frame jobber.
    April 23, 2008

    We need more religious people to make religious-science movies (and lots of them). Then we can experiment:
    Have PZ denounce a movie heretically, and see how it does.
    Have PZ shut completely up about a movie, and see how it does.

    We can use the data to see if PZ Myers denouncing a movie has an effect on the expected take at the box office. (And the invitable resulting increase in people who don’t like evolution.)

    After many trials with many movies, we may be able to separate noise from signal.

    Of course, with so many confounding factors it will be a long and difficult experiment (differences between movies, possibly correlated variables, how to calculate expected box office take before a movie’s release, etc). And what is it we’re measuring in the first place? I forget …

    It’s just like Autism. People are vaccinated, and then some get autism. And more people than ever get diagnosed with autism. It doesn’t matter that I have no evidence that more people than ever actually are “getting” autism. Similarly, I have no evidence that PZ myers shrilly talking about a movie increases its box office and causes people not to believe science. I present to you little autistic Timmy. HE IS MY PROOF. We also have Expelled doing Better than Average at the BOX office. THERE is my proof.

    This means more people than otherwise was the case will now not believe science. It doesn’t matter that I have no explanation of how some obscure blogger read by a few thousand people (at most) could affect the box office take of expelled, or affect how people, in the end, view evolution. I CLAIM IT WILL. It’s just like Mercury in vaccines. Or maybe lots of shots. Or the mitochondria cry like lambs while babies are shot repeatedly. Those obviously cause autism.

    We really urgently need to find out if PZ causes people to not like science.

    Sorry if I am rambling and incoherent. Things might not fit together logically in my argument either. But just take the gestalt. It just makes me so mad that people don’t like science because of PZ, and were doing nothing to study the issue in order to vindicate Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet.

    I want Obama’s, McCain’s and Clinton’s opinions on the this matter of import. The MPAA needs to consider these studies urgently.)

  19. #19 Aerik
    April 23, 2008

    Bri, there’s still a large difference between saying Mooney “seems to be transmorgifying into a creationist” and saying he is turning into a creationist. This is what Mooney accuses Laden of doing.

    Instead I am the one that sardonically made that accusation in the comments of Laden’s post at the time. That “Either you really are just fucking stupid or you’re a closet creationist in this blog group. Pick one.” line was me, but somehow Mooney holds Laden responsible. Which proves at least one of the options.

  20. #20 Brian Schmidt
    April 23, 2008

    I’d agree that Mooney made a slight jump in describing Greg’s insulting behavior, but I wouldn’t fault Mooney too much for that. I think Mooney would’ve been in his rights to use the same response to Greg that PZ Myers did to Nisbet.

    Ironically, I’d lean towards Greg’s side in the framing debate, but he’s not being especially helpful at this point.

  21. #21 Brian Schmidt
    April 23, 2008

    I’d agree that Mooney made a slight jump in describing Greg’s insulting behavior, but I wouldn’t fault Mooney too much for that. I think Mooney would’ve been in his rights to use the same response to Greg that PZ Myers did to Nisbet.

    Ironically, I’d lean towards Greg’s side in the framing debate, but he’s not being especially helpful at this point.

    (Reposting after an error message – hope it’s not a double post)