Chris 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.