The Intersection

i-03a4ece92084ab3f62e5e22a7b10619e-Flock.jpgThis is not to knock the very important Expelled Exposed website. But in my opinion, in this day and age you really have to answer film with more film–and entertaining film with more entertaining film.

Ben Stein is very intellectually dishonest in Expelled, but he’s also funny. Luckily, Randy Olson’s 2006 documentary Flock of Dodos is also funny–and charming, and humane. So for people who might want to learn about evolution and actually be entertained at the same time, it seems to me the best answer that we currently have to Expelled. My advice would be to go buy a lot of DVD copies, and give them to anyone you think might be susceptible to the misinformation contained in Ben Stein’s movie.

To be sure–and as I think Randy Olson would acknowledge–it’s too bad we don’t have a new film out that can counter this obnoxious tripe. But you work with what you have.

Comments

  1. #1 caynazzo
    April 21, 2008

    If the underhanded tactics deployed by those involved in the conception, making, and marketing of Expelled have shown us anything, it’s that Olson is completely wrong in his portrayal in Flock of Dodos of creationists as dullards, but good-natured, honest, well-meaning dullards.

  2. #2 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Chris:

    Give it up with this stuff. Recognize that framing is not science. Disown apologists for postmodernism like Nisbet. Admit that you were wrong about the box office success of Expelled and the horrible results of PZ’s “framing” of it. Recognize that framing is not science. Try to do some real work on issues rather than supporting your mistaken positions. We’ll respect you for having done so.

  3. #3 Sheril R. Kirshenbaum
    April 21, 2008

    I couldn’t agree with Chris’ recommendation more.

    Further, I’d love to see theaters already showing Expelled to offer back to back double features of both films. Flock of Dodos does a tremendous job of explaining the Evolution/ID communication problem. Randy poignantly asks the question, are we, in the science community, failing to adapt to a changing media environment?

    It’s a documentary that inspires audiences to think critically.

  4. #4 Alan
    April 21, 2008

    I haven’t seen either “Flock of Dodo’s” or the Ben Stein documentary on lying (aka Expelled). I will use the money I saved by NOT seeing Expelled and purchase a “Flock of Dodo’s” DVD ….

    Alan

  5. #5 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Gee, I really hate to be tedious, but do we have any evidence that there are frames? Lakoff says so. Nisbet says so. Mooney concurs. But where’s the evidence? I’m sure you will all send me links that will show I’m an idiot. Can’t wait.

  6. #6 mlf
    April 21, 2008

    That isn’t going to help.

    How is a film that portrays scientists as dull and uninspiring and creationists as humble and kind going to combat a film in which ID’ers and creationists use lies to get their false point across? How? It may be a dandy of a film, but how does it expose the lies, distortions, bad science, propaganda, etc., that is such a big problem with Expelled?

    People don’t get or don’t care about the creationist vs. scientist wars, but they DO care when they’ve been lied to. Expose the lies, and you expose Expelled.

  7. #7 Mark F.
    April 21, 2008

    In response to Alan, Flock of Dodo’s” is pretty good. I definitely thought it was money well spent.

  8. #8 Sacoglossan
    April 21, 2008

    Flock of Dodos made the case that creationists tell a better story than scientists do. That’s an important point to remember, and Olson tells it well. Its a great movie. Its funny, sympathetic, and a plea for better communication from scientists. But it didn’t make the case for evolution or against ID. And it also depicted scientists as mean and arrogant. So in that respect its hardly a good DVD to show a creationist. Why would you advise giving it to a fan of Expelled?

    It is however a good DVD to show anyone with a genuine interest in getting scientific messages across.

  9. #9 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 21, 2008

    I have to say here that I haven’t seen Flock of Dodos. Maybe it does do some work towards explaining the truth behind creationist propaganda. However, I seriously doubt it’s much of a counter to the specific claims of Expelled. Promoting this as a response strikes me as trying to mimic superficial features (hey! it’s a movie!) at the expense of what matters.

    You admit it’s imperfect, but in treating other responses to Expelled, you’ve cultivated the impression that imperfections in our response make for a complete disaster. The Olson post you linked the other day is even worse in this respect, actively denigrating what the NSCE has been doing. What gives?

  10. #10 Chris C. Mooney
    April 21, 2008

    Folks…I really like Flock of Dodos, obviously. I think it is funny and fun. Is it a direct rebuttal to Expelled? No. But it does have science in it. And what else is there to make the evolution case on film in an entertaining way? The PBS special, Judgment Day, I found a total snooze. I couldn’t get through it.

  11. #11 Phoca
    April 21, 2008

    “I’d love to see theaters already showing Expelled to offer back to back double features of both films. Flock of Dodos does a tremendous job of explaining the Evolution/ID communication problem. Randy poignantly asks the question, are we, in the science community, failing to adapt to a changing media environment?”

    What, an actual response strategy instead of back and forth sniping between people who agree on evolution? Shame on you Sheril, that’s like bringing soap to a mudfight.
    ;o)

  12. #12 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 21, 2008

    Chris,

    You may be interested to know that recently, the atheist student group I’m involved with had a screening of the PBS documentary. A local Campus Crusade type showed up. Her eyes were glued to the screen, jaw hanging open, absolutely mortified by what she was seeing. Some people–even non-sciency college students–appear to be less easily bored by science than you.

  13. #13 PalMD
    April 21, 2008

    First, I intend to try to get a copy of Dodo’s…it looks interesting.

    Ben Stein is very intellectually dishonest in Expelled, but he’s also funny.

    Reviews appeared to indicate just the opposite.

    Gee, I really hate to be tedious, but do we have any evidence that there are frames?

    Perhaps i misread it, but is that as silly as it sounds? It’s a philosophical/sociologic topic. I don’t expect to touch a frame,or an emotion. What can be measured is responses to different ways of framing topics.

    BTW, I admit I’m a terrible nerd, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from Judgment

  14. #14 chancelikely
    April 21, 2008

    I still want a “Liars for Jesus” angle on Expelled. Flock of Dodos’ point is the foolishness of creationism, but the best frame, as far as I can tell, is still “They’re liars”.

    Americans are a lot more forgiving of stupidity than they are of deliberate lies. In fact, given our propensity to root for the underdog, getting Americans on the side of stupidity (especially framed as a “Scientists vs. Average Joes” conflict) isn’t all that hard.

  15. #15 Screechy Monkey
    April 21, 2008

    I agree that “Liars for Jesus” is a good angle, especially if it’s expressed as “look at how these dishonest folks are giving Christianity a bad name” rather than as “Christians are liars.”

    Chris, if you were making a movie to be the anti-”Expelled,” what approach would you take? Whatever the merits of the “evolution is perfectly compatable with religion” argument may be, it hardly strikes me as something that will make an engaging film.

  16. #16 Craig B
    April 21, 2008

    Chris, have you not seen PBS’s Evolution series, widely available on DVD? And given your hatred of Dawkins, I suspect you have not seen his wonderful lectures for kids available on the DVD set “Growing Up in the Universe.” I have shared that with numerous relatives and acquaintances and it is quite effective at explaining evolution, even for adults. And my 11 year-old decided to be a biologist when he grows up after seeing it. So, unlike Flock of Dodos, which is funny but not very good on the science, there is in fact stuff out there that counters this crap.

  17. #17 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Gee, I really hate to be so tedious, but do we have any evidence that there are frames? (He asked once again). Lakoff says so. Nisbet says so. Mooney concurs. But where’s the evidence? I’m sure you will all send me links that will show I’m an idiot. Can’t wait. (Still waiting. I’m sure that I’ll be mortified, given how widely accepted this is. C’mon you framers, show me I’m an idiot.).

  18. #18 Mr_G
    April 21, 2008

    Waiting,,,(In vain?)

  19. #19 Norman Doering
    April 21, 2008

    caynazzo wrote:

    If the underhanded tactics deployed by those involved in the conception, making, and marketing of Expelled have shown us anything, it’s that Olson is completely wrong in his portrayal in Flock of Dodos of creationists as dullards, but good-natured, honest, well-meaning dullards.

    Even dullards can hire talent and experience. And Stein was only a hired actor speaking the lines given to him by Kevin 11, the screenwriter. He didn’t necessarily know. Kevin is the one who did the “research” and crafted the blue print for this propaganda film.

    http://normdoering.blogspot.com/2008/04/kevin-eleven-is-lying-sack-of-santorum.html

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    April 21, 2008

    I’m going to disagree again. I like Dodos, but it’s not the right movie. Dodos is more of a movie that chastises scientists for communicating poorly — it’s a movie that is talking about talking about science — and it doesn’t matter that it is right: that’s not what we need. What we need is a movie that shares the excitement of doing good science, of actually seeing the evidence for our origins, that tells the grand story of evolution. What we need is something like the film version of Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale.

  21. #21 DM
    April 21, 2008

    2001 a space odyssey didn’t cover it PZ?

  22. #22 caynazzo
    April 21, 2008

    Norman, what didn’t Stein necessarily know? Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Stein present for a few of those infamous interviews conducted under the pretense that they were to be for a documentary about the intersection of science and faith? Even if he didn’t, what actor, even of Ben Stein’s middling caliber, signs-on to a movie whose objective he’s completely ignorant about?

    Besides, I wasn’t referring to Stein, and I really have no idea what you’re driving at.

  23. #23 James F
    April 21, 2008

    At his recent talk at UT, Ken Miller mentioned that Paramount is making a movie version of the Dover trial. Anyone have any more info?

  24. #24 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Dodos is indeed a very specific movie with little science — much more about communication, local government, and religion. I agree with PZ, there’s a need for very broad, positive, enthusiastic media about evolution. And there are without a doubt plenty of good stories to be told. There just aren’t any programs right now seeking out and developing those stories.

  25. #25 NP
    April 22, 2008

    It’s a good film, but it’s not going to resonate with the Expelled audience.

    As far as films go, it’s a shame that the Hollywood biopic fad has died down. A big budget docudrama about Charles Darwin might have done reasonably well. He did have a pretty colourful life.

  26. #26 Chris Ho-Stuart
    April 22, 2008

    A film version of Ancestor’s Tail sounds superb. I agree that we don’t need films about communicating. I’ve not seen dodos but if it is mainly a call to better communication, then we are the target audience; not the people who need to know about evolution.

    Over at Randy’s blog, I’ve suggested that the life series by the BBC and David Attenborough is an example of how to make evolution interesting to people. That series is soaked in evolutionary biology, but as background and context. One step further would be to make evolution the main topic; and it strikes me that Ancestor’s Tail would be the ideal vehicle to get a first rate nature documentary with evolution right up front and center.

  27. #27 MH
    April 22, 2008

    The problem is that people reject the theory of evolution because they think it conflicts with (or is a danger to) their god-belief. How about we get Christian scientists to make a film explaining why the theory is compatible with Christianity, and why ID-creationism is bad theology (and not science), rejected by most of the World’s churches. EXPELLED takes advantage of creationists misconceptions and ignorance. If we are going to rebut it, we need to correct their misconceptions and educate them. And it needs to be presented by Christians, because as we know, non-Christians simply aren’t trusted by them.

  28. #28 windy
    April 22, 2008

    A film version of Ancestor’s Tail sounds superb.

    Would that be the “adult version”? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  29. #29 Philip H.
    April 22, 2008

    MH – I’m with you. Any day you want to send the cameras, I’ll be happy to add my two cents (or should that be two senses).

    You know, I begin to think some of us will never be happy no matter what Chris proposes. Here he gives us, and Sheril expands, a strategy for response to the ID types who laud Expelled. And then we all pick apart his movie choice. Double UGH! The CFO of my organization has a saying I’ve adopted which seems SO applicable “Better is the enemy of Good.” How about we actually try chris idea of spreading Dodos around, which is good, and stop worrying about making a new film (Better). How about we stop sniping at each other for poor framing in this one blog (Better), and start writing our newspapers to set them straight on th elies in Expelled (Good)?

    Just my 2 cents (or, with current inflation, my $0.0002769).

  30. #30 MH
    April 22, 2008

    Philip wrote “MH – I’m with you. Any day you want to send the cameras, I’ll be happy to add my two cents (or should that be two senses).”

    As a British, atheist, post-doc working 60 hour weeks for peanuts, I’m not the ideal person to make a film about the ignorance and superstition that plagues your country. Chris and Randy are better placed.

    Hey, Chris. Is my movie idea something you could run with?

    Also, I’m not saying that Chris’ promotion of Dodos is useless (though it would be here). I was just thinking about what the next step would be. Chris thinks films are important. He has been given some suggestions. I’m sure he’ll tell us what he thinks of them soon enough.

  31. #31 negentropyeater
    April 22, 2008

    Philip H said :

    “How about we actually try chris idea of spreading Dodos around, which is good, and stop worrying about making a new film (Better).”

    What about :

    “How about we actually try chris idea of spreading Dodos around, which is good, and also start worrying about making a new film (Better).”

    Still don’t understand why all the Science bloggers can’t unite to provide a) the idea b) the seed capital in order to produce a new movie.

    So Chris, why not start the bandwaggon ? That’d be something concrete, instead of the usual framing dicussions that go nowhere.

    NB : there are not only poor students and researchers who would be interested in such a project…

  32. #32 M.
    April 22, 2008

    Framing crowd again works for the creationists:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/chris-mooney-shaken-not-stirred-by-expelled/

    This is, what, twice in a MONTH that “framing” has produced a strong propaganda coup for the creationists.

    Chris, go and write books. You are good at that. Stop doing this nonsense.

  33. #33 M.
    April 22, 2008

    “A film version of Ancestor’s Tail sounds superb.”

    Indeed.

    And I, for one, would donate as much as I possibly can to the funding effort for such a film.

    And if people who are skilled at lobbying – Chris and Sheryl, for instance – started working on some rich, science-interested people (instead of indirectly writing hit pieces for the ID crowd), perhaps they could gather some more money. Instead of ScienceDebate2008, perhaps have a ScienceMovie2009 fund-raising movement?

    And if we all hound Randy for long enough, perhaps he’ll stop whining about the bad funding agencies that wouldn’t give him a grant for making more movies, and start working on scripting and planning.

    How about that? I know that it will be hard to stop yelling at each other over such crucially important concepts as framing appears to be, but perhaps it may be the time to, I don’t know, actually do something constructive?

  34. #34 Ethan Siegel
    April 22, 2008

    You know what would make for a great movie about evolution? An adaptation of the recent off-Broadway play, Trumpery.

    http://www.theatermania.com/content/news.cfm/story/12207

    I had the great fortune to see this play when I was in New York in December, and Michael Cristofer is wonderful as Charles Darwin. This is a play about Charles Darwin’s struggles with atheism, his colleagues, his conscience, his family, and his findings. It’s sad and beautiful, and it combines humanity and weakness with a brilliant and valid idea.

    Maybe that’s what we need, a human story to go with the scientific one?

    Ethan

  35. #35 Jon Winsor
    April 22, 2008

    This post by Paul Krugman today reminded me of our ongoing debate here between the hard science partisans and the communications people:

    Nordhaus, among other things, wrote a hostile review of Jay Forrester’s World Dynamics, which led to the later Limits to Growth. The essential story there was one of hard-science arrogance: Forrester, an eminent professor of engineering, decided to try his hand at economics, and basically said, “I’m going to do economics with equations! And run them on a computer! I’m sure those stupid economists have never thought of that!” And he didn’t walk over to the east side of campus to ask whether, in fact, any economists ever had thought of that, and what they had learned. (Economists tend to do the same thing to sociologists and political scientists. The general rule to remember is that if some discipline seems less developed than your own, it’s probably not because the researchers aren’t as smart as you are, it’s because the subject is harder.)

  36. #36 MarkH
    April 22, 2008

    Chris, stop providing fodder for uncommon descent. It’s getting old. Stein, by all accounts made a highly unfunny film. It has the appearance of being a flop. Why do you keep saying Stein was funny? Did you see it and find it funny? Who are these people, other than creationists saying this? I think, if anything, the evidence is that the actions of Myers, Dawkins etc., has been to ruin the credibility of the intelligent design movement in almost every mainstream information outlet. A film opening on 1000 theaters with a heavy-duty PR campaign flopped like a fish, and got no exposure outside the built-in creationist audience.

    The evidence is that we win by fighting them in the courts, on the net, in books, in the legislature and by exposing their tactics. This is a proven effective strategy. You don’t win by sniping at your allies and inflating the success of this turd of a movie.

    Again and again you talk about framing communications but demonstrate incompetence in communicating it to your peers. All you do with these posts is piss me off and give fodder to the creationists. How is that good communication? I’m not exactly a member of the militant atheists. Yet in these posts you’ve called people like me and Orac enablers, you’ve provided ample quote-mining evidence for the cranks, pissed off a good 99% of the scienceblog community, and made me exceedingly irritated.

    I don’t want to write any more posts attacking you over this and keeping the fuss going. Just know that your posts have been greatly disappointing to me, and that I found that last cherry-pick of a response was intellectually dishonest.

  37. #37 NP
    April 23, 2008

    Providing “fodder” for Uncommon Descent isn’t that big a deal in the larger scheme of things. At least not compared to the real foot-shooting that Michael Behe tends to engage in.

  38. #38 Ethan Siegel
    April 23, 2008

    Maybe a good question to ask is this: What would you do if the KKK were making a movie? Would you frame your response so as not to offend the people who sympathize with them? Or would you vehemently protest every step of the way?

  39. #39 Mike the Mad Biologist
    April 26, 2008

    Chris,

    I’m not sure why you think this is a great movie. I showed/lent it to several non-scientists, and they thought that the evolutionary biologists were made to look like assholes (i.e., the poker game at the end). The PBS series is a lot better.

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