The Intersection

My Review of Expelled

It has just gone up over at Science Progress. Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:

Okay, let’s get this out of the way first: Ben Stein’s new movie, Expelled, is a deeply dishonest piece of propaganda. Pretty much everything in it is a sham, from the quality of its intellectual and scientific arguments to the nonsense premise that Stein is going on a learning odyssey to find out what’s really happening in the world of “Big Science” (hint: repression of dissent). In truth, it’s plainly obvious that Stein already had his mind made up, and has set out to deliberately construct a brief against evolution and for intelligent design.

The most disgusting thing about Expelled, though, is the craven guilt-by-association approach. Viewers are bludgeoned with the absurd argument that Charles Darwin is somehow to blame for Dachau, and that today’s scientific establishment has built the equivalent of a Berlin Wall to keep out threatening ideas (which makes Ben Stein, er, Ronald Reagan). The New York Times reviewer fulminated that Expelled “is a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry” and shows a “contempt for precision and intellectual rigor.” I entirely agree.

As for the rest of the review–containing “dangerous” content–go here to read it.

UPDATE: The “Intersection” has gone back to moderating all comments.

Comments

  1. #1 Nick
    April 23, 2008

    “No, I’m trying to help the science people (although whether they want to be helped is another matter). And I won’t be quiet, because this is too important.”

    Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much from you lately, other than playing the victim. I can’t wait to hear all about the concrete steps we should take – aside from simply watching Flock of Dodos.

  2. #2 andrew
    April 23, 2008

    Sorry, Chris, but there’s nothing in your review that you haven’t already said before, and I think you’re wrong about a lot of things. Most importantly, “Expelled” is not a success in any sense of the word. It’s a colossal flop!

    The right thing to do is to ignore the film, Ben Stein, and the less than 1 American in a 1000 who’s seen it.

    The right thing to do is to do good science and to communicate the facts that good science teaches us clearly and accurately to the public.

    While there may be a grain of truth in the statement that

    the truth is not just automatically going to win in the competition of ideas

    the truth is a whole lot better than propaganda.

  3. #3 Screechy Monkey
    April 23, 2008

    You’re starting to sound like something I’d see in The Onion: Blogger Shocked At Being Criticized On Internet; Bravely Vows To Fight On.

    Anyone interested in starting a pool for when Chris stomps out of Scienceblogs in the face of this vicious persecution?

  4. #4 impiri
    April 23, 2008

    You’re making it sound like your opinions are verboten at ScienceBlogs. Please just stand your ground and continue to make your case; don’t make it sound as if you’ve been (dare I say it) “expelled” unless there’s something more to it other than a difference of opinion.

  5. #5 caynazzo
    April 23, 2008

    That read more like a rant than a review.

  6. #7 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer…

    What things would those be?

  7. #8 Kurt
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:

    Impiri already said it, but now you’re sounding just like the Expelled! crowd — you don’t like having your ideas vigorously criticized, so instead of trying to back up your arguments with some empirical evidence, you’re just claiming you can’t talk about certain things within the “establishment”. I realize that you are saying that tongue-in-cheek, but still.

    Hey, maybe you could be in the Expelled! sequel! Now there’s a thought that’s scary on multiple levels.

  8. #9 Caledonian
    April 23, 2008

    What things would those be?

    If he could say them, he’d tell you.

  9. #10 scote
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:

    Good Grief. Are you claiming your viewpoints have been Expelled from Science Blogs? So much so that you had to post your review at scienceprogress. I’m not impressed by your alleged victimhood. It seems more like you are playing the martyr, eating your cake and having it, too.

    Perhaps it is what you write rather than where you write it that is the issue?

  10. #11 Rev Matt
    April 23, 2008

    “Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:”

    Wow, I’m embarrassed for you. That’s both immature and unprofessional. I have been quite critical of you in the past but through it all I’ve respected you. You’re better than that sort of childish comment.

  11. #12 James F
    April 23, 2008

    Chris,

    I understand, respectfully, your feeling raw over the reaction in ScienceBlogs, especially the grossly uncalled-for claims that you have sympathies with the creationists.

    I’d like to take this in another direction, though. While we’re arguing over the box office take of Expelled, just this morning a Florida Senator invoked the movie in defense of one of those antievolution “academic freedom” bills, which passed the senate 21-17. The only comforting thing was that four Republicans broke ranks, including the minority whip. If three more senators changed their minds, the bill would have died. Also, ominously, the Biologic Institute’s web site, which has been inactive for three years, suddenly went live. The message needs to be taken to politicians at the state level, and we must reach out to Christians and political conservatives in particular. Scientists and educators have to be effective public advocates. I would love to hear the discussion move to these topics.

  12. #13 Rev Matt
    April 23, 2008

    I’d also like to note that I think your assessment of the success of Expelled and particularly your point about Stein being on 1000 screens with no notable rebuttal reaching the vast majority of people is dead on. I think a lot of people in the science community are blissfully unaware of just how little the average American knows or cares about science and how much credence they’ll put into a movie that affirms what they already think or are at least sympathetic to.

  13. #14 Josh Charles
    April 23, 2008

    Interesting bit of self reference there:

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable

    Is that an endorsement for ‘Expelled’ I read? I guess I’ll have to check out the actually review at this point…

    Quit [censored] whining about being a ‘victim’ and respond to the reasonable criticism you’ve received and ignore the rest.

    You’ve extrapolated a couple isolated incidences to the general consensus, or you’ve gone off the depend and consider all criticism to be a personal attack. Good grief! I keep telling myself that I should take your blog out of my subscriptions, but I keep hoping that maybe you still have *something* to offer beyond this ‘woa is me’ attitude.

  14. #15 bsci
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:

    wow. The movie must have really affected you. How exactly are you banned from saying things here? I’m generally skeptical, but sympathetic to your point of view, but I suggest you retract that sentence before you really get laughed at here.

  15. #16 Josh
    April 23, 2008

    I must apologize for my horrendous spelling in my first comment…

  16. #17 Mecha
    April 23, 2008

    Rev Matt: And as soon as the commenters and top-level posters are ‘better’ than calling Chris an evil worthless waste of space, you can say that legitimately. Remember. Chris and Sheril were the ones that wanted to be ‘better’ than telling people with opinions they disagree with to fuck off, and got called weak womanly wishy-washy worthless garbage that shouldn’t be on Scienceblogs.

    It’s honestly fascinating. People are blaming Chris for doing the ID peoples’ work for them, but when Nisbet pointed out that PZ Meyers actually DID the ID peoples’ work for them (when he, uh, said exactly what they wanted people to believe scientists believed), he was excoriated for saying that they might not want to do that (under false pretenses, besides, with many people not actually reading the contents of the post.) But if people think CHRIS does it, oh my word, shut up Chris! You’re just embarrassing yourself! Go back to writing books, you presumptive plant from the ID camp! And be a better person about it, too, despite all the bullying!

    I cannot possibly imagine why, after hundreds of posts RECENTLY (not counting all the previous ones) telling Chris that he’s an anti-science creationist apologist with nothing to offer (with no actual basis for the accusations) and telling him to shut up and leave, he might feel that his words are unwelcome. PZ got, uh, a single post based on his actual behavior, and everyone went apeshit about CENSORSHIP CENSORSHIP CENSORSHIP.

    Introspection and self-examination, people. It’s not just for philosophy majors.

    -Mecha

  17. #18 Josh Charles
    April 23, 2008

    Mecha, is seems you have really gone off the deep end here.

    I cannot possibly imagine why, after hundreds of posts RECENTLY (not counting all the previous ones) telling Chris that he’s an anti-science creationist apologist with nothing to offer (with no actual basis for the accusations) and telling him to shut up and leave, he might feel that his words are unwelcome

    Can you point to one post that actually said that? Perhaps, but it certainly doesn’t represent the majority opinion.

    Chris seems to have developed a habit of grouping all criticism into the ‘personal attack’ column, and you seem to think the same thing. Looking over the previous posts in other entries, I see an overriding theme of:

    “Chris, you’re wrong, and here are the reasons why.”

    Chris has yet to respond to any of them, and yet continues to play the “I’m the victim here” card.

    You said:

    Introspection and self-examination, people. It’s not just for philosophy majors.

    Indeed. So is Reason. Hyperbole is not going to get us anywhere.

  18. #19 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    after hundreds of posts RECENTLY (not counting all the previous ones) telling Chris that he’s an anti-science creationist apologist with nothing to offer (with no actual basis for the accusations) and telling him to shut up and leave,

    Who told Chris to “shut up and leave”? I certainly didn’t see anyone do that. Got some concrete examples that I may have missed, because I sure can’t find any?

  19. #20 Jason Rosenhouse
    April 23, 2008

    Dude! You stole my title.

  20. #21 scote
    April 23, 2008

    Sorry, Chris, but there’s nothing in your review that you haven’t already said before, and I think you’re wrong about a lot of things. Most importantly, “Expelled” is not a success in any sense of the word. It’s a colossal flop!

    Posted by: andrew

    As much as I disapprove of Chris’ self-proclaimed martyrdom I also disapprove of this bit of wishful thinking. Expelled really did manage to open on over 1000 screens and it really did manage to come in at 8-10th place among all movies in the nation. That is quite a marketing achievement for a film that is that bad. While Expelled hasn’t lived up to the optimistic projections of the producers, neither did it tank and it seems likely to recoup its costs and, perhaps, even turn a profit. Given that most films can’t do that I’d have to say the film has been a “success.” Hopefully, Expelled will die a quick death at the box office now that the religious faithful have all gone to see it.

  21. #22 Tulse
    April 23, 2008

    Honestly, Chris, this is just too much. Have you ever looked at the criticisms leveled at other SciBloggers in their comments? Heck, PZ routinely gets hate mail, even threats. As far as I can see, you get some aggressive demands for clarity in your arguments. This apparent whining is seriously unbecoming, and unworthy of someone of your obvious talents.

    And can I point out the profound irony that the review you are afraid to publish here contains the line “I won’t be quiet, because this is too important”?

    I also continue to be confused as to why you continue to “frame” Expelled as a success. Various folks have offered analyses that show it did not do anywhere near the business its producer expected (who predicted up to $24 million), and that its take was very modest given the number of screens and ad budget, so it is arguable that it is the “blockbuster” you claim.

    But even if the facts are arguable, why are you not helping the science community to frame this in a way useful to them? You and Matt are the ones who have the mad framing skilz, so why not use them to write an article about how to respond to claims of the film’s success, citing the various arguments mentioned above and elsewhere? In other words, why aren’t you doing precisely the thing that you say you can do for us? Instead, you are framing the film’s box office in such a way that Uncommon Descent happily cites you. How is that helping?

  22. #23 Josh Charles
    April 23, 2008

    Tulse,

    In fairness to Chris, he did discuss some of that in his review:

    Now, science might have tried to counter Expelled if it had been planning some kind of opposite response-a kind of Al Gore, Inconvenient Truth response. But as of now nobody in science even contemplates doing this kind of thing. And so Ben Stein has come along and exploited this substantial chink in the armor.

    Chris is in no more position than the rest of us to come up with this sort of response. We need something like Cosmos on the big screen and marketed at the same level Expelled was/is. I completely agree with Chris on this point.

    Do you have $6 million laying around for this sort of project? Do you know anyone willing to loan that amount towards a project like this? Especially considering the lack luster performance of Expelled to date?

    Perhaps that is the real reason Chris has been calling Expelled a success, to show that there is a demand for these sorts of documentaries? I dunno.

  23. #24 Caledonian
    April 23, 2008

    Science’s unconcern with marketing, ‘framing’, and public perception is not a weakness. It is a strength.

    Demanding that we become purveyors of empty-headed rhetoric like our enemies is not going to help anything.

  24. #25 D
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable

    Maybe you’re trying to be humorous, in a peasant-in-the-holy-grail-being-repressed sort of way. Or maybe you really think you are being so oppressed (crucified?) What really matters though, is this: is said self-portrayal good framing? Sometimes it can be pretty hard to tell when you’re using an advanced scientific communications technique and when you’re just whining.

  25. #26 Matti K.
    April 23, 2008

    Chris: “No, I’m trying to help the science people (although whether they want to be helped is another matter).

    Maybe you shoud do some introspection and ask yourself if you are really helping them at the moment? Or better even, actually discuss your helping strategy with scientists? As you may have noticed, scientists are often very allergic to sermons.

    Chris: “And I won’t be quiet, because this is too important. This is far too big a mess, and it’s one we have to learn from.”

    I think that kind of attitude, if honest, is very admirable. However, you yourself have adviced people to check their “highly developed critical faculties at the door”. Do you mean that not everybody should speak out about matters they feel are worth it?

  26. #27 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    Chris is in no more position than the rest of us to come up with this sort of response.

    Randy Olson is, though.

  27. #28 Julie Stahlhut
    April 23, 2008

    Most likely, the vast majority of Americans has heard of neither Expelled! nor ScienceBlogs.

    Rebuttals to dreck like Expelled! are everywhere right now — in the blogsphere, on other websites, and in movie reviews. The problem is that it takes both a willingness to look for the rebuttals and enough background knowledge to understand them in order to — well, find them and understand them. I’m sure it’s possible for working scientists to come up with a mass-market-oriented rebuttal to the film, but most of us are working on other things that are more productive in what are understood to be the terms of our actual jobs.

    On the other hand, producing good rebuttals to pseudoscience — that are accessible to laypeople — should be a natural function of science journalism. (Similarly, people don’t read political-science textbooks or take university-level courses in order to make voting decisions; for better or worse, they read newspapers and blogs. Both amateur and professional political writers range in competence from the brilliantly insightful to the appallingly ignorant, but few of the ones read by laypeople are professors of political science or sociology. The latter work on a different level for a more specialized audience, and that’s not their fault — it’s their job.)

    Rather than arguing over whether Expelled! is a success because some people bought tickets, vs. a failure because many others didn’t, doesn’t it make more sense for science journalists to step up and take on this opportunity to educate the public instead of squabbling with research scientists? Communication skills are certainly important to all science professionals, but for journalists, communication is the profession.

  28. #29 Chris C. Mooney
    April 23, 2008

    Julie,
    Science journalists don’t generally make films, but film/television is by far the most powerful medium. That’s why I am so worried about Expelled, and wish people would treat it as a wake-up call. It’s not enough to rebut it on blogs. That’s off by at least an order of magnitude from what we have to do. This is what I’ve been trying to say, but again, I have less confidence than ever that ScienceBlogs is the place to say it.

    Orac–if science organizations would give Randy Olson a few million dollars, then we might really have an answer to Expelled.

  29. #30 Ben Stephens
    April 23, 2008

    Let’s say you did get a film together, who would the target audience be and how would you get them to see it?

  30. #31 Jim Harrison
    April 23, 2008

    Expelled is not going to change the debate in any meaningful way because it isn’t going to be seen by very many people whose opinions are capable of changing. There is no point in trying to reach the target audience for this dreck. The useful thing to do is to marginalize the Fundamentalists as rustic curiosities so that the majority of people, especially the majority of political active people, won’t want to have anything to do with them. That would be some useful framing!

  31. #32 KJC
    April 23, 2008

    The idea that what is missing is the will to put the science case over in a similar way to expelled is just ridiculous. Taking aside the “I don’t care” middle there is a huge majority of anti-evolution candidates. Most of the reached at the same place every Sunday. This “base” exist and is stoked by such films. The idea that a similarly market film countering these already held beliefs would do well is laughable. These people are not seeking to be educated. Such a film may attract a scientifically literate audience but that is much smaller. A for the masses film would appeal to neither and the “I don’t care middle” would not pay to see it. Unfortunately the outreach of science cannot be mass market. It does not have mass market appeal. There is no frame that you can give science that will give it that appeal just like there is no frame that will give knitting that appeal. The strength of science education is when given to those who want and appreciate it. It allows those who receive it to benefit in the world and that hopefully will allow them to have a greater voice in leadership roles. Science has progressed in this way, rather than an appeal to the masses and over the long history of the Religion vs. Science wars Science, while starting a couple of laps down, is making ground.

    The framing of the issues is important but it is not about appealing to a mass market, it has to be about appealing to the decision makers, and currently that is probably very important. I feel a top down approach is likely to be more fruitful in effecting change at the political level, and as far as a bottom up approach goes this could be developed over time using the top down focus to ensure good science education in schools.

  32. #33 MH
    April 23, 2008

    “Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable”.

    You can say whatever you like (as you well know), as long as you are prepared to defend your reasoning.

    I’m not sure why you are promoting your other blog, though, unless you’re preparing to move over there permanently. And even if you do, you are still going to have to defend what you write (unless you are going to enact a UD comment policy).

    Chris, ‘Big SciBlogs’ is not censoring/persecuting/expelling you. It’s all in your mind.

  33. #34 Orac
    April 23, 2008

    Orac–if science organizations would give Randy Olson a few million dollars, then we might really have an answer to Expelled.

    Somehow I seriously doubt that science organizations have a few million dollars to invest in Randy to make a movie to counter Expelled!. It would be great if they did, but they don’t. Stein and Mathis were backed up by some deep fundamentalist pockets who apparently were willing to lose millions of dollars to make their point. And, make no mistake, they’re certainly not going to come even close to breaking even on the box office, although it’s conceivable that DVD sales might cover their costs and get them to minor profitability. Who are the deep pockets for science? Do they even exist? If they do, I don’t know who they are.

  34. #35 Todd
    April 23, 2008

    I think a point that you are missing, Chris, is that the audience for this film was preselected. It doesn’t matter how much money we throw at Randy Olson, the people who are going to see Expelled are not going to see the scientific counterpart to address its many inaccuracies. That’s the point both sides of the framing argument seem to be missing.

    The success of this film has nothing to do with box office receipts. It’s going to be used in years to come to enforce in the minds of people who are predisposed to DI propaganda that the evil atheists and secularists are out to get them. It’s propaganda fuel for that campaign. Countering Ben Stein with a slick, well framed, scientific exploration of evolution would probably attract a sizable movie going audience, but you won’t be attracting anyone who went to see Expelled at the behest of their preacher.

  35. #36 B. Stein
    April 23, 2008

    “Expelled” scored #9 at the box office for the past two nights (Monday, Tuesday) and #4 for per screen average. It’s not going away yet.

  36. #37 Doc Bill
    April 23, 2008

    Getting back to Ben Stein and Expelled, what bugs me is that Ben Stein has been in numerous interviews, granted with some seriously ignorant people, but Ben has said things like “Darwinism doesn’t explain physics, it doesn’t explain thermodynamics, it doesn’t explain how the planets are held in their orbits” and so forth.

    And NOBODY, not a single reporter, journalist, interviewer has questioned him! Nobody has said to Ben on the spot, “Doesn’t explain gravity, Ben, are you freaking insane?”

    Granted, Thunderf00t on YouTube has done a nice job of taking Ben to task, but where is the response to nonsense like this?

    How can Ben spout this nonsense unchallenged? Perhaps nobody cares, in which case the wake up alarm isn’t LOUD ENOUGH!

  37. #38 Science Avenger
    April 23, 2008

    Well Chris, I’ll give you this: You make a good point that making a proscience movie would be a great asset to the cause of good science, and I hope people like Randy who have skills in that area do so.

    As for the rest, let’s see if I’ve got the steps right:

    1) Present a hypothesis. Check

    2) Predict disaster if your hypothesis isn’t accepted. Check

    3) It is not accepted. Check

    4) Disaster doesn’t occur. Check.

    5) Ignore that and claim one happened anyway. Check and check.

    6) Receive tons of thoughtful, substantive criticisms, and a few insults. Way check.

    7) Ignore the substantive criticims and present the insults as if they were the norm. Check.

    8) Claim persecution because of ideology. Badda bing.

    You may not be a creationist Chris, but at least on this one issue, you have become their intellectual ally.

    And Josh, Mecha hasn’t gone off the deep end here, he’s been there for months. Histrionics and made up shit are his forte.

  38. #39 Eric
    April 23, 2008

    Chris, I don’t hate you. I liked your review of the movie. Please don’t pout.

  39. #40 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 23, 2008

    Constructive criticism ahead.

    The idea that we should have had a rebuttal-documentary ready to release at the same time Expelled hit theaters isn’t reasonable–you can’t do a rebuttal until you’ve seen the thing you have to be dealing with.

    That said, I’d love to see something like that, perhaps more general but including Expelled, come out eventually. If you think this is that important, let’s get working on it right now. What are your ideas? I think we should aim lower budget-wise: $100,000. I personally don’t have the “platform,” in media-biz speak, to do such a thing, but if I did I’d be spearheading the project. If you care, though, I can give input, as I’m involved with a campus secular group and have a student-eye view of how religious propagandists work through organizations like Campus Crusade, something I’ve written about here.

    If you want someone to head this up, after Randy Olson I’d talk to Brian Flemming, who’s already done one documentary taking on fundamentalists.

    Oh, in spite of doing my best to be constructive, I have to tell you to cut the criticism = persecution crap.

  40. #41 Coin
    April 23, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer,

    Chris… just… wow. Your sense of imaginary persecution has finally risen to the point it may actually be greater now than PZ’s historical high-mark for same.

    The problem here is not with scienceblogs. The problem is to a lesser extent with flaws in the details of what you are saying, and to a greater extent the problem is with the hysterical, defensive, framing-deaf way in which you are choosing to say it.

    It’s not enough to rebut it on blogs. That’s off by at least an order of magnitude from what we have to do.

    I might not actually be saying anything you disagree with here, but:

    It’s not enough to rebut it at all. “Rebuttal” is necessary, but if you try to do it on a grand scale it just plays the game they want to play: The creationists throw out a continuous stream of nonsense, science advocates play defense. Past a certain point– especially against a movie like Expelled, for which there is no evidence I’ve seen that its point has saturated beyond people who already agreed with it– doing too much to fight back does more to call attention to their complaints than it does to refute them. They’re doing the Gish Gallop here, and this is a game you cannot win.

    The problem here is not that Ben Stein is speaking and people are listening, the problem is that this particular information channel is being dominated by the Expelleds and the What the Bleeps and there are not really any countervailing voices being heard. As you point out, there is indeed a problem that there is not enough public science communication of this type. But the way to fix this isn’t to make a movie in “response” to Expelled or whatever. The way to fix this is to make movies that inform people about science such that they know enough to make decisions themselves. The way to fix this is to go positive, to drown out Ben Stein’s noise with Signal. Basically, we need more Cosmoses, more Inconvenient Truths, not more Flocks of Dodos or whatever. We need there to be more science communication that happens outside the context of a controversy.

    if science organizations would give Randy Olson a few million dollars, then we might really have an answer to Expelled.

    This said I think it would actually be possible to get money together to make a movie of the kind you want. Orac is right that science foundations have more pressing uses of their money, but there are other ways to get money for this sort of thing– these days, something like this you could maybe even finance with small donations. Hillary Clinton claims she got 2.5 million dollars in donations from interested citizens over, like, three hours last night; you, author Chris Mooney, could possibly yourself raise the money to fund a movie like this, as long as you got the science blogosphere to help and stopped tactlessly attacking people who are on your own side. (I do have to admit I’m not quite sure why if you were going to do that the budget would go to Randy Olson, since I’ve never really heard any responses to his movie much better than indifferently positive even from people who would tend to like the message– I mean, I have nothing against him and if he wanted to make more movies I think that would be great, it’s just I’ve not seen his movie and I heard much better things about, say, the Dover documentaries. Your selection of “Flock of Dodos” as some kind of gold standard for evolution communication seems a little arbitrary and, although for all I know you’re right, maybe you should think this out a little.)

    Look, you know what? Here’s what I’d suggest. Never mind Randy Olson for a minute. You know the Mythbusters guys? They’ve been for some time periodically publicly saying that one of these days they want to do a “Mythbusters” episode in which they devote the whole episode to “the Theory of Evolution”, and try by the end of the episode to prove it true. Go track down Al Gore and ask if he’ll loan the Discovery Channel the money to let the Mythbusters guys make this a feature-length theatrical-release film. There’s existing influence and infamy for Mythbusters, they’re funny and known to be competent at what they do, and they have reach outside the existing community of science advocates. It makes as much sense as anything else…

    By the way, Chris, I notice this is at the end of the Wikipedia page for “The Republican War on Science”. What’s this about?

    Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame) has optioned the rights for the book to create another documentary film.[1]

  41. #42 Coin
    April 23, 2008

    “Expelled” scored #9 at the box office for the past two nights (Monday, Tuesday)

    I imagine Ben Stein standing in front of a giant American-Flag-print banner, on which is printed the words “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”.

  42. #43 ponderingfool
    April 23, 2008

    Somehow I seriously doubt that science organizations have a few million dollars to invest in Randy to make a movie to counter Expelled!. It would be great if they did, but they don’t.
    **********************************

    Well there are organizations that are charged which education that do have the resources, top tier research universities (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, etc). I don’t know how well that would go over. Sure someone on the ID/creationist side would try and get their non-profit status removed. Still worth thinking about. Or hitting up the donors to such universities that maybe they should be spending it to help educate the masses rather than increase the large endowments of those institutions.

    How a nation in which two candidates fighting for their party’s nomination to run in an election can each spend over $150 million but we don’t have the resources to educate the public against the buffoonery of Exposed is what is truly scary.

    I don’t think scientists have their heads stuck in the sand about this. They know it is coming but the way science is set-up creates a significant obstacle to scientists organizing in the manner you speak. They are very busy, which makes it difficult to get enough of them to take the time necessary to create an organization that can raise funds and dispense said money on worthwhile projects.

  43. #44 Optimus Primate
    April 23, 2008

    Come, now, Chris. I really like you, but playing the oppressed martyr card? Let’s leave that sort of thing to the creationists, K?

    Say whatever you want. Others are going to disagree with you. Suck it up, get a helmet, and defend your position. But for the FSM’s sake, don’t act like a creationist.

  44. #45 Chris C. Mooney
    April 23, 2008

    “How a nation in which two candidates fighting for their party’s nomination to run in an election can each spend over $150 million but we don’t have the resources to educate the public against the buffoonery of Exposed is what is truly scary.”

    Amen.

  45. #46 Tulse
    April 23, 2008

    Tulse, In fairness to Chris, he did discuss some of that in his review

    Josh Charles, I didn’t mean that Chris offered no long-term framing advice — I meant that he has done a terrible job of actually framing the immediate impact of Expelled. He could have offered some perspective on its performance, as others have done. Instead he’s provided articles that Uncommon Descent is happy to link to and quotes that could be ad blurbs for the DVD cover, all the while offering nothing but a defensive, whining “I told you so” to the very community he claims he can assist. Once again, I am astounded at how someone who is promoting themselves as a communications expert can be so tone deaf.

    Consider if he had offered this as an alternative to his “See! I was right and you were wrong!” post:

    Expelled did reasonably well at the box office, pulling in $3.1 million over the weekend. This is a good opening for a documentary, and no doubt the number will be trumpeted by creationists. However, here are some useful points that folks here should keep in mind when talking to others about the “success” of this film…

    …and then outline all the various analyses that have been giving on this issue (how it made one-eighth of the box office predicted by its producer, how its per-screen dropped off on Saturday, how much was spent on advertising, etc.). In other words, he could have helped the community deal with the immediate issue of the film, provided us with concrete assistance based on his expertise.

    Instead he’s providing quotes usable by the Discovery Institute.

  46. #47 Adrienne
    April 23, 2008

    Screechy Monkey wrote:

    You’re starting to sound like something I’d see in The Onion: Blogger Shocked At Being Criticized On Internet; Bravely Vows To Fight On.

    Thanks for that. It made me…well, you know…lol.

    I again agree with Orac, Josh Charles, and those others who think Chris should quit these sorts of “You all hate me! You are persecuting me!” posts. Come on, Chris, you’re a best-selling author. Rise above this sort of thing, please. And don’t leave scienceblogs either.

  47. #48 ponderingfool
    April 23, 2008

    “How a nation in which two candidates fighting for their party’s nomination to run in an election can each spend over $150 million but we don’t have the resources to educate the public against the buffoonery of Exposed is what is truly scary.”

    Amen.
    ******************

    Not like these Democratic “leaders” are going to lead on this issue or sadly with regards to vaccinations. How do you build a science organization to compete with this when scientists are spending more and more time trying to get funds to do research? Not to mention everything else they do in their positions? Throw being a good spouse/parent into the mix as well and you have a significant uphill battle. I do think pushing scientists to do more than they are doing now is absurd. They are already doing a lot. They don’t have tons of resources. Top tier universities do though. That is who should be lambasted with regards to this. The top tier research universities receive public funds (overhead on NIH grants in excess of 60% for example) and have non-profit statuses to educate. They have the money, they have the resources, they should educate the public. Frame it to them on the point that a greater appreciation of science means more grant money (more overhead), an investment in the future not just of society but of research universities themselves.

  48. #49 dean
    April 23, 2008

    Suckiest frame evah. If you meant it to be humorous it fell flat. If you were being serious then you are just giving succor to the creofundavangelists.

  49. #50 Scote
    April 23, 2008

    Suckiest frame evah. If you meant it to be humorous it fell flat. If you were being serious then you are just giving succor to the creofundavangelists.

    If he was kidding he would have posted the article here.

  50. #51 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 23, 2008

    It’s not enough to rebut it at all. “Rebuttal” is necessary, but if you try to do it on a grand scale it just plays the game they want to play: The creationists throw out a continuous stream of nonsense, science advocates play defense.

    This is why, if we want to do this thing right, we need to do it as an expos&eaccute;. An expos&eaccute of decades of religious leaders lying to their followers. That would work wonders, if only someone would do it.

  51. #52 Catherine
    April 23, 2008

    Every day we have pro-science all around us. It’s just more stealth. I don’t remember science class in high school but I’ve seen MANY PBS shows on science and evolution, many on the Discovery Channel, etc. I’ve gone to the IMAX theater and seen amazing documentaries on things as big as cosmology to things as close to home as nature. The difference there is that it just doesn’t have to be “sold” to people. The science is there, people are working hard to bring it to us as interestingly as possible. I just finished my “Planet Earth” series that I got for xmas. It was fantastic! I didn’t need to hear the words “evolution” (which I did, I think…) or “intelligent design” (which I most certainly DID NOT) to grasp the concept of a world unknown not only 2000 years ago but also 150 years ago.

    Chris, your “fear” is unfounded. Even religion can not undo the nature of humans. We have discovered, discover, and will continue to discover for as long as we have the capacity to do so. My guess is that we’ll blow ourselves up long before we stop figuring things out. It’s just our nature.

  52. #53 caynazzo
    April 24, 2008

    I could disagree with every last word Mooney writes AND the way he words it, but I would still say, on general principal, he should not as a journalist censor himself out of fear the IDers might hijack a blurb or two for their own cause. It’s not like they can use a Chris Mooney quote on the cover of their DVD, right? Let us hope not, anyway.

    They do what they do because they’re dishonest. If the truth needs to be said, as Mooney sees it, then he should call it like he sees it and then crouch in a defensive posture.

    Now, Mooney may want to hire someone to pen his blog titles for him, but that’s his call. I don’t think it’s any person’s place to suggest he change his tune with the argument that the other side will use it against us.

  53. #54 Badger3k
    April 24, 2008

    This is like watching a friend go psychotic, start talking about “They” and putting on a tinfoil hat. This descent into depression/psychosis is bizarre. Makes me wonder if there is more than this blog going on. I hate to think this is all ego, the “See, I’m Right!” ranting. When this whole thing came out, I was critical of Mooney, in part because he seemed to be operating in another world than the rest of us. He seemed to be trying to say that his view of the world is correct, and everyone else is wrong, but the evidence he gives (the little that is) doesn’t convince many (it didn’t convince me). I’ve been slowly losing respect for Chris, and right now, I can say I really have none. That’s sad. I bought TRWOS after hearing him speak, and liked the book, but now, I doubt I’d buy anything he writes. Sad.

  54. #55 Anthony McCarthy
    April 24, 2008

    Chris Mooney, I sympathize, I’ve transgressed the unwritten law too. You’ll never be able to live down the lie that you’re a creationist dupe, no matter how much you support the teaching and funding of science. This isn’t about reality, it’s more like the rules of a cult. Before leaving, again, the Scienceblog bubble, here’s what I’ve learned this trip.

    Edited comment posted at Orac’s place.

    I think now I understand how the side with all the facts, evolution, can so consistently lose politically. I mean other than the typical arrogance of so many of the evolutionists who push their way to the microphone, shoving aside more reasonable evolutionists.

    You guys have no idea how politics work. You think that all you have to do is hold the hypothesis of Charles Darwin being linked to eugenics to a standard of absolute proof and you’ve won. You think that the general public will be won over by the lack of a smoking gun, despite compelling evidence that he was linked to eugenics and that, by implication of a rather strong kind, through his son, his cousin, his friends and followers and through their associates in the eugenics movement, to the Holocaust.

    Hells belles, what is it about the gaining failure of what I’ll loosely call your political strategy since at least the 1960s that you haven’t learned from?

    Watching you guys unable to understand that the far right, which has successfully used evolution politically, doesn’t care about the subject, they don’t care about your proof for evolution or standards of evidence in the trial of Charles Darwin, it is amazing. They hear arrogant evolutionists like Dawkins with a smug look on their face (the toffee-nosed Brit accent doesn’t help here either) and they rub their hands together with glee.

    These people aren’t stupid, they’re dishonest and they’re crafty. The comforting arrogance of many of you pretending that they’re stupid and illiterate is denialism just as much as the denial of the scientific evidence of evolution is. The creationists aren’t stupid as evidenced by the two-thirds of Americans polling on their side these days. They can read what Darwin wrote and understand that his continually supplying material for the establishment of eugenics with a wink and a nod really provided the anti-evolution side with a gold mine of material to use. The subsequent supply from arrogant and clueless evolutionists is just a bonus.

    If what I’m reading about Ben Stein’s movie, which I, like most of your detractors, haven’t seen and don’t want to see, about the only way you are going to be able to fight it is by coming up with intimate associates of Darwin who opposed his cousin, his son and many others who, knew Darwin personally and professionally, who cited him as the inspiration of their eugenics promotion.

    While the indirect guilt through his cousin and son and Charles Darwin’s own thin shreds of denialism spread through The Descent of Man might seem like a life jacket for the Darwin myth constructed around him, it’s a proven failure politically. If you take further comfort in asserting that “this isn’t about politics, it’s about science” you are still taking comfort in the myth of your own superiority. If this isn’t all a political fight, what are you whining about a movie by a cheap political hack for?

    Charles Darwin is not necessary to the promotion of evolution in 2008, he is a failed brand name. If you keep on with the futile effort to rescue his myth from the historical record, which is known and used successfully by the other side, you are a lot less bright than you like to think you are.

  55. #56 Rod Murikama
    April 24, 2008

    Wow. This guy just made the rest of you look like a bunch of intellectual midgets.

    “Charles Darwin is a failed brand name.” Way to hit the nail on the head. Way to encapsulate in a phrase the whole problem — that the creationists have done such a good job hanging THEIR baggage on the field of evolution that it’s time for the evolutionists to do a makeover on themselves in order to shed that baggage. Darwin, Darwinism, Darwinists, randomness, and eugenics are their concocted epithets they have successfully stuck on evolutionists who don’t even realize they are being labeled.

    It’s like a host-parasite relationship. The host, evolution, is now so impaired by all the parasitic labels the creationists have infected it with it needs to morph into a new form.

    And your overall message of, “This isn’t about science, it’s about politics” is right on the money. This is the clearest and most concise assessment of the whole mess I’ve read all week. Thank goodness there are people like you willing to take your time to wade into all this inept bickering.

    And what a surprise, there’s no foul language in your comment. Amazing. Just no need for it when you write as plainly as this. (would everyone please take this to heart — foul language is the red flag of frustrated, second rate writers — could somebody please establish that as a basic standard for all bloggers, and maybe check out PZ Myers writing to see how much foul language he’s forced to resort to)

    “Charles Darwin is a failed brand name.” Would you mind writing a major editorial using that title. The world of evolution DESPERATELY needs your voice.

  56. #57 Bob O'H
    April 24, 2008
    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer…

    What things would those be?

    The F-word.

  57. #58 Alex Whiteside
    April 24, 2008

    At the risk of sounding like a complete tool (like that’s never happened before):

    Although you’re right that you’re rather misrepresented, you’re not exactly putting framing into action here. When you describe yourself as unable to express certain ideas on your own blog for fear of reprisals, and suggest that your ideas are “dangerous”, you’re saying that your fellow bloggers as stubborn or narrow-minded, which is just going to make them more antagonistic towards you. You’ll never get people to understand what you’re saying by bickering with them.

  58. #59 jcmacc
    April 24, 2008

    Chris, an observation, not original but maybe expressed slightly differently.

    Your views of the importance of Expelled clearly clash with the opinions of the vast majority of your readership on scienceblogs despite your more important views on evolution and science being shared by the same majority here.

    Given you are a science communicator by profession I’m stunned by your inability to get involved with the *reasons* many disagree with you and the martyrdom reflex as others have noted. Very few responses have been out and out offensive, many have been measured and well reasoned.

    From all the above, a suggestion:

    If you think you have the right ideas on how to communicate with people who don’t immediately take your position (say communicating evolutionary ideas to creationists), why not treat the scienceblog reaction to your Expelled position as a real example and show what you can do.

    After all, if you can’t argue round and convince scienceblog readers who actually agree with you on all the basic science, what chance have you got against the IDists?

    Up for the challenge?

  59. #60 Paul A
    April 24, 2008

    “Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer”

    People have commented in much calmer fashion above, bully for them, but all I can say is stop being such a damn baby. If you’ve got a problem with people disagreeing with you then why not respond to their specific arguments in a reasonable manner instead of playing the victim? The whining is getting really tiresome.

  60. #61 Anthony McCarthy
    April 24, 2008

    Of all the groups of blogs I visit, the Scienceblogs tend to have the most peer pressure of a nasty sort to enforce restrictions on what people are allowed to say, though they aren’t the only blogs that do this. I suspect that it’s mostly a bunch of wannabee sci-jocks who couldn’t solve a linear equation without a calculator but there are some name Sci-bloggers who set the rigid, lockstep tone.

    What annoys me the most is the habit of people thinking they know you believe something on the basis of your saying something entirely unrelated to it. If you aren’t a Darwin cultist, to take the most extreme example, they figure they’ve got you nailed as a creationist. There’s just something about having people say that on a thread attached to an explicitly pro-evolution post that is a bit irritating.

    I got into a lot of trouble for posting this in response to a two-week long series of flames where I guest blog on weekends.

    Note To New Readers by Anthony McCarthy

    These are words.

    To know what they mean you have to read all of them.

    Yes, this can be hard but it is how they work. They do not work if you won’t.

  61. #62 Chris C. Mooney
    April 24, 2008

    We are returning to moderating all comments, as we did before. More soon.

  62. #63 Ben Stephens
    April 25, 2008

    The success or failure of Expelled is kind of irrelevant; whether or not Expelled changed peoples minds, the general understanding / acceptance of evolution by Americans is very poor.

    What is relevant is whether a movie can be made that will have a positive impact. In regard to this, I think Expelled represents an opportunity. Not only is the awareness of this issue increased, there are a couple of extra frames(I hope I’m using this term right) that could be used by a pro-science movie.

    1) Fairness; you heard their side shouldn’t you be fair and hear ours?
    2) Moral duty; people have been lying to the American people and getting away with it, don’t you have a duty to stand up and tell them that it isn’t acceptable?

    The issue for me is whether you can get conservative christians to see a pro-science evolution film. I think that the two frames above might represent the best chance to do that. Unfortunately, they might only be effective whilst Expelled is in the public conscience.

  63. #64 Joel
    April 25, 2008

    “Charles Darwin is a failed brand name.” Way to hit the nail on the head. Way to encapsulate in a phrase the whole problem

    Charles Darwin is not a brand name, it is the actual name of a scientist and this argument can be won without being dishonest and crafty. Look at the progress that has been made, they no longer kill scientists whose ideas disagree with the Church.

  64. #65 Rosy
    April 25, 2008

    Somebody way up in the thread said:
    “Who are the deep pockets for science? Do they even exist? If they do, I don’t know who they are.”

    They do exist. People like Jim Simons, Richard Branson. And couldn’t Sir Dawkins raise a lotta cash/clout if he wanted to make a rebuttal film?

  65. #66 Harry Abernathy
    April 25, 2008

    I don’t think getting funding for a pro-Evolution documentary would be as hard as you think. As noted before, shows like NOVA and Frontline on PBS touch on this stuff all the time. And organizations like the NSF consider the dissemination of science to the general public a priority. All of the NSF research proposals I’ve helped write have all included a section on how the the research performed will be communicated to others.

    The difficulty comes in getting a documentary into a large number of theaters. With “Expelled”, the backers of the film used connections to leverage “Expelled” onto a large number of screens to generate hype, even though it resulted in a relatively low per-screen revenue. The theatres were willing to gamble on a loss of revenue. I don’t know if you can find a Hollywood group with a strong enough ideological bent to do the same thing for a film like “Flock of Dodos”.

    So the key is not the making of the film, but rather its marketing and distribution. Let me point out that the marketing would heavily rely on effective… framing… of the movie.

    You would need the support of someone like a Michael Moore in order to leverage a wide distribution. Otherwise, you’re looking at just another PBS documentary. Maybe he would have some interest if you pitched it as a film about how freaking silly the American education system is looked upon as by the rest of the world when Creationism is being considered as serious science curriculum.

  66. #67 MH
    April 25, 2008

    Rosy wrote “People like Jim Simons, Richard Branson.”

    Simons might be a possibility, as he’s already put money into autism research (albeit for personal reasons; his daughter is autistic), but I don’t think Branson would be interested; I suspect that he wouldn’t want his Virgin brand boycotted by potentially half of America.

    The problem with Dawkins and Moore is that you run the risk of alienating your target audience.

    I still think that if there is going to be a movie response to Expelled, we have to try to get moderate Christians to fund it, and moderate Christians to present it. Its messages should be along the lines of “creationism/ID is bad science and bad theology” and “evolution is a cornerstone of modern biology and is not a threat to one’s beliefs”. These things are obvious to us, but not to many Americans. We need to communicate these facts in a Christian friendly way.

    How’s that for framing?

  67. #68 BJN
    April 25, 2008

    I’m a subscriber to Adobe Blogs rss feed. It’s an aggregation site for bloggers covering Adobe application news, tips, and technical details. I was surprised and dismayed to read this article yesterday from a blog entitled “The Genesis Project” by Dennis Radeke:

    http://blogs.adobe.com/genesisproject/2008/04/expelled_the_movie_and_metadat.html

    The article is ostensibly to discuss the merits of using metadata tags to simplify searching digital video segments for editing, but the comment is wrapped in the blogger’s favorable comments about “Expelled”.

    How’s this topical? It’s an example of how the “Expelled” message is getting spread and how it injects creationist religious content into discussions that, in my opinion, should be technical and apolitical. The author likely thinks he’s just building a technical discussion around a film he calls “…very interesting and fun to watch”. I don’t know who manages Adobe blogs or if there are guidelines for blog content that Adobe may not want its brand associated with.

    I sent a reply post to the blog’s author that I didn’t appreciate getting my Adobe tips and application information packaged in a pro-creationist article, but apparently the blog owner didn’t see fit to post my comment.

    I think a realist should acknowledge the impact of “Expelled”. “Framing” is just another word for marketing, and the only way to counter effective marketing of antiscience is to powerfully and persuasively market science.

  68. #69 Matti K.
    April 25, 2008

    BJN: “”Framing” is just another word for marketing, and the only way to counter effective marketing of antiscience is to powerfully and persuasively market science.”

    Is it really the only way? What’s wrong with the present strategy, namely specific attacks on anti-science?

    Negativity seems to be working fine in political campaigns. To win an election, it is often enough to covince the voters that one’s opponent is lazy, incoherent, hypocritical and dishonest.

  69. #70 Caledonian
    April 25, 2008

    Clearly science must be powerfully promoted, but that is the very opposite of marketing it.

    By its nature, science is NOT an appeal to the sorts of cognitive shortcomings that marketing targets. You cannot treat it as though it were a brand of toothpaste or a type of religious practice.

  70. #71 negentropyeater
    April 26, 2008

    The latest box office figures are out on Expelled, and it’s not looking good :
    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=daily&id=expelled.htm

    Already a few theaters are droping the movie (from 1052 to 1041, only after a week), but more importantly this friday they estimate a drop of 63% over last friday.

    So tentative forecast :

    week 1 was total $ 3.9 Mill.
    week 2 let’s apply -63% to week 1 (quite conservative) gives $ 1.4 Mill.
    Add a “tail” of maximum $ 1 Mill. for the rest and we get a maximum box office of $6.3 Mill.

    Let’s see if they beat $6 million in total, for a movie which was supposed to have caused a revolution, it’s a bit dull, to say the least…

    Not a complete flop either, but certainly not a success !

  71. #72 Tulse
    April 26, 2008

    With those kind of box office numbers, I doubt they’ll make their production & ad costs back. In other words, they’re going to lose money (although I suppose DVD sales might be better).

    Chris, do these figures have you less concerned about the “success” of Expelled?

    Just to put this in perspective, if it tops out at around $6 million or so, that would put it around 10th on the Christian-oriented movie list, close to Megiddo: The Omega Code II and well behind Facing the Giants (and we all know what tremendous impact those films had).

    Honestly, this is looking to be another Snakes on a Plane — tons of Internet hype, boatloads of ads, but in the end, lousy box office.

    I suppose one can argue whether box office is the appropriate metric to judge the film’s success, and it is reasonable to have that discussion. But in the terms that were laid out, a “box office success” it is not. I think Randy Olson would agree that if your film drops 63% after opening weekend, it’s in serious trouble.

  72. #73 DiscoveredJoys
    April 27, 2008

    While I understand the natural desire of many to launch an “Anti-Expelled” film, I am conscious of the irony of such an desire. Contrary to the claims of Expelled there is no Big Science Conspiracy with the collective resources to do such a thing.

    Similarly, in a moment of quiet introspection, it should also be clear that there is no vast Creationist Conspiracy behind the Expelled film or the Discovery Institute – there are only a few rich people funding a pressure group to politicise their theocratic views.

    Creationism is a belief (note lower caps, I am not necessarily talking of a formal Religious Belief but a world view). Atheism is a belief (ditto disclaimer). Science is not a belief, it is a method of activity. While I acknowledge the overlaps, there is no way that a mere method will ever change anyone’s beliefs.

    If you want to challenge Creationism and Expelled you need a political pressure group. Science is merely collateral damage, not a source of the solution.

  73. #74 llewelly
    April 28, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable …

    I think you’re making a serious mistake. Yes, there are things that will draw some complaint, some argument, and possibly even some unjustified attacks. However – that does not mean you shouldn’t say them here. The internet is known for ripping aside the polite veils behind which we habitually obscure so much of our myriad disagreements – and this can be difficult to deal with. But internet communication is all about what you do say, and not about what you don’t say. You can’t gain anything by remaining silent. (I say this knowing full well I disagree with many of things you feel you can’t or shouldn’t say on this site.)

  74. #75 llewelly
    April 28, 2008

    Since there are certain things you cannot really say on ScienceBlogs any longer, I will only quote here the parts of the review that are ideologically palatable:

    More on this. As I’m sure you know by now, Nisbet’s article is quite similar to yours (but it paints Expelled as a much larger PR success than you do), and yet, he posted it here on scienceblogs. He’ll get plenty of disagreeing comments – some reasonable, some not – but it shows those things can be said here.

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