Pharyngula

I’m gonna be a ? MOVIE STAR ?

Last April, I received this nice letter from Mark Mathis.

Hello Mr. Myers,

My name is Mark Mathis. I am a Producer for Rampant Films. We are
currently in production of the documentary film, “Crossroads: The
Intersection of Science and Religion.”

At your convenience I would like to discuss our project with you and to see
if we might be able to schedule an interview with you for the film. The
interview would take no more than 90 minutes total, including set up and
break down of our equipment.

We are interested in asking you a number of questions about the
disconnect/controversy that exists in America between Evolution,
Creationism and the Intelligent Design movement.

Please let me know what time would be convenient for me to reach you at your
office. Also, could you please let me know if you charge a fee for
interviews and if so, what that fee would be for 90 minutes of your time.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,

Mark Mathis
Rampant Films
4414 Woodman Ave. #203
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
www.rampantfilms.com

I looked up Rampant Films. Yes, they are doing a movie called Crossroads, and it has perfectly reasonable blurb.

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So I said, sure, I’d be happy to talk with you, and as long as any travel expenses are covered, I’m willing to do it gratis (academic, you know…we aren’t used to charging big fees to explain things to people). They came out to Morris, set up cameras and gear in my lab, and we did an interview for a few hours. I got paid (woo hoo!). They left. I figured that, as a fairly minor figure in this argument, I might well get cut out altogether — they talked about also interviewing Dawkins and Eugenie Scott and Pennock and various other people — and that was OK.

Now we’ve got this new ID creationist movie, Expelled, coming out, and there’s a press release with this claim:

Unlike some other documentary films, Expelled doesn’t just talk to
people representing one side of the story. The film confronts scientists
such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, influential biologist
and atheist blogger PZ Myers
and Eugenie Scott, head of the National Center
for Science Education. The creators of Expelled crossed the globe over a
two-year period, interviewing scores of scientists, doctors, philosophers
and public leaders. The result is a startling revelation that freedom of
thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high
schools, universities and research institutions.

What? I didn’t do any interviews for pro-creation films, and I certainly haven’t said that “freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry” aren’t part of the university. There must be some mistake.

But then I noticed in the credits for the movie that a certain familiar name is the associate producer, or ass-prod, as I’ll henceforth consider him.

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Denyse O’Leary also ties Mathis of Rampant Films to this movie, and this page from Expelled uses the same graphic that Rampant Films used for Crossroads. The case is closed: Ben Stein’s propaganda film for ID is the one I was interviewed for.

Well. I guess I didn’t end up on the cutting room floor after all, although I’m sure a select set of my words did. Unless, that is, the whole movie is me sitting in my lab, talking. It’s real. I’m going to be featured in a big-time movie with second-tier character actor and game-show host Ben Stein. I bet my whole family is going to go out to the moving-picture theatre to see me on the big screen … and since my family lives near Seattle and the Discovery Institute is so happy about it, they’ll probably have the opportunity.

I do have a few questions, though.

I’m wondering why the Discovery Institute would be so enthused about this movie. It lays it’s premise on the line: science is flawed because it excludes god and the supernatural. It’s one big promo for religion — which means it’s going to further undercut Intelligent Design creationism’s claims to be a secular idea.

Randy Olson points out that this is clearly a well-funded movie. It’s slick, they’re paying Ben Stein, they had to have shelled out a good chunk of money for the rights for the “Bad to the Bone” theme. Randy’s probably wondering why he couldn’t get that kind of money for Flock of Dodos.

So who is funding the movie? Some people with deep pockets are throwing quite a bit of cash at this thing, and I can assure you that it didn’t end up in my hands. I think I was paid something like $1200. I should have asked for much more!

Isn’t it a little ironic that a fairly expensive production like this is billing itself as representing the ordinary people, and is pretending to be the “rebel”? There’s a bit of the no-expenses-will-be-spared (except in the case of their evilutionist dupes!) glitz about it — it really doesn’t look like the work of some brave independent film-maker living hand-to-mouth while making his artistic vision manifest.

Why were they so dishonest about it? If Mathis had said outright that he wants to interview an atheist and outspoken critic of Intelligent Design for a film he was making about how ID is unfairly excluded from academe, I would have said, “bring it on!” We would have had a good, pugnacious argument on tape that directly addresses the claims of his movie, and it would have been a better (at least, more honest and more relevant) sequence. He would have also been more likely to get that good ol’ wild-haired, bulgy-eyed furious John Brown of the Godless vision than the usual mild-mannered professor that he did tape. And I probably would have been more aggressive with a plainly stated disagreement between us.

I mean, seriously, not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest.

I don’t mind sharing my views with creationists, and do so all the time. By filming under false pretenses, much like the example of the case of Richard Dawkins’ infamous “pause”, they’ve undercut their own credibility … not that that will matter. I suspect their audience will not question whatever mangling of the video that they carry out, and the subterfuges used to make it will not be brought up.

Oh, well. I have two warnings for the creationists.

One, I will go see this movie, and I will cheer loudly at my 30 seconds or whatever on the screen, and I will certainly disembowel its arguments here and in any print venue that wants me. That’s going to be fun.

Two, next time I’m asked to be recorded for a creationist propaganda film, I will demand more money, and a flight and a limousine to the premiere. They can pay for my tuxedo rental, too. And my hotel room will have a jacuzzi and a bowl of M&Ms — green ones only.