Pharyngula

Those wacky fellas behind the movie Expelled are at it again. First, we have an
interview with Ben Stein. You can tell that the interviewer has drunk deep of the Discovery Institute spring.

Cybercast News Service: There is a segment in the film, where it’s made clear that intelligent design can open up new areas of inquiry that could improve the human condition. One involves a neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor, and another scientist, Jon Wells, who indicate that given how the cells are put together, with eye toward intelligent design, and with the idea that animal cells have tiny turbines – or if viewed as tiny turbines – he was able to formulate a theory that said in the event these things malfunction and don’t properly shut down and could break apart, this is the first step on the way to cancer. He seemed to be suggesting that intelligent design theory could open up a lot of possibilities into improving the human condition. He doesn’t explicitly say ‘a cure for cancer,’ but at least providing additional insight into new areas of treatment or a better understanding of how cancer is formed. What is your reaction to that part of the film? What sort of potential is attached to research going forward?

Ben Stein: Well, I think, I wouldn’t say, if you say intelligent design is the answer and we’re all created by an intelligent designer – that does not by itself provide the cure to cancer or any other disease or does not provide any ideas about how to deal with a stroke or with the heart hammering blood into the brain. But I would say, if you accept a broader, an even broader premise than intelligent design, namely, don’t foreclose anything in your study of the human body and of the cell, then you are a lot more likely to get somewhere. I’d put it like that. I don’t think saying intelligent design just automatically gets you anywhere.

Egnor and Wells? Who in their right mind would cite those two? Egnor is a crank who argues with real oncologists, and gets everything wrong. Wells…well, there are no kind words I can say about Wells, who I regard as a catastrophically bad scholar. His idea that, because centrioles sorta kinda look like turbines, they must act like turbines, and must have been designed like human-built turbines, is an amazingly rickety construction of false logic and silly premises, and has already been falsified, and was untenable before he proposed it. The idea doesn’t follow from design, and it doesn’t work.

Ben Stein seems to be distancing himself from any exaggerated claims in his response, but he’s still fundamentally wrong. Science isn’t about following just any wild-ass idea — to do good science, you need to build on prior work and a foundation of verifiable observations. His belief that the best science is a kind of random bullshit session is utterly wrong, and is not likely to get us any farther. If it were, my ideas that the red dye leaching from fluttering American flags is the cause of mental retardation, that dried cockroaches would make an excellent dietary supplement that would improve your golf game, and that there really are flying monkeys dwelling in the colons of the Republican leadership, would all be cheerfully pursued by scientists eager to make a radical new discovery. They aren’t. Why? Because I just made them up. Science routinely dismisses weird ideas as unproductive — if there is reason to think otherwise, proponents need to make a scientific case for them.

Here’s some other interesting news: Expelled already looks like a flop. The producers are going to pay students to see their movie.

Generous donations can be awarded to schools according to the number of movie ticket stubs they turn in. By accepting this challenge, your school could be awarded a donation up to $10,000, just for bringing your kids to see this film!Your school will be awarded a donation based upon the number of ticket stubs you turn in. That structure is as follows:

  • 0-99 ticket stubs submitted = $5 per ticket stub
  • 100-299 ticket stubs submitted = $1,000 donated to your school
  • 300-499 ticket stubs submitted = $2,500 donated to your school
  • 500 ticket stubs submitted = $5,000 donated to your school

Each school across the nation will be competing for the top honor of submitting the most ticket stubs with that school having their $5,000 donation matched for a total donation of $10,000!

Let’s see. It costs a student between $6 and $10 to see a movie, paid to the theater. A chunk (a small chunk) of that goes to the theater, a larger piece to the distributor, and then whatever is left goes to pay the people who made the movie. I asked my independent movie guru, Randy Olson, how much gelt the maker gets back from a movie, and he estimated between 50% (if you do your own booking) and 25% (if you put it in the hands of experts). So let’s do the math.

If we err optimistically on the side of profit, each student pays $10 to get in, half of that ($5) goes back to the producers, and the producers then turn around and pay out $5 to the student. I’m no economist, but this does not sound like a profitable strategy.

So the movie hasn’t come out yet, there are no major movie critic reviews yet (but at least one pre-screener thought it was boring), and now we have the revelation that the producers have so little confidence in the movie that they are planning to pay people to attend.

Is that … desperation … that I smell?

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?, OM
    January 18, 2008
    Science should always be in the business of attempting to disprove itself.

    Right, that’s what science is about, never coming to a reasonable conclusion, never actually using solid theories to advance understanding to deal with the world. Shithead.

    Science is constantly in the business of disproving hypotheses. What Stein doesn’t seem to get is that it sometimes fails to disprove testable hypotheses. 150 years of observation and experiment, and evolution by mutation, selection & drift still isn’t disproven… it’s not like we hadn’t tried!