Randy Olson’s movie A Flock of Dodos comes up again and again in the course of arguments about public communication of science, but I had never gotten around to seeing it. I finally put it on the Netflix queue, and ended up watching it last night.
For those who have been living in caves and haven’t seen this blogged a thousand times, A Flock of Dodos is a documentary about the “intelligent design” fight, primarily in Kansas, where Olson is from. Using the school board debate over science standards as a frame, Olson sets out to learn about “intelligent design,” its promoters, and why we’re still fighting over this stuff. He interviews a bunch of prominent “intelligent design” advocates in Kansas and elsewhere, and brings in a number of science advocates to explain why they’re wrong. The whole thing is done in a gently funny manner, with clever graphics and occasional funny animations to break things up.
I don’t really have much of anything original to say about it. It’s a very well-done movie, presenting both sides of the evolution-creation debate in a fairly balanced way. It also does a very good job of presenting the origin of the image problem that science has. While the “intelligent design” advocates say loopy things, they generally come off better than most of the scientists appearing in the film, and that’s a problem.
I do have a few quibbles, of course. Olson slightly skews things by taking a large portion of the pro-science footage from a poker game among friends from his grad school days. They say some fairly obnoxious things about the other side, which tends to make them look bad, but then, the context really matters. Had Olson gotten a bunch of footage from a creationist bridge club, he might’ve found some awful things being said about scientists, too.
Then again, the scenes with the couple who quit the Dover School Board to protest the “intelligent design” case are pretty damning. Asked to read the two-paragraph statement about “intelligent design” required by the Board, they almost immediately drop into a sneering, mocking tone. It’s not very appealing, and I agree with them.
Which is not to say that all the scientists come off horribly. The pro-science political figures interviewed are every bit as smooth and presentable as their creationist counterparts. But the division is clear, and striking– on the whole, the creationists come off as wildly misguided but personally likeable, while the scientists are arrogant and long-winded and unpleasant.
That doesn’t change the fact that the scientists are right and the creationists are insane, but it does go a long way toward explaining why this fight is still going on, after all these years.
Anyway, as I said, it’s a very well-done movie, and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the war on science, or communicating science to the public.