Shifting Baselines

It’s a dark day for the subject of evolution in the U.S. Two years ago I made a pro-evolution movie, “Flock of Dodos,” trying to warn the evolution community they are not good with mass communication, and that the people behind the attacks on evolution are VERY, VERY good. This weekend Ben Stein’s anti-evolution movie, “Expelled,” had a HUGE opening, estimated to rake in over $3 million dollars. One of the top openings EVER for a documentary.

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Ben Stein says evolution is for losers, and nobody seems to be able to answer him.

Comments

  1. #1 Dan
    April 20, 2008

    Huge success?? Compared to what? What was Flock of Dodos box office earnings?

    Rotten Tomatoes gives the impression that Expelled wasn’t too successful. I don’t know though – it’s clear that Flock of Dodos got its best exposure at museums and universities (after Tribeca). And who’s probably watching Expelled? I imagine that it’s mostly Christians who’ve already made up their minds on intelligent design.

    I can’t be certain, but the only huge success that Expelled has is in preaching (or insulating the minds of) the choir, I think.

  2. #2 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    Success in America is not determined by reviews, it’s determined by box office. The movie has already been enormously successful. They put ads all over Comedy Central, got coverage in Time and Newsweek, and will score further exposure from such a solid opening. Also, there was very little drop in box office from Friday to Sunday. This wasn’t a fluke.

    The evolution community has been taken to the cleaners. It’s very unfortunate. Didn’t have to happen. But it has. What’s important now is to do an honest assessment of it, then consider NEW ways of dealing the mass communication of evolution. So far I’m not hearing any evidence of that happening.

  3. #3 Mark Powell
    April 20, 2008

    But Randy, the pro-science part of the blogosphere has already told us that the movie is inaccurate, unfair, and even copying other people’s work. Thus the movie is dead, right?

    Seriously, I saw the trailer and it’s good. Haven’t seen the movie. I don’t think it’ll change the world, but score one big goal for anti-evolution with this huge opening.

    Maybe we can just mount a few more fuming blog posts in response, and call it a victory for our side.

  4. #4 Greg Wright
    April 20, 2008

    Hi, Randy. Thanks for a sane and sobering assessment of the weekend’s developments. It’s very refreshing after the partisan posturing from both sides over the last several weeks.

    From a non-partisan critic who’s been caught in the middle of it all by necessity but not by choice, I’d offer the following advice: find some way to harness the dogs of war. The reactionary and uninformed, disdainful behavior of the film’s detractors only serves to reinforce the film’s claims — and for anyone who’s really paying attention, turns the film’s vocal detractors into untrustworthy sources of information.

    Standard practice in the film industry (and even more so with agitprop docs like Expelled) can easily come off as deceptive and dishonest; but gloating over inconsequential stuff that could never possibly lead anywhere makes otherwise reputable people look bad.

    One thing that might be useful would be getting an industry insider on board to construct a film and TV industry fact sheet as a resource for people to find out what’s standard practice and isn’t. That way real issues could be complained about instead of smokescreens.

    Perception is king in the media, as you well know, and first impressions count for more than the later ones.

    Right now, if you visit Pharyngula, Kevin Miller’s blog, the Bad Idea Blog, or even Hollywood Jesus, the first impression one gets of ID detractors is that they’re hateful, small-minded, and frightfully naive, if in possession of better facts about the science.

    Being right doesn’t matter if you come off as a prick.

  5. #5 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    Who are these people making these comments here, and why isn’t NSF calling them up for advice? Both comments are right on the money and are helping relieve my anxiety today.

    Dodos had such a clear warning about the communications savvy of the anti-evolutionists. And for a year or so I was feeling like I might have gotten it wrong as the Discovery Institute seemed to fumble with such amateurish things as the Hoax of Dodos website they built to attack my movie. But I had heard over a year ago about Ben Stein getting involved in an anti-evolution movie, and I tried to start warning people what was coming.

    And now, the same evolution communications people who ignored the warnings, will figure out their own spin about how the movie was a failure because it got bad reviews.

    After a while, what can you say. Flocking dodos.

  6. #6 Scott
    April 20, 2008

    I’m sorry, but how is 3 million on it’s opening weekend an enormous success? That is actually pretty weak compared to most of the movies out there and can probably be attributed to the brainwashed masses that were told that god wanted them to see it.

  7. #7 ERV
    April 20, 2008

    Dodos had such a clear warning about the communications savvy of the anti-evolutionists.

    Indeed. In ‘Flock’ you made it perfectly clear that Creationists are just jolly ol folks that you want to have a beer with. Since then, Ive been threatened, harassed, and what was that one comment from Behe? Oh yeah, he told me I should go kill myself. He told a 24 year old female student to go kill herself after she had the audacity to point out he hadnt even done a goddamn Google search before dismissing decades of HIV research.

    Oh yeah.

    Great guys, those Creationists.

    Fantastic communicators.

    You should have seen the way Dembski disintegrated after a few questions from hoity toity Ivory Tower undergrads last fall.

    Charismatic fellows, those Creationists. Born with silver tongues.

    Im sorry, what planet are you on?

    Congrats, Im sure youve just given Uncommon Descent another front page article.

  8. #8 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    There’s a little statistic called, “Per Screen Average.” In general, $1000 per screen is considered impressive. Expelled did $2,997 for the weekend. These guys did a very good job of placing their movie in the right theaters. It’s in only one theater in the Hollywood/Beverly Hills/Santa Monica region — a huge population, but not likely to be supportive. In Kansas City it opened in 12 theaters.

    I’m so tired of reading the rants of academics on these blogs who know nothing about the film world but feel certain “Expelled” flopped because the critics didn’t like it. And they also got excited about what they thought were copyright violations that would sink the movie. But in the end, it was again just their lack of knowledge of the film world.

    It’s sad to watch evolutionists swinging in the dark. As comments above say, let’s go ahead and be honest here — concede that these guys scored a major victory — then figure out how to realistically deal with this communications failure rather than try to deny it happened.

  9. #9 Nyo
    April 20, 2008

    So you’re saying that Expelled has 60% of the per screen average of Megiddo: The Omega Code II ($5,011) in its respective opening weekend. Yep, evolution just can’t stand up to that kind of public awareness.

  10. #10 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    ERV – I’m not the enemy. You should focus your anger on the people who are paid to communicate evolution broadly. They should have created a voice for evolution so loud and powerful that disinformers like Ben Stein are drowned out. There should be five popular pro-evolution movies at the box office right now, instead of none.

  11. #11 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    I’m saying it has $2,997 higher per screen average than “Mansquito II: A new species” ever did on any weekend.

  12. #12 NP
    April 20, 2008

    Randy, I liked your Flock of Dodos film a lot. Your point about the creationist/ID camp being an excellent propaganda machine is well taken. However, I’d also like to comment on something that Greg Wright alluded to, i.e. evolutionists coming across as being pricks. I think that itself is a rather one-sided view, as ERV points out. Sure, there are the acerbic, teenage YouTube atheists on the one hand, and affable, rice-krispie-square-baking creationist moms on the other. But at the same time you have death-threat-hurling, bible-thumping bigots and level-headed evolutionists open to debate as well. I mean this is the internet after all, and any hotly debated topic is bound to rife with vitriol from both sides. Look at Dembski’s own blog – I wonder if he comes across as any less of a prick after his constant and puerile bashing of Judge Jones.

    For what it’s worth, being nice probably helps but it will only get you so far. There comes a point where you simply cannot win against The Word. New Scientist offered a list of 24 common misconceptions about evolution, which for the most part is quite good. But then they try to tackle theological issues, i.e. evolution being compatible with religion, and IMO that’s probably going to fall on a lot of deaf ears. The NCSE often stresses this same point about the compatibility of science and religion, but while it may be true, somebody who believes in the literal truth of Genesis is not going to take theological lessons from Eugenie Scott.

    The solution is not that people like PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins need to temper their forthright views on religion, in order to score PR points with the religious right. Bill Cosby said that the formula for failure is trying to please everyone. Getting a single person or advocacy group to speak for science will never be the solution. We need different voices that pander to the different audiences. After watching the seventh installment of the PBS’ evolution series, it appears to me that an evangelical paleontologist is more likely to get a Christian student to reconcile the science of evolution with his or her faith than somebody like Kevin Padian could. Ken Miller’s Finding Darwin’s God will probably reach out to many Christians struggling with the reality of evolution, but to those who regard Catholicism to be a heresy, his message won’t get through. Blaming “people who are paid to communicate broadly” simply isn’t part of the solution, in my opinion.

  13. #13 Steve Reuland
    April 20, 2008

    During one of the “canceled” screenings, the Expelled guys apparently said they’d consider it a success if they grossed $12-15 M on the opening weekend. It’s also relevant that they’ve poured millions into their marketing campaign, including having hired 4 separate PR firms, a TV ad campaign, a cross-country sneak preview tour, etc. With production costs of $3.5 M, I think a very conservative estimate would be $10 M total when you add in marketing; a more realistic estimate may be twice that.

    A $3 M opening weekend would net the filmmakers maybe $1.5 M. Unless they can duplicate this feat for seven more weeks (not bloody likely) they’re going to be deep in the hole.

    So the opening weekend was indeed very successful, just so long as we discount little things like profitability or the filmmakers own expectations. But at least they have Randy Olsen congratulating them.

  14. #14 Bad
    April 20, 2008

    Randy, your points are well taken, but the main problem is: who are they directed at? Government science by and large orgs aren’t the business of huge PR campaigns or making movies. Things like the Dover doc are about the best we can expect from that quarter. Who does that leave? Individual scientists, even those that are super-activist, don’t make films (and openly admit they have no idea how). There are a bunch of think tanks in these areas, but most struggle to fund otherwise modest efforts and missions.

    These guys have bank because they have a few nutty millionaires with axes to grind, tons of ideologically committed donors, and built in audiences that WANT to be preached to, and preached to with this exact message.

    So who is supposed to take your advice and run with it to combat these guys?

    The reality is that for all the noise of these films, their side never makes any real progress because they simply don’t have anything going for them legally or scientifically when it comes down to brass tacks. The most they may win are a bunch of really stupid state bills and some kids in public schools getting told that horse fossils are really hyraxes. That sucks, but it’s still not enough to awaken the sort of ideological fervor that drives the creationist side of things.

    I’ve worked in political campaigns, and have a pretty good idea how messaging works: enough to appreciate that you’re right when you note the savvy things the Expelled folks have done. And I’d love there to be a big well funded bunch of campaigns to hit back. (For one thing, I’d have a chance to be employed at doing something I’d really love). But I don’t see anyone out hiring or willing to pour money into such an effort. I don’t see how we’re going to get from point A to point B on this one.

  15. #15 Joel
    April 20, 2008

    Just because the movie Expelled appeared to have a successful opening weekend doesn’t mean they did an effective job making the case for their argument.

    Why worry about how the die hard American Christians take how or what the science community has to say? Seems to me science has the most important element of any argument on its side, the truth.

    The solution is to keep speaking the truth and eventually the truth will win out.

  16. #16 Andrea Bottaro
    April 20, 2008

    Mr. Olson:
    your reference group should be movies which could count on bussed-in opening week-end church groups and large purchases of tickets from ideologically allied web sites and associations, not to mention free positive publicity by similarly allied big media entities (Fox, Limbaugh, etc), and even politicians parading Stein and the movie around to get it and themselves free time on the local news channels. And with all this fanfare and PR, the movie still seems to have fallen far short of their predictions. Sure, a bunch of people went to see it, but I am almost sure that very few if any had their minds changed.

    Just to give you a sense of the mood, note that after blowing the Expelled horn for months, Dembski’s blog Uncommon Descent is already distancing itself from some of its excesses regarding the Nazism-Darwin connection, which backfired mightily with independent viewers, and ID’s crazed cheerleader Denyse O’Leary can only pull herself to claim the movie did “agreeably”.

    Regardless, dishonest ideologues will always beat science at PR, and frankly, I’d take the reverse as a sign of something seriously amiss. Sure, we could do better at getting our message across. But if you expect a honest, objective documentary about the Creationism-evolution political controversy to attract crowds, you are just dreaming.

  17. #17 John Lynch
    April 20, 2008

    Two years ago I made a pro-evolution movie, “Flock of Dodos,” trying to warn the evolution community they are not good with mass communication, and that the people behind the attacks on evolution are VERY, VERY good. This weekend Ben Stein’s anti-evolution movie, “Expelled,” had a HUGE opening, estimated to rake in over $3 million dollars. One of the top five openings EVER for any documentary.

    So other than telling the “evolution community” that they were doing it wrong (a la Nisbet), what have you been doing the last two years? Have you been doing anything to directly fight ID? Nope. Have you even blogged against the lies and caricatures that Expelled uses? Nope. You’ve just told folks that they are doing it wrong. Smugness is not a strategy.

    And $3M is not a “HUGE” opening. Perhaps for a documentary but given the investment that the backers put into it it’s still disappointing. It will be gone next week once the bussed-in crowd have seen it.

  18. #18 J. J. Ramsey
    April 20, 2008

    Greg Wright: “Right now, if you visit Pharyngula, Kevin Miller’s blog, the Bad Idea Blog, or even Hollywood Jesus, the first impression one gets of ID detractors is that they’re hateful, small-minded, and frightfully naive, if in possession of better facts about the science.”

    I can see someone reading Pharyngula and getting the impression that ID detractors are hateful, etc., because PZ Myers comes off so, ahem, colorfully. I can see someone reading Kevin Miller’s blog and getting the impression that ID detractors are hateful, etc., because Miller wants to send that message. However, the Bad Idea Blog is pretty even-keeled in general, and the tone of your own Hollywood Jesus is more regretful than contemptuous. I’m not sure where you are coming from here.

  19. #19 Joel
    April 20, 2008
  20. #20 Greg Wright
    April 20, 2008

    My point was not to pick on anyone’s site for being a host to bad behavior; as anyone who’s run a blog knows, you want to encourage discussion, and you even want to be a little provocative in what you write in order to generate discussion… because discussion drives traffic to the site. And certainly, everyone who runs a blog has got to make some tough choices about that noise-to-traffic ratio.

    My point was simply to cite a few places where it’s easy to see “hateful, small-minded, and frightfully naive” posts by those who at least associate themselves with the anti-ID crowd. That’s all.

    And the capacity for being a prick is certainly universal… and it doesn’t represent anyone’s cause well.

    (A tip of the hat to BadIdea, too, for doing an admirable job of moderating the comments over there.)

  21. #21 PZ Myers
    April 20, 2008

    Come on, Randy. This is letting your aggravation get the better of you. I agree entirely that we need better science education, communication, and entertainment, but inflating the successes of the creationists does not help.

    Ben Stein is not the new spokesman for evolution. His movie is nothing about evolution. Ben Stein is the new spokesman for creationism. Let’s keep things straight.

  22. #22 windy
    April 20, 2008

    Last month someone was saying that Ben Stein was nothing to worry about?

    You should focus your anger on the people who are paid to communicate evolution broadly. They should have created a voice for evolution so loud and powerful that disinformers like Ben Stein are drowned out.

    Are they paid enough to be able to make blockbuster movies promoting evolution?

    There should be five popular pro-evolution movies at the box office right now, instead of none.

    Would those be playing in 12 theaters in Kansas City? And even if they were, how would that make less people see Ben Stein’s movie?

  23. #23 Greg Wright
    April 20, 2008

    Would those be playing in 12 theaters in Kansas City? And even if they were, how would that make less people see Ben Stein’s movie?
    The way you compete in markets like those in Kansas City is not to make pro-evolution movies per se, but to make movies that suit the demographic. From there, you just beat out the competition by making better films… and who cares what they’re about?

    From where I sit — and I know no-one particularly cares about my perspective! — that’s a win-win proposition. ‘Cause then I can just get back to talking about films as films rather than as propaganda!

  24. #24 windy
    April 20, 2008

    The way you compete in markets like those in Kansas City is not to make pro-evolution movies per se, but to make movies that suit the demographic. From there, you just beat out the competition by making better films… and who cares what they’re about?

    I’m not sure if this is completely tongue-in-cheek… so the pro-evolution side should basically take over Hollywood?

  25. #25 Damian
    April 20, 2008

    My point was simply to cite a few places where it’s easy to see “hateful, small-minded, and frightfully naive” posts by those who at least associate themselves with the anti-ID crowd. That’s all.

    I guess that it depends on what you are looking for, doesn’t it?

    As the terrific review of Expelled on your site notes, it is easy to see that evolution inspired Hitler to murder millions of people, and it is easy to not see any of the other influences, including Christian antisemitism. If that is what you are looking for, that is.

    I have to say that, as someone who is just about fed up of being told that we must always cater for the lowest common denominator – least intelligent, youngest, most sensitive, etc – there are limits to how far I am prepared to go, if only for the sake of my own self-respect. After a while it starts to feel like manipulation.

    Having said all of that, I am quite prepared to go out of my way for anyone, as long as they treat me with respect.

  26. #26 matthew
    April 20, 2008

    A 3 million opening on 1000 screens with a per theater average of $3000, after being backed up by a substantial media buy, isn’t a “successful opening” by any standard of the movie industry.

    This is what is what is called “tanking” or “flopping”.

    Now it is true that this isn’t a standard commercial release from a major entertainment company, so expectations would be substantially less. Since the theatrical release is probably seen as a way of boosting sales in other formats, perhaps the producers/distributers are comfortable with the numbers. Perhaps they’re not even interested in making money. But I don’t know anyone who would see this opening in a positive light.

    As for being one of the top documentaries. Well, that’s not saying anything as docs generally make very little. Taking Moore’s films as a gauge of what docs make is like looking at Stephen King as “average successful writer”.

    But what sets this one apart is the number of screens. Most independent efforts platform on a handful of screens and thus generate tiny opening numbers. However, the commercially viable ones have high per theater averages. $20,000 to $50,000 isn’t unheard of for a film with high audience “want to see”. Based on high per theaters, the distributer then expands to more screens/markets.

    For a studio, releases tend to fall into “small wide” 2,500 screens, “wide” about 3000 screens, or just huge 35000+. They rarely put anything out in this range. Unless you’re talking about dumping the film. That’s what you do when you know you’ve got a stinker and are just trying to grab the opening weekend and run.

  27. #27 Tulse
    April 20, 2008

    There’s a little statistic called, “Per Screen Average.” In general, $1000 per screen is considered impressive. Expelled did $2,997 for the weekend.

    Right, but another little statistic is percentage change from opening weekend, and that’s far more important for long-term success. I think it’s a mistake to draw conclusions before we know if this film has any legs after the bused-in crowds of opening weekend.

    For comparison, Sicko (2007) opened wide on 702 screens with slightly larger take of $3.6 million and a much larger per-screen of $5,128. But it dropped by 20% the following weekend, and continued to drop by that and more each weekend for the rest of its run. (Such drops are actually mild by Hollywood standards — typical horror films, including top 10 openers, will drop by 40-50% the next weekend.) Sicko finished with $24.5 million domestically, when it opened on fewer screens and with a bigger opening per-screen average. And note that 702 screens was not its widest weekend — that was 1,117 screens.

    But perhaps Sicko is not a great comparison. We could also compare it to, say, Left Behind (2001), which appeals to a similar demographic as Expelled. Left Behind earned $2.2 million opening weekend on 867 screens, for a per-screen of $2,489. But that was the widest it ever played, and the next weekend it dropped 67%. It was gone in 6 weeks, and ended with a total box office of $4.2 million.

    So is Expelled more like Sicko, or more like Left Behind? I don’t know, and none of us will until (at the earliest) next weekend. That said, I doubt very much that Expelled will ever play on more screens than it opened. I doubt very much that it will hold more than 70% of its box office next weekend, especially after the scathing reviews (those may not affect the True Believers, but it will indeed scare away the curious).

    My only point is that if we’re really judging this on the standards of Hollywood, let’s really do that, and not just grant them a win because the film got released.

  28. #28 Greg Wright
    April 20, 2008

    I guess that it depends on what you are looking for, doesn’t it? As the terrific review of Expelled on your site notes, it is easy to see that evolution inspired Hitler to murder millions of people, and it is easy to not see any of the other influences, including Christian antisemitism. If that is what you are looking for, that is.

    Well, did you read the review there by Darrel Manson? He had quite a different view. No groupthink at HJ, or heavy-handed editorial inquisition. It’s a weakness, and it’s a strength.

    I have to say that, as someone who is just about fed up of being told that we must always cater for the lowest common denominator – least intelligent, youngest, most sensitive, etc – there are limits to how far I am prepared to go

    Oh, I hear you there. I’m just suggesting a course of action; I’m not saying it’s palatable. It’s not a game I’d play, either. Guess that’s why I’m an editor, and not a filmmaker! Tried that once.

    I am quite prepared to go out of my way for anyone, as long as they treat me with respect.

    I think that goes for a hell of a lot of us. And it’s that “respect” factor that’s missing far too often — and it is possible to respect people we don’t agree with.

  29. #29 michael fugate
    April 20, 2008

    Randy,
    Since you are so smart – what is the answer?
    “Flock of Dodos” wasn’t – so it seems you are even more clueless than the evolutionary biologists you disparage.
    Perhaps it is time for you to put up or shut up.
    Why don’t you find some funding sources to match religion in this country and then we will see what we can do.

  30. #30 Duae Quartunciae
    April 20, 2008

    One of the recurring notions that comes up in these “us vs them” discussions is that really, we shouldn’t worry about refuting creationism and intelligent design and so on, and just focus on getting people excited about real science, and evolutionary biology. Don’t even mention creationism. Don’t give them the attention. Just get people excited about the real science.

    It’s been done.

    Thank you, Sir David Attenborough.

  31. #31 Murtant-Q
    April 20, 2008

    michael fugate wrote:

    Randy, Since you are so smart – what is the answer? “Flock of Dodos” wasn’t – so it seems you are even more clueless than the evolutionary biologists you disparage. Perhaps it is time for you to put up or shut up.

    Agreed, I also don’t appreciate Randy’s pissing on the NCSE’s efforts. If you think you can do better than Ms. Scott, then dig out your camera, find some backers, and make a documentary to counter “Expelled.” May I suggest a little less poker playing with fundies and even less pissing on your own side for not being as PR-savvy as you claim to be?

  32. #32 Murtant-Q
    April 20, 2008

    Correction: I meant to say the NAS’s efforts. I misconstrued Randy’s sarcastic poke as an attack on the “Expelled Exposed” site. My apologies.

    Although, I still stand by the rest of my comments.

  33. #33 Randy Olson
    April 20, 2008

    Wow. I finally slip out to see “Expelled,” and come back to all this. Amazing.

    First off, John Lynch — I’ve done a lot over the past two years — I personally have taken part in over 50 screenings of Dodos with panel discussions everywhere from Midland, Texas to Panama, from Harvard and Yale to Manhattan, Kansas, night after night of talking myself hoarse about this whole messy issue. I also sat in the conference room at the Discovery Institute and endured two hours of Chapman, Wells, West, and Luskin literally shouting at me calling me a liar and defamer (West talked about it a month ago on C-Span). Plus the movie is on Showtime, which has 5 million subscribers and has brought in several hundred emails from members of the general public who just want someone to discuss evolution with which I oblige. So your comment simply misses the mark.

    More importantly, it’s just funny how everyone agrees that the science community is not good with communication, and the mass communication of evolution has not been effective, but when you try to state it publicly you get all these folks who, I guess out of some sort of feeling of loyalty to their profession, feel the need to defend how evolution is communicated. Mostly what I’m saying is that it could be done so much better.

    You want to know how to start — why doesn’t somebody run a film festival for pro-evolution films? THAT is how you reach out to tap into new voices, new blood, new perspectives. THAT is what is desperately needed. Efforts to fan the fires of creativity and innovation. THAT was how I got started as a filmmaker — winning awards at the New England Film and Video Festival while I was still a professor. That festival, and others, drew me into the world of filmmaking. But right now, if a high school kid makes a really great video about evolution, where is he or she supposed to send it? And more importantly, the presence of such a festival becomes an incentive to draw new talent into the subject.

    These things are possible. It’s called supporting innovation. It DOES NOT HAPPEN in the world of science communication right now. I know from experience. I’ve run the gauntlet and managed to survive, but I don’t see any efforts to foster new science filmmakers. And yet we can continue to see large amounts of money poured into the same old sluggish, conservative, large scale “educational” media. There is an exciting new world of filmmaking out there. I see it at USC film school every time I go over there. But the science world isn’t making use of it.

    On a different, and I think very cool, note mentioned above, let me say a few things about “the voice” of evolution. There are basic traits that are more likeable, and less likeable. Cursing and condescending are not likeable and turn the broad audience off. Listening, being patient, and speaking in a genuinely concerned manner (rather than hurling insults) are traits that draw the mass audience in to what you have to say.

    And you want to see the perfect example of this — go see “Expelled” and watch Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers. BOTH of them come across as very friendly, very patient, very likeable, and I’m certain their “performances” undermined a great deal of what the filmmakers were hoping to get with their interviews. There’s not one moment of Dawkins sniping at Ben Stein in the lengthy interview at the end, not one bit of “you dumb ass” type of glare, and so in the end, there’s very little for the atheist haters to cheer at. Both Myers and Dawkins come across as very nice folks that seem totally contented with their views (rather than full of rage and frustration). Film is such a sensitive medium, it takes very little emotion to register very large. They come across great.

    So there, I think, is the proof of a lot of what was discussed above. A lot of potential ammunition for the anti-evolutionists was diffused simply by these spokesmen for evolution NOT coming across as unfriendly folks. I know this sounds superficial and maybe even silly, but guess what film and television are, by definition, as media — superficial and often silly.

  34. #34 Kevin Miller
    April 20, 2008

    J.J. Ramsey said, “I can see someone reading Kevin Miller’s blog and getting the impression that ID detractors are hateful, etc., because Miller wants to send that message.”

    Sorry, J.J., but the commenters on my blog are generating that message loud and clear without any help from me. I’m merely providing a venue. For the record, I don’t moderate my comments at all. The only thing I censor is spam.

  35. #35 Christophe Thill
    April 20, 2008

    There’s already an anti-”Expelled” weampon. Of course, it’s not exactly in the same category. It requires a bit more thought and is a little late accessible to lazy viewers. But it’s wonderfully educative. It’s got drama and politics and science lessons. It’s called “Judgement day”. It should be widely distributed, on DVD for instance. Or even better : the documentary itself should be made freely available on the Net, and a bonus-powered DVD should be sold.

  36. #36 Christophe Thill
    April 20, 2008

    “Wow. I finally slip out to see “Expelled,” and come back to all this. Amazing.”

    Randy,

    Noooo !!! It’s too late. You’ve done it. You’ve increased their statistics. Are you proud of yourself ?
    :-)

  37. #37 Steve Reuland
    April 21, 2008

    You want to know how to start — why doesn’t somebody run a film festival for pro-evolution films?

    That should probably take care of the problem.

    So when do you start?

  38. #38 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Randy wrote “You want to know how to start — why doesn’t somebody run a film festival for pro-evolution films?”.

    Why don’t you organise it? You are a scientist and a film-maker, and you have one successful film under your belt, so are you not the perfect person to initiate this event? I don’t expect you to fund it, or organise it all by yourself, but if you are really serious about this, I do expect you to look into making it happen. Who do you think could help with it?

  39. #39 NP
    April 21, 2008

    Duae Quartunciae:

    One of the recurring notions that comes up in these “us vs them” discussions is that really, we shouldn’t worry about refuting creationism and intelligent design and so on, and just focus on getting people excited about real science, and evolutionary biology. Don’t even mention creationism. Don’t give them the attention. Just get people excited about the real science.

    It’s been done.

    Thank you, Sir David Attenborough.

    I agree for the most part, and as far as long term solutions go, getting kids excited about science and understanding how it works is imperative. Ideally, we should be able to communicate science without resorting to partisanship.

    However, when you have multi-million dollar Creation Museums that essentially teach kids to mistrust scientists, the challenge is far more complex. Teaching parents to appreciate good science is a lot more difficult if they have ideological hang-ups or if they didn’t have the same kind of appreciation when growing up.

    Randy:

    And you want to see the perfect example of this — go see “Expelled” and watch Richard Dawkins and P.Z. Myers. BOTH of them come across as very friendly, very patient, very likeable, and I’m certain their “performances” undermined a great deal of what the filmmakers were hoping to get with their interviews. There’s not one moment of Dawkins sniping at Ben Stein in the lengthy interview at the end, not one bit of “you dumb ass” type of glare, and so in the end, there’s very little for the atheist haters to cheer at. Both Myers and Dawkins come across as very nice folks that seem totally contented with their views (rather than full of rage and frustration). Film is such a sensitive medium, it takes very little emotion to register very large. They come across great.

    From the clips I’ve seen, PZ and Dawkins come across as being quite genial. But apparently PZ’s rather innocuous comparison of religion to knitting apparently drew gasps from certain audiences, so I think this underscores my point that while being nice is usually a good thing, it can only get you so far. This is why I think we need more voices reaching out to different segments of the population through a variety of mediums.

    We also need to recognize that there has been a substantial effort into promoting evolution in their own ways. It’s just not easy when people don’t have vast amounts of financial backing or the Irrefutable Word of God.

  40. #40 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Duae Quartunciae wrote “Just get people excited about the real science. It’s been done. Thank you, Sir David Attenborough.”

    I remember hearing that the Planet Earth TV series, originally narrated by David Attenborough, was re-dubbed for the American market (using Sigourney Weaver), and that the script was changed to avoid mentioning evolution, so that fundies could see it as evidence of God’s design. Sad.

  41. #41 David Marjanovi?
    April 21, 2008

    I remember hearing that the Planet Earth TV series, originally narrated by David Attenborough, was re-dubbed for the American market (using Sigourney Weaver), and that the script was changed to avoid mentioning evolution, so that fundies could see it as evidence of God’s design. Sad.

    Has he sued yet?

    Because he should. Really.

  42. #42 Joel
    April 21, 2008

    Wow. I finally slip out to see “Expelled,”

    Why the f*** would you do that?

  43. #43 MH
    April 21, 2008

    David wrote “Has he sued yet? Because he should. Really.”

    If only! However, it was co-produced by the Discovery Channel, so the changes were no doubt agreed from the beginning. The BBC were hardly in a position to say no on principle.

    On 25 March 2007, the series began its run on American television on Discovery Channel, garnering massive ratings and critical acclaim. It was the most watched show on Discovery since The Flight That Fought Back on 11 September 2005. The show was broadcast on Sundays in one 3-hour block followed by four 2-hour blocks. However, it was heavily edited for time, commercials as well as content. Sigourney Weaver replaced David Attenborough as the narrator.

  44. #44 A Lurker
    April 21, 2008

    “Success in America is not determined by reviews, it’s determined by box office.”

    And more accurately, whether or not it makes a profit.

    Will it? I think it is possible that they won’t make back in theaters what they spent on marketing. Of course the big money could very well be the DVDs which was probably where these guys planned to make their profits anyhow.

    If it does make money, we can expect more such films and probably by more talented movie makers especially since there are a lot of deep pockets that want to win souls.

    I am looking at the B.O. per theater average since that is in contention here. Friday it was #4, Saturday it was #5, and Sunday it was #3. Clearly that is not a bad take for the investment of a screen from the point of view of the theater owner.

    I suspect that the a good portion of fundamentalist who just had to see it have done so. If the movie is as bad as people have claimed the word of mouth will kill it. If these people give it good word of mouth then clearly it will improve.

  45. #45 Andrea Bottaro
    April 21, 2008

    But right now, if a high school kid makes a really great video about evolution, where is he or she supposed to send it?

    A high-school kid? Youtube of course. And that has the potential to reach an audience larger than Flock of Dodos and Expelled combined.

    I find the idea of a “film festival of pro-evolution films” as outreach hopelessly naive, if not just self-important. 99.9% of the public couldn’t name a single major international documentary film festival (let alone a specialized one), and a vast majority probably don’t even know documentary film festivals exist at all.

    That’s not to say that an evolution film festival would not be a good thing for other reasons, of course. You can never have too many good science documentaries. But broad outreach? No way.

    With the exception of really major productions, like the Evolution and Life on Earth series, the best a good, successful documentary about evolution could hope for would be to go straight to the Discovery Channel, maybe NOVA. Something about the political controversy over evolution could play on Frontline, or perhaps on some network late at night. Basically, peanuts.

    I also am surprised at your reading of Dawkins and PZ Myers in Expeleld: all Creationist sources, and even some independent ones, highlight their interviews as the big scores of the movie with respect to making the point to a religious audience that Darwinists are out to get them. Of course, they were dishonestly acquired and edited interviews, but they seem to have been unquestionably effective as propaganda.

  46. #46 Jim Lippard
    April 21, 2008

    “Also, there was very little drop in box office from Friday to Sunday.”

    They went from $1,145 per theater on Friday to $941 per theater on Saturday. I haven’t seen the final numbers for Sunday, but the estimate on Friday was $911 per theater to get the $3.1M weekend total–actual will probably be less.

    I believe “Expelled” was the only opening film to drop in revenue during the course of the weekend.

    Of the other top documentary films of all time, every single one of them opened in fewer theaters and then expanded on good reviews and word of mouth. “Expelled” is almost certainly going to work in the reverse manner–a big opening and decline in revenue and number of theaters on terrible reviews.

    I’ve seen huge traffic bursts to my blog posts about “Expelled” which link to ExpelledExposed.com. I suspect that the more people who do actually see it, the more people will go home, do a Google search on “Expelled,” and then discover how dishonest the producers of the film are.

  47. #47 Paul A
    April 21, 2008

    I’m not sure you can count ‘bums on seats’ as a measure of success here when people are being paid (free bobbleheads, charity donations, etc) to come and see the film. Once the invitations are all sent out will the money keep rolling in? I think not. It’s a very narrow view of success you’re taking here.

    As I wrote over at Greg Laden’s place, what about real success i.e. the film acheiving its aim of exposing the horrific treatment of, and indeed dastardly discrimintation against the stone-age fundamentalists who make up the pro-creationism crowd? Seems to me the audeinces so far will have consisted of the sheeple who already support their drivel and the likes of ScienceBlogs readers who are there for a laugh thanks to the Myers/Dawkins incident. Not really successful by a long shot…

  48. #48 Duae Quartunciae
    April 21, 2008

    After writing the comment here, I kept thinking about it, and the end result is the latest post at my blog: Thank you, Sir David.

    As you can see, I am certainly NOT proposing that we should put all our eggs into one basket and ignore creationists all the time. I do want to celebrate this one magnificent series of beautiful films which make no mention of creationism and which are soaked in evolutionary biology, as a perfectly natural part of our living world. This, I think, can be held up as a good example of successful “framing”, or accessible education in biology.

    At the same time, I ALSO support a forthright and loud response to the Expelled nonsense; and thanks to Randy and many others here who have helped generate that.

    But the most effective use of big budgets is, in my view, to produce more films in the style of the Attenborough documentaries. Don’t make them an attack on creationism; but just let them be a celebration of evolutionary biology.

    I’m shocked and dismayed that these could have been presented reworded to avoid mentioning evolution. Is that legal? How did they get away with it? It certainly would be a horrible disservice to the films. Evolution was not a tacked on addition, but a simple natural background for the the whole thing.

  49. #49 MH
    April 21, 2008

    Actually, Duae, I may be mistaken about the how the content was changed. I’ve been trying to find confirmation, but without success. It’s true that the content was changed, but I can’t say in what way. I think I just assumed that if they were going to change the content, it would be to take out anything that the US market would find controversial, which is evolution, which must have been mentioned in the series, and which virtually no-one in the UK has a problem with. I could be wrong.

    Anyway, my apologies if I misled you.

  50. #50 Bee
    April 21, 2008

    I’ve seen a ‘review’ by one True Believer as a series of comments in the creation/evolution debate section of a large Christian message board. The message s/he got from Expelled was that ‘Darwinists’ lie about what they don’t know, that hate-filled ‘Darwinism’ caused the Holocaust, and that Dawkins believes aliens created humans. Oh, and that people who promote ID are being wrongfully silenced by Darwinists.

    Evolution supporters on that board have been providing huge amounts of educational material, often in simple to access and understand forms for years. They have linked to ExpelledExposed, and to countless other refutations of the film, as well as providing their own arguments. The board is heavily moderated for insulting or abusive language, so everyone has to make an effort to be ‘nice’.

    AFAICS, it has made absolutely no difference to the ID/Creationist/YEC crowd. They see what they want to see. They like to feel persecuted. I don’t think any amount of education or pro-evolution films could change their minds. I suspect the only really effective process for science in the US is to hold hard to separation of church and state in the school system, and hope most school children are at least made aware of real science and how it works.

    A better stab at teaching world history wouldn’t hurt, either. I’ve seen some woefully ignorant ‘historical’ statements from US participants on such boards, and as much as science education being poorly done sets people up for films like Expelled, so does ignorance of the history of anti-Semitism and the role of religions in various wars.

  51. #51 Orac
    April 21, 2008

    You want to know how to start — why doesn’t somebody run a film festival for pro-evolution films?

    Wouldn’t you be the best person presently available to undertake such a project? So why haven’t you run a film festival for pro-evolution films?

  52. #52 Martha
    April 21, 2008

    Randy, we *are* listening. We are trying harder than you give us credit for. I have been repeating to everyone who will listen advice that I solicited from you when you showed Flock of Dodos at a congressional event: that we need to give scientists demerits when they speak badly or give boring presentations. I’ve copied and pasted some of the advice from above to send to colleagues. Would love to send more. Keep it coming.

  53. #53 Martha
    April 21, 2008

    Randy olsen wrote:
    >>But I had heard over a year ago about Ben Stein getting involved in an anti-evolution movie, and I tried to start warning people what was coming.

    And now, the same evolution communications people who ignored the warnings, will figure out their own spin about how the movie was a failure because it got bad reviews. >>

    We’ve been working on it since then too! we have not been sitting back hoping it would go away! please, dont be a hater, just cause we’re not media savvy like you.

    Martha
    a science communicator

  54. #54 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Hi Martha – thanks for the comment. It’s a shame that it’s taken this Ben Stein movie to bring about all these discussions, but … it has. The science world has a long history of problems with mass communication. As Jeremy Jackson mentioned on our blog last week, it was only 5 years ago that I suggested spending a couple million on television commercials for ocean conservation and was attacked and ridiculed by a number of the scientitsts in the audience. Fortunately Al Gore had the savvy and resources to know how important this stuff is, and now a lot fewer people are questioning the idea of spending big on mass communication. It’s the nature of American society. You can try to ignore it, or you can try to understand and use it towards productive ends. The latter IS possible.

    As for the film festival idea, I just blurted that out yesterday in a discussion, but it really is what ought to happen. And I’d love to put it together if the funding were easy to come by, but it’s not. There is massive resistance to anything new when it comes to communicating science, and I’m very busy now with a number of other projects. I have only so much blood to give to these issues, and when it becomes too difficult, it’s just not worth it.

    Still, it’s tempting.

  55. #55 John Lynch
    April 21, 2008

    Quoth Randy:

    I’ve done a lot over the past two years — I personally have taken part in over 50 screenings of Dodos with panel discussions everywhere from Midland, Texas to Panama, from Harvard and Yale to Manhattan, Kansas, night after night of talking myself hoarse about this whole messy issue. I also sat in the conference room at the Discovery Institute and endured two hours of Chapman, Wells, West, and Luskin literally shouting at me calling me a liar and defamer (West talked about it a month ago on C-Span). Plus the movie is on Showtime, which has 5 million subscribers and has brought in several hundred emails from members of the general public who just want someone to discuss evolution with which I oblige. So your comment simply misses the mark.

    Erm, so you promoted your own doc and sepent two hours with the DI. Well done, sir! Well done! And clearly it all hasn’t made a rats ass of a difference because we’re now dealing with “Expelled”.

    You and Nisbet are cut of the same cloth.

  56. #56 mezzobuff
    April 21, 2008

    I saw Flock of Dodos at the Field Museum (Chicago) in conjunction with meandering through the Darwin exhibit… it was a great time and they had scientists from the Field speaking about the film and their experiences teaching evolution afterward.
    Now, the only problem I had was that the movie was poorly advertised, there were maybe 25 people in the audience and we were all supporters of evolution: talk about preaching to the choir!

    So, I wonder if an ‘evolution film festival’ would even be attended?
    The problem at the Field Museum may have been poor PR, but man, there were a LOT of people already there for the Darwin exhibit and the natural progression for us was to see Dodos (which was a good piece, I might add). For the rest, it simply didn’t happen. Why?

    So, where do you have the festival? At a college? Museum? Who are you trying to draw into the Festival? People who already believe or fence-sitters? How might it be advertised to get as many attendees as possible, especially when there seems to be a lot of festivals already in existence? Could you piggy-back another festival or create a category within an already existing festival? How might this really affect the issues at hand (important ones that deal with legislation, etc)?

    Just questions…

  57. #57 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    And exactly who are you, John Lynch?

  58. #58 Wes
    April 21, 2008

    Randy,

    Expelled has a built in audience of fundamentalist churches, to whom they’ve been marketing for months. It’s not at all surprising that they got some money. That’s the result of having a built in audience. What did you expect?

    But considering the size of the audience already predisposed towards creationism, $3 mil is not “HUGE” at all, given the size of the evangelical and fundamentalist constituency in America. It’s much, much smaller than what they were predicting and hoping for, and it’s with church groups going to see the movie all over the country. The producers were hoping for something like $12 mil. They didn’t even get close, which might be because they’re not reaching as broad of an audience as they hoped. At $10 a ticket that’s about 300,000 fundamentalists going to see a movie with their church groups, perfectly within the realm of possibility. These people are already hard core creationists, so it’s not like the movie will be swaying potential science allies away if this is the case.

    Is there any evidence, any evidence at all, that Expelled is reaching beyond that crowd? Is there any evidence that Expelled will turn enough of a profit to make these types of movies attractive (ie, to encourage more such movies)? Is Expelled converting anyone? I certainly haven’t seen such evidence, and a $3 mil take certainly proves no such thing.

    I simply cannot follow the logic you and Chris are using. You’re reading much, much more into this opening than the evidence seems to warrant. It seems to me that you’re using the results of Expelled’s built in audience to impeach scientists for–what? Not converting enough fundamentalists? Not marketing to evangelical churches in Chattanooga, TN?

    When I see solid evidence that Expelled has reached a broad audience, I’ll start taking you more seriously. But that evidence has not yet emerged. The evidence so far is consistent with them just preaching to the already convert, and you’re deluded if you think scientists can prevent that from happening. How could anyone prevent that? And why would that count as a “huge success”?

  59. #59 William
    April 21, 2008

    First off, thanks to MH (#40) for scaring me into thinking that my DVD copy of Planet Earth, which I have been saving to watch when television becomes *really* depressing, might have been narrated by Sigourney Weaver instead of Sir David Attenborough. Not that I mind Weaver, but, honestly, her or Sir David?

    Second, I think that ERV’s response was correct, in that she has been attacked by some of these people (as she mentioned) – I’d take that personally too. I’ve never been on the receiving end of that particular level of viciousness, but I hope that I have a good response ready to deliver when and if I ever am. I think that her frustration – and that of many others – comes from having to take *every* IDiot or creationist attack seriously, as you never know which one will stick. Is Expelled it, though? Is that the best that they can do, and if so, is their best enough?

    Third, what should our response be? Randy (and here I should say that I really liked A Flock of Dodos, by the way, saw it at one of the Kansas City screenings with Steve Case moderating, then at another screening, then when my wife bought the DVD for me), suggests a film festival. Great. So what goes in the film festival? Does it need to be a “film festival + plus…” what? What about a David Attenborough / Carl Sagan / James Burke and the like festival, or are there more films about evolution specifically? It troubles me that I can’t think of any.

    I guess what I’m really asking is this: where do we go from here? Where? Is this a case of “Don’t mourn. Organise.” in the union / activist sense?

    I’m totally prepared to host a miniature film festival in my home, but I’d be completely baffled as to how to do it on the broader scale. I guess there is such a thing as learning on the fly…

  60. #60 James Hanley
    April 21, 2008

    I disagree with Randy about the success of “Expelled,” but the vitriolic responses sent his way are a bit shocking. Look, folks, he’s not pissing in your Wheaties because he’s against you–he thinks scientists as a whole don’t do mass communication well, and he’s right. And this whole, “well, what have you done? Oh, that’s not enough so shut the fuck up” business is pathetic. He’s one guy for pete’s sake–if all of us did as much and as well as him, we’d have a lot more impact.

  61. #61 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Perception is reality. The movie finished in the top ten for the weekend. Take a look at all the weekend box office round up reports. The Morgan Spurlock movie (thankfully) totally flopped, and is reported as such. None of the reports I’ve seen so far say the Ben Stein movie flopped. Whether the filmmakers had hoped for $100 million opening is irrelevant. What matters is how the business community perceived it’s performance on opening weekend — that will determine the DVD roll out.

    Anyhow, I’m getting tired of reading all these box office analyses from people whose limit of knowledge is the articles they’ve read about how the box office works. Last September I made a post on Pharyngula commenting on the high quality of their trailer and obvious cost of the music cue (“Bad to the Bone”), trying to warn everyone this was a serious movie with serious resources behind it, and then got shouted off by all the experts there who were certain the movie would be amateurish and never see the light of day.

    Perception is reality. They splashed Comedy Central last week with very slick ads then made enough box office over the weekend to not be labeled a flop. All I’m doing here is examining the truth of what has transpired. This is supposed to be a science oriented community on these blogs. You’d think there would be some interest in the truth.

    To state the truth doesn’t mean you are abandoning the world of evolution.

  62. #62 Dave Wisker
    April 21, 2008

    ERV writes:

    “In ‘Flock’ you made it perfectly clear that Creationists are just jolly ol folks that you want to have a beer with.”

    Actually, I’d like to see them after more than one beer (like the evolutionary biologists in the film). I wonder if they would apepar so nice and reasonable then.

  63. #63 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Filmmaking is about storytelling. In Dodos we told a story with clear characters. I cast the creationists/intelligent designers as “nice folks,” but their whole story is told in a single shot at the opening of the film of Connie Morris smiling and winking. A few very literal minded people said, “you need to explain to the viewer that this is a horrible person — you’ve made her seem nice.” But most people read the entire story in that single wink — it said it all. It didn’t need any further explanation. And none of the reviews of the film ever said those people are genuinely nice folks, they only said that on the surface they seem like nice folks. There’s a big difference.

  64. #64 NP
    April 21, 2008

    I think a lot of people are still missing the point here.

    I wrote this as a comment on Chris’ blog, but I think it is apt here as well:

    The only reasons we should care if Expelled makes a profit or not are (i) just for the satisfaction of it, and (ii) a concern that it will inspire more ID propaganda flicks in the future.

    Other than that, the real concerns should be how the film is influencing the public. People say that this film is preaching to the converted, but that’s almost assuming that these people will never change their minds. While it’s certainly true that some never will, there’s no shortage of examples of fundamentalist Christians who have gone on to accept evolution. It’s hard to know just going by box office statistics, but it would probably be safe to say that the film is at least reinforcing many misconceptions or paranoias that some members of the public may have. From that perspective, it is a success for the ID propaganda machine – regardless of how much they profit from it.

    In fact, Expelled was a partial success even before it hit the screens. What role did it play in Florida’s “academic freedom” bill? The notoriety of the film gave Ben Stein the opportunity to spew his nonsense at the Missouri Capitol. The kind of success that should matter to us is the extent to which this film influences public policy and our educational systems, not its financial success.

    For what it’s worth, I think there is something we can do at this moment in time, and that is to capitalize on the modest buzz generated by the film. This is a good time to get those “frames” out there.

  65. #65 Davis
    April 21, 2008

    I think one of the commenters over at Dispatches presented an insightful analysis:

    [A] Tupac Shakur documentary a few years ago beat Expelled’s opening weekend by 1.5 million in 250 fewer theaters. I dropped the Top 100 documentaries page from Box Office Mojo into Excel to look at the per theater take and that really shows how poorly they’ve done. Only four of the top 100 did worse per theater than Expelled. Super Size Me made $12,601 per theater compared to Expelled’s $2,997.

    Randy, I must ask — what sort of take would you have considered to be failure? This is a documentary with a huge built-in audience, a big marketing push, and the widest-ever release for a documentary (so comparing it to a Michael Moore film seems pretty fair). I honestly don’t see how we should have expected anything less than $3 million (or about 3-400,000 viewers) under those conditions.

    Let’s look at this again in a week, and see how well they’re maintaining their audience, and holding on to those 1000 screens.

  66. #66 M.
    April 21, 2008

    “And none of the reviews of the film ever said those people are genuinely nice folks, they only said that on the surface they seem like nice folks.”

    So expose them. Make a movie! Hire a well known figure. Get some animators together. You are the filmmaker among us.

    I’m not sure what you expected here, Randy. You “warned” the science community that we are failing at communication. Well, that’s unfortunate – but what do you want us to do? Everyone I know is working 60-80 hour weeks doing research, everyone is in grant-writing hell, and we get paid peanuts compared to the stress and time commitment of the job.

    So, what exactly did you expect to be the response to your warning? That a bunch of scientists would quit their jobs and start working at popularizing science?

    If one of you Nisbetian “oh scientists are such bad communicators” guys stands up and starts a project, we’ll get behind you. I paid to see your last film, I’ll pay more to support you in making a better one.

    Put a project together, put a script together, price things out, and start a funding drive. Tell everyone about the film you’re making. Explain what you are doing clearly. You’ll get the money, and then you can respond to Stein.

    . . .

    But do make sure that the response doesn’t do more for the creationists then it does for science.

    You made a movie where you compared the behavior of sober creationists talking to their opponents (and naturally being diplomatic) with the behavior of drunk scientists bitching to their friends.

    Have you ever seen a group of drunk creationists discussing evolution among themselves? Or even sober creationists? Those scientists have nothing on them – the words “demons” and “liars” are the least offensive used. Hell, you can get worse if you just listen to a sermon in one of their churches.

    Frankly, I am sick and tired of this stereotype. I have seen professors challenged by creationists for years, and only once have I seen a hostile response. Most of the time, the worst you can say about the professor’s behavior is that he/she is a bit bemused; but practically all of them responded respectfully, thoroughly, and without aggression. In fact, it was the creationists who came off as angry and aggressive.

    People are doing, every day, exactly what you suggested they do – within their capabilities.

    However, the limiting factors remain that this is not our full time job (unlike Ben Stein and other behind Expelled), and few of us are as effective in public speaking as we would like to be.

    That does not mean it’s ok to label us all as hostile, arrogant buffoons. That is what the creationists keep “framing” us as, to use Nisbetian terminology, and people who support science should stop pandering to this frame.

  67. #67 Tulse
    April 21, 2008

    What matters is how the business community perceived it’s performance on opening weekend — that will determine the DVD roll out. [...] I made a post on Pharyngula commenting on the high quality of their trailer and obvious cost of the music cue (“Bad to the Bone”), trying to warn everyone this was a serious movie with serious resources behind it

    Right, as you point out the film obviously cost a lot both in production and promotion, and what will the business community see for all that cost? Will those costs actually be recovered by the film? Will it actually make money based on its opening, and likely trajectory at the box office? Do you have any info on what the production costs of the film were? (I’ve seen estimates, but nothing solid.)

    For business folks perception isn’t reality — hard numbers are. No matter the buzz, if Expelled can’t make back its obvious high costs, it’s not going to impress anyone in the business. Remember that evangelicals are already being marketed to heavily with films like Passion of the Christ and the Narnia series — if you were investing money to target that demographic, would you want a big blockbuster, or a tiny documentary?

  68. #68 JuliaL
    April 21, 2008

    Andrea Bottaro,

    I also am surprised at your reading of Dawkins and PZ Myers in Expeleld: all Creationist sources, and even some independent ones, highlight their interviews as the big scores of the movie with respect to making the point to a religious audience that Darwinists are out to get them. Of course, they were dishonestly acquired and edited interviews, but they seem to have been unquestionably effective as propaganda.

    Extremely effective as propaganda.

    I went to see the movie this weekend because I can’t expect to have any credibility in discussing it with my church friends if I haven’t seen it.

    I’m comfortable with the context of witty debate, and, viewed as part of that context, Myers and Dawkins were clever and surprisingly mild-mannered.

    I’m also familiar with the context of conservative Christian conversations about religion, and in that context, Myers and Dawkins look cold, callous, arrogant, and hateful.

    Myers takes something that the audience treasures as the most valuable element of their lives, the source of comfort in pain and tragedy, the source of the ethical and social systems they live by, and compares it to a trivial hobby (accompanied by ad by an old clip of an ugly, foolish-looking woman knitting). The very off-handedness of his comment reads as a powerful insult. The method by which one is dealing with the death of a child, the way in which one makes life-altering decisions, all a trivial hobby? That doesn’t come across so much as a put-down of religion as a dismissing of the pain, hopes, and lives of the people themselves.

    Dawkins’ face, with a sort of nose-in-the-air “I’m better-than-you” implication is used as a theme in the movie. The climax reveals Dawkins saying that intelligent design could have occurred, and left a sort of signature that can be recognized, if life had arrived here from outside, and Stein interprets this as “aliens” created the world (complete with a silly clip of an alien). The audience sees this as arrogant know-it-all evolution scientist believing in science fiction notions and, when pushed to admit the truth, acknowledging that Stein is right about claiming that Intelligent Design is a reasonable idea.

    Stein repeatedly asks Dawkins about his belief in God (Do you believe in any of the Hindu gods?) and Dawkins responds with impatience and anger, apparently without reason, as for the audience this level of detail makes sense in trying to understand an atheist claim not to believe in God.

    The movie shows Stein arriving neat and dignified-looking straight from a taxi ride to talk with Dawkins, while we see Dawkins having make-up applied in preparation. There is no sense he is preparing to be filmed in a movie, just a feeling that this is what he does to get ready for a conversation with the honest Stein who seems to have made no effort to fake a better aappearance. Even with the make-up, Dawkins looks a little wild and unkempt, as the camera zooms in to pick up nose hairs and a little patch of hair sticking out over one ear.

    The supposedly persecuted Sternberg and others appear at the beginning of the film as calm, pleasant, reasonable, and quite rightly bewildered at being denied the opportunity even to speak of a view that has scientific promise. Contrast that with Dawkins at the end appearing to agree that Intelligent Design is a legitimate idea, and the movie makes a powerful case for Intelligent Design to replace the “Darwinism” of callous, arrogant atheists whose ideas helped the Holocaust to happen.

    As a Christian who is entirely comfortable with the scientific Theory of Evolution, I hope that very few of my fellow church members see this movie because I think its effect may be hard to counteract. I’m sorry to see today so much scienceblog discussion focused on money – for the fundamentalists, this is an investment in missions, not a source of income – and so much less focused on what a powerful tool this movie is for turning a religious person who has known and cared little about the evolution/ID struggle in public schools into a determined advocate for ID.

  69. #69 Andrea Bottaro
    April 21, 2008

    The Morgan Spurlock movie (thankfully) totally flopped, and is reported as such. None of the reports I’ve seen so far say the Ben Stein movie flopped.

    That may be, but “Where in the world is Osama bin Laden” brought in just about half the money per theater than “Expelled” ($1,401 vs $2,997). Seems like a pretty narrow range between “totally flopping” and doing VERY VERY well, doesn’t it?

    And Spurlock did it without any multi-million dollar PR campaign, drumbeat free publicity from ideologically allied media, audience-busing and ticket promotions. Actual production costs aside, it’s even quite arguable that, financially, Spurlock’s flick is probably ahead of Stein’s right now.

    We will know in a couple weeks whether Expelled was ultimately a flop or not, but until a few days ago, Ruloff was cockily telling the LA Times (the paper that Hollywood folks read with their skim lattes, I guess) that “the film could top the $23.9-million opening for Michael Moore’s polemic against President Bush, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the best launch ever for a documentary”.

    So, whether or not the Expelled producers make their money in the end, they’ve dug themselves a hole from which they’ll have a hard time climbing out to escape the “looser” label. And I am not even talking about the stain that the kind of scathing reviews Expelled has been getting leave on one’s resume. Perception is reality, I hear.

  70. #70 Mark Powell
    April 21, 2008

    Shoot the messenger. Go ahead, fire away at Randy. That’ll really help advance public understanding of evolution.

    I may not always agree with Randy on everything, but he’s uniquely qualified among this crowd to analyze the Expelled situation and tell us what’s happening. We all ought to listen.

  71. #71 michael fugate
    April 21, 2008

    As a scientist and educator, I see what filmmakers like Randy do and what I do as very different things. I want my students to learn how to think critically and evaluate evidence. This takes time and effort and could never be accomplished in a 90 minute movie. I could write test questions like “evolution is a) true, b) false” or “science is a) good, b) bad”, but that is propaganda not education.
    Framing is easy – education is hard. Apparently filmmakers think they have accomplished something if people show up and tell their friends it was a “good” movie and they should go. Getting people in the door is success. A film doesn’t even have to make sense for people to go and be entertained.
    The lies of this movie will come back to haunt the producers – evolution will win out it the long run, just as it has in Europe and Japan – just as heliocentrism won out before. It takes time. Quick fixes with frames and lies won’t help in the long run.
    Look what happened to Bush and Iraq – the lies have caught up to him and most people no longer support our occupation.

  72. #72 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    Randy Olson: … film and television are, by definition, as media — superficial and often silly.

    Isn’t this the crux of the problem: trying to squeeze the rectilinear (and very, very big) peg of science into the amoeboid (and tiny) hole of pop entertainment?

    Religion and demagoguery fit quite well into this format, which leads to serious presidential candidates having to endure hours of “debate” questions from nitwit network ninnies while the nation’s economy, environment, military and social institutions implode. How many scientists would find it worthwhile to endure such humiliation?

    A few more Bill Nyes, Carl Sagans, and Fiorella Terenzis would be nice, but to expect the kind of people who make careers in science to enter that arena – and to scold them when they decline – is like asking Formula One drivers to enter Monster Truck pulling competitions, or inviting a master chef to a Three Stooges pie party.

    It just ain’t going to happen, and that is arguably a Good Thing.

    If there is a solution to this, it might be found by inverting Randy O’s suggestion: stop haranguing the scientists to become entertainers, and find ways to motivate the filmmakers to embrace science.

  73. #73 Steve
    April 21, 2008

    Randy – I’ve thought some of the things you’re expressing many times. When I think about the numbers, I wonder at the efficacy of the tactics of Dawkins and those who represent his worldview. While I enjoy listening to Dawkins, I can’t imagine that even the most open minded ‘religious’ listener (he really means Christian) will react well to being told that any belief in a higher power is a mental aberration or disease. At least here in the US (where most of the problem is, in the western world) 75%+ or so self-identify as ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’, while 50%+ agree with the assertion “all living things evolve over time”. This means that if legal defense of the separation of church and state is important to “us”, and we recognize the importance of evidence-based reasoning, (ie, anti-fundies), we’ll need to engage a significant number of “moderate religious” in our cause. Something tells me we won’t accomplish that by telling them they are mentally aberrant or mentally deficient.

    The “Fundamentalist Atheists”, like Dawkins and PZ, seem to refuse to acknowledge that there are people who are religious, yet not 1) Christian, or 2) Fundamentalist. Instead they set themselves up on the idealistic ‘opposite end’ from Fundy Christians. Having been raised as such, I’m familiar with the dialog, and I hear it from Dawkins independent of the message. Many ‘religious’ people of all flavors see their religion as personal and allegorical, and the opposition of religion and observable data never conflicts, because they don’t attribute claims to their religion that are in opposition to observable data.

    Consider the point that I’ve met several people who see the entire Christian religion’s focus as the Golden Rule ( been years since my young indoctrination and I don’t wanna go wade through an online bible right now to find the citation, but it’s where Christ says “love your neighbor as you love yourself” ); the Golden Rule makes no claims in opposition to observable data. We don’t need to engage those who already agree with the separation of church and state, the importance of teaching our children scientific thinking, the importance of peer review, the importance of evidence-based reasoning. Those people are already offended by Expelled. The people you need to engage are the “middle ground”. The people who are willing to segment – for whatever reason – their religious view from their conviction of evidence, willing to reject claims in opposition to observable data as allegorical illustrations meant for edification rather than literal emulation.

  74. #74 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    BTW, am I the only one to find it strange that Randy Olson has no comments on Expelled in terms of filmmaking?

  75. #75 Bad
    April 21, 2008

    Randy, I still think the question here is: who are you talking to?

    You’re a rare bird amongst scientists. Most don’t have the time of day to spend with their families after all their work, much less make movies. And they aren’t likely to be very good at movie-making either.

    The only reason we ever get scientists that are good at messaging to the public (like Sagan) is because out of millions of scientists, we had to get lucky sometime. But science as a whole just isn’t set up to be a messaging machine… and I’m not sure it would benefit by moving in that direction in any case. Scientists aren’t a grand cabal that can organize campaigns: their whole profession is based on criticizing each other for goodness sakes.

    And even if scientists were to organize to create a campaign to fight against this stuff… what would the message be? Grand scientist conspiracy to keep ID geniuses down.

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m totally sympathetic to your goals and your criticisms of our weaknesses are spot on. I just think the problem is a lot more complex, and I’m just not sure who you think there is to appeal to to make the changes you want to see. I’m on board with any ideas you have to improve things, but I’m just not sure there’s much hope at all of a centralized movement amongst scientists and science-organizations taking up the slack and all playing from the same playbook.

  76. #76 ERV
    April 21, 2008

    Randy– I dont think you are ‘the enemy’. I liked ‘Flock’ (except for the rosy frame you put around Creationists). However there could be 5 super science movies with lots of lasers and boobies and fundie church youth groups arent going to bus people in to see them.

    Which is my initial complaint when the fr*ming fiasco first arose– How do you get the pro-science message to the people who need it the most?

    I think what we are doing, exposing these frauds on the internet, is the best way. Kid goes to see EXPELLED with her church group. She is horrified at how Big Science treats God. She goes home, Googles ‘EXPELLED’ to learn more, and finds Expelled Exposed. She educates herself, starts questioning things, hurray!

    For instance, Kevin Miller, who recently graced your blog with his presence, is a lowlife piece of shit. I dont have the means to make a documentary about that, nor do I think there would be an audience for it, yet I can write a blog post about him and his putrid band of Creationist rats stealing from PBS, disseminating that information far and wide, for free.

    Movies and documentaries are nice, but theyre kinda an old school way of moving information. Blags are where its at, man :P

  77. #77 Davis
    April 21, 2008

    Here’s a little re-framing of the numbers for Expelled (which I also posted at Mr. Mooney’s place):

    3-400,000 people saw Expelled this weekend. That’s 3-400 per screen over 3 days. Assuming 6 showings per screen over the weekend, that’s 50-65 people per showing, on an opening weekend. I’d consider that a low bar for success for a multi-million dollar film.

  78. #78 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 21, 2008

    The problem with this post, what got people (or at least me) riled up is that it pointlessly, misleadingly denigrates what’s already been done on fighting Expelled. Sure, campaign to get the organizations you mention to back young film makers, but don’t smear the activists already out there for the sake of your “I told you so” moment.

  79. #79 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Sorry. Been a busy day of errands. I started to write my review of the movie last night, but then saw this discussion blowing up, so diverted my attention here. I’ll give you my review in a single word: sucks. It’s a largely tedious and boring movie for which the music score is really annoyingly lousy — the score doesn’t go anywhere, just keeps pounding you over the head. The movie doesn’t tell much of a story — just Ben Stein asking one question after another, “Well if this is the case, then how can they say this …?” Tiresome, tiresome, tiresome. Given the dishonest way they got the interviews with PZ, Dawkins, and others I had expected to see some dirty tricks with the editing, but there really weren’t any. And PZ has said he would have given the same interview if they hadn’t been dishonest.

    As I mentioned earlier, I thought the most delightful aspect was that all of the pro-evolution folks came off as very level headed, patient, and friendly. This goes a LONG way with the members of the general public who know absolutely nothing about this issue. The evolutionists didn’t come off as smug, just honest. People can sense that. As far as the Holocaust segment goes, its a simple point that’s been made before — that sometime people take things from the world of science and use them towards evil ends. And that’s even assuming there was any discussion of Darwin in Hitler’s scheming. Dawkins has pointed out on his website that there’s not a single mention of Darwin in “Mein Kampf.” And on the Sternberg issue — we were set to interview a Smithsonian staff member in the summer of 2005 to talk about that, but the communications folks at Smithsonian canceled it. But I had already heard the story. Sternberg was being forced out of his space because he had run out of funding. He is the one who conflated it with the separate issue of what he did with the journal editorship. So, yes, the movie is very dishonest — though calling it “sleazy” as the NY Times review did is a bit of an overreach. Dishonest is a sufficient label. And the much worse insult is simply that it’s boring. Everyone in my group agreed with that. And in fact, in our theater of about 300 seats, my three friends and I were exactly 4/9 of the audience. But that sort of just showed they knew what they were doing — they only booked it into one theater in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. They knew there was no audience. But the box office shows they knew of many other places where there were audiences.

    As a result, I don’t see the movie as any sort of long term threat. Yes, it will fold up like a cheap beach chair within a couple weeks. But again, it’s just a shame that it appears right now without any equal and opposite film to point to. A month ago when PZ and Dawkins had their encounter with the film in Minneapolis it would have been great for them, in the NY Times article, to have plugged the upcoming pro-evolution film. But there is none.

    And as for what I can/should do about the warnings I offered … I’ve tried. I don’t want to go into the details in public, but suffice it to say, I’ve tried. Very hard. The major science agencies, though they talk about their concern for science communication, all seem pretty solidly set on a traditional course of funding the same people to do the same things. Not a one of them has ever reached out to me for any input, involvement, or even just a few thoughts. What can you do. There is no tradition of independent filmmaking in the world of science.

    Lastly, regarding the usual accusation that I’m saying scientists need to go to beauty school and take acting lessons — that’s not what I’m saying at all. We had this argument already in February, 2006 when Carl Zimmer was on our panel at the Yale screening, wrote a nice review, then PZ Myers, having not yet seen the film, tore into me for supposedly wanting to make scientists “go Hollywood” and stuff. Come on. We all know that’s not gonna happen.

    There are two components to science communication — the communicators and the scientists. The science communicators live in fear of the scientists, and scientists are in the position of demanding quality control and better performance. There are two main parts to any piece of science media — the accuracy of the content, and whether its interesting to the intended audience. Scientists do a tremendous job enforcing quality control with the former — if anyone writes an article or makes a film full of mistakes they will get the wrath of the science community. But there is little concern about the latter. If someone makes a boring documentary, scientists either shrug or fail to see it as boring. Part of what I’m advocating is for scientists to take a greater role in demanding media that is not only accurate, but also compelling, interesting, and motivational to the broad audience. You don’t have to go train yourself as a speaker. You can just go buy the latest documentary, give it to your non-science neighbors, and when they tell you they fell asleep, then contact the makers and ask why.

    There is a need for more modern approaches to the creation of mass media. There are new ways to communicate. But there is no evidence of innovation to explore these new ways. Which takes us back to the film festival idea. New voices are needed. Not me. I’ve said my piece. There are ways to infuse energy into the younger generation. But it’s not happening.

  80. #80 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    ERV – I made a short film a couple years with Pulitzer Prize-nominated environmental writer Mark Dowie in which he cited Saul Alinski, the great grassroots organizer of the 1960′s who talked about, “Total Tactics.” Which means that there is no single best way to do these things. If there’s an agenda at work, you need everyone working at all levels to make it work (which I think is what you’re saying).

    You need the grassroots people showing up at screenings and enlightening the general public, and you the large organizations making mass media that will draw in the general public and provide motivation. Ripping the heads off the opposition is a powerful but delicate part of the process. In the right venue it can help motivate the masses and is ESSENTIAL. In the wrong venue it can backfire. I’ve seen both. And I’ve done both. I took acting classes a decade ago that helped me see how bad the whole situation of “rising above” (condescending, talking down) can be in arguments. I made a movie in which that was one of the major points. And I ended up on at least one panel discussion after a screening in which I was really, really condescending to the creationists in the audience (um … “do as I say, not as I do”). But it’s still a fundamental dynamic of mass communication — the broad audience doesn’t like to see arrogance and condescension (and, yes, I know, cue the comments about how arrogant and condescending I am — I wasn’t in Dodos, but yes, I am at times here in these discussions — its a different audience). These are very superficial elements, but they make a difference to the audience that is new to the topic and trying to make their mind up. There’s more detail on this if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Blink.” We live in an increasingly media driven society. The best thing we can do for starters is try to understand how these things work. And know how rapidly the communication environment is changing. The only way we can keep up with such change, as we all know from studying natural selection, is through innovation.

  81. #81 M.
    April 21, 2008

    “And as for what I can/should do about the warnings I offered … I’ve tried. I don’t want to go into the details in public, but suffice it to say, I’ve tried. Very hard. The major science agencies, though they talk about their concern for science communication, all seem pretty solidly set on a traditional course of funding the same people to do the same things.”

    Have you tried bringing it to the (scientific) public?

    Put it up here. Start a drive for making an anti-ID documentary. Make it religion-friendly – show how ID is not just bad science, but also bad theology. If PZ whines that you aren’t being sufficiently atheistic, ignore it. Get other ScienceBloggers behind you. Open a donation fund. Register a non-profit. Collect funding.

    Do you think that isn’t worth a try?

    Science funding agencies aren’t going to fund you, almost certainly. People concerned about science just might.

  82. #82 TJ Murphy
    April 21, 2008

    ERV-I admire your passion for the issue, your blog usually cracks me up, but I don’t think you understand the opposition as well as you might. And if you did, maybe you’d rethink the problem and the approach.

    Very few people around this sciblog area seem to understand that the American fundamentalism culture from which creationism was born and continues to breath is, as Martin Marty says, “intentionally scandalous”.

    By that he means that they define themselves and their group by who are the outsiders. In other words, the confrontation you so willingly engage serve their needs masterfully. Opposition nurtures their movement. It defines their borders, it gives them their identity.

    In this instance, in what I think is almost by quirk of history–Protestant fundamentalism arose and needed an enemy pretty much right when Darwin’s ideas took root outside of Europe–evolution sort of wandered into their cross hairs.

    I mean, only by the grace of god, Maxwell’s equations were spared.

    Go figure how things might have turned out if the fundamentalists rejected electricity instead of evolution.

    But I agree with Randy’s general premise.

    A clever ‘got milk’ type “mammary glands evolved” ad campaign, with a sexy female hominid, perhaps Lucy, posed seductively on billboards everywhere, would do more to undercut the fundamentalist’s ability to frame the biological scientist as bogeyman than will an infinite number of logical blog arguments and or rants posted per day.

    Of course, it wouldn’t be scientifically accurate to humanize a 3 million year old hominid, a deception that would probably get the more asper-like of us all a twitter.

    But an infomercial with Lucy begging her dad for a new cell phone with an unlimited texting plan would make her look a lot more like a hominid than the monkey the creationists see her as. And that is the only point that needs to be made.

    ps, hey Randy!

  83. #83 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    HEY T.J.! How’s it going. I’ve got a new movie coming together that we’ll be announcing in the next month or so, and will definitely need to find a way to bring it to Emory. Maybe join forces with a friend at Ga. Tech for two screenings. I’ll be in touch soon.

    And M. – thanks very much for the thoughts, but there are limits to how difficult this stuff can be. I’ve moved on to other projects — like this new movie, some other features, some tv projects, plus writing a book. It takes A LOT of money to make movies. And its definitely worth it if they succeed. But finding that money, realistically, is very difficult.

  84. #84 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 21, 2008

    >There is a need for more modern approaches to the creation of mass media. There are new ways to communicate. But there is no evidence of innovation to explore these new ways.

    Oh sweet lord, would you stop a moment and realize where you’re saying this? ScienceBlogs.com, remember? The palce where a biologist from Minnesota leads the pack in terms of readers?

  85. #85 randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Sorry, but television and film are still WAY more powerful modes of mass communication in our society than blogs. That’s not to take away from blogs — they are very important. But I continue to be stunned when I give talks and ask how many people are aware of Scienceblogs and almost no hands go up — its still not the mass phenomenon that it may feel like, but its certainly important and growing.

  86. #86 Science Avenger
    April 21, 2008

    “The evolution community has been taken to the cleaners. It’s very unfortunate. Didn’t have to happen. But it has. What’s important now is to do an honest assessment of it, then consider NEW ways of dealing the mass communication of evolution. So far I’m not hearing any evidence of that happening.”

    This has to be the most delusional, out-of-touch post I’ve ever seen on sciblogs. Expelled is going to lose millions of dollars, got eviscerated by every potential new ally, and clearly played to the choir and little else. No one, NO ONE who views this situation objectively could reach the conclusions you have.

    The only people that got taken to the cleaners here Olson are you, and everyone else who predicted this movie would be a success and now don’t have the balls to admit they were wrong. Shame on the lot of you.

  87. #87 NP
    April 21, 2008

    michael fugate:

    As a scientist and educator, I see what filmmakers like Randy do and what I do as very different things. I want my students to learn how to think critically and evaluate evidence. This takes time and effort and could never be accomplished in a 90 minute movie. I could write test questions like “evolution is a) true, b) false” or “science is a) good, b) bad”, but that is propaganda not education. Framing is easy – education is hard. Apparently filmmakers think they have accomplished something if people show up and tell their friends it was a “good” movie and they should go. Getting people in the door is success. A film doesn’t even have to make sense for people to go and be entertained. The lies of this movie will come back to haunt the producers – evolution will win out it the long run, just as it has in Europe and Japan – just as heliocentrism won out before. It takes time. Quick fixes with frames and lies won’t help in the long run. Look what happened to Bush and Iraq – the lies have caught up to him and most people no longer support our occupation.

    Certainly the long term goal needs to be a focus on science education and getting more members of the public to think like scientists. But in the short term, formal education simply isn’t an option for the average joe.

    People continually turn to mass media sources for their information on science and technology. We’re “cognitive misers” as the framers say. Therefore, science communication in addition to education is vital for the public understanding of science. In the long run, the best science will gain wider acceptance; but as Keynes said, in the long run we’ll all be dead. I don’t think a laissez-faire approach is going to work if we’re concerned about the immediate generation.

    I think part of the problem is many scientists only feel they have a responsibility towards their students and not the public. I think this needs to change; I’m not saying that researchers need to start making documentaries and go on speaking tours, but there needs to be more synergy between ivory-tower scientists and educators who cater to the masses.

  88. #88 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    There is a need for more modern approaches to the creation of mass media. There are new ways to communicate. But there is no evidence of innovation to explore these new ways.

    Is there any indication that Premise Media is exploring new ways?

    Did the MIT Media Lab crash so hard that nothing remains?

    Are XVIVO & colleagues chopped liver?

    Why don’t science wikis, blogs & granfaloons count?

  89. #89 MutantQ
    April 21, 2008

    Randy, I apologize for being a real jerk last night.

    Yes “Expelled” showed up in the “Top Ten,” at the very bottom. Yes, they pulled about $3 million, not bad for a documentary, but far, far less than the fundies anticipated. Not only that, consider this from the movie analysts at Rotten Tomatoes:

    Ben Stein’s new documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was a surprise face in the top ten popping into the number nine spot with an estimated $3.2M. Averaging a mild $2,997 from 1,052 locations, the PG-rated film about creationism was aimed at Christian audiences by distributor rocky Mountain Pictures. Expelled was the only film in the top ten to see Saturday sales drop from Friday so a long life in theaters is not likely. (Emphasis mine.)

    Now, I confess, I myself was afraid of the movies potential given the popularity of the various breeds of Creationism in America. I think that a this first weekend’s return showed me that I was being a little alarmist. This movie is a flash in the pan. In a few weeks, “Expelled” will be “Expelled” from the theaters and soon it when end up in the bargin-DVD-rack where it belongs. The only audience interested in seeing “Expelled” on it’s merits are the Creationists. Their is no stampede by average Americans to see this leaker.

    Trust me, in a few years, “Expelled” will be to biology what “Refeer Madness” is to drug prohibition: a joke.

    Now, would it be nice if someone were to make a pro-science movie to counter “Expelled” (hell, I want to see someone make a skeptical response to “What The Bleep Do We Know?”)? Sure! However, given the complexity of the subject matter, making something that is going to set the public straight on evolution and be entertaining to a mass audience is a pretty tall order. If it can be done, I’d happily lay down $10 bucks to see it.

  90. #90 MutantQ
    April 21, 2008

    Oh! I forget to link to my Rotten Tomatoes Quote! Sorry!

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/forbidden_kingdom/news/1723254/

  91. #91 Pierce R. Butler
    April 21, 2008

    …Scienceblogs … — its still not the mass phenomenon that it may feel like, but its certainly important and growing.

    Ah, I remember when science fiction was at that point.

    Then “sci fi” became a mass phenomenon, and the signal/noise ratio fell with a sickening crunch.

    Do and say memorable things, folks: this is the Golden Age.

  92. #92 The Uncredible Hallq
    April 21, 2008

    Re: randy Olson

    If you think we should be focusing on things that have been well-established for over half a century, I don’t know what the fuss about new media is. Trends in format have been changing slowly though that whole period, but the two key media haven’t fundamentally changed. In any case, the internet is growing. It’s been the centerpiece of a lot of exciting things happening in the past 15 years, in terms of making the public better informed. Try to improve our traditional screen presence if you like, but don’t knock what people like PZ and the NCSE have been doing.

  93. #93 Randy Olson
    April 21, 2008

    Mr. Uncredible H. – how in the world do you get that I’m knocking PZ, NCSE or any of the other excellent forces of evolution at the grassroots level that I’ve been collaborating with over the past three years. I’ve never said a bad word about ANY of those folks. Can we get that straight. In fact I have raved about the level of cooperation that exists among these folks (and the sad lack of such a cooperative spirit in the world of ocean conservation). But what I am criticizing is the unwillingness of the large organizations and foundations to experiment with and invest in mass media. Al Gore is about to spend $300 million on a mass media campaign for the environment. He is providing the leadership in the environmental world because he has the clout and resources to do it. That sort of large scale campaign is needed for the field of evolution. But its not happening. These are just facts that I’m stating.

  94. #94 michael fugate
    April 21, 2008

    NP,
    In case you haven’t figured it out – students are the public.
    What exactly will happen if we don’t “frame” evolution?
    I don’t understand what Randy wants – maybe we should get hollywood to slip evolution into mainstream movies or dramatic stories about evolutionary biologists – Russel Crowe as JBS Haldane or some rot like that. I frankly don’t think it is the communication skills of scientists that is the problem. Are scientists in Europe and Japan better communicators – is that why they have higher acceptance of evolution? Maybe we should go study the Danes or something.

  95. #95 NP
    April 21, 2008

    NP, In case you haven’t figured it out – students are the public. What exactly will happen if we don’t “frame” evolution? I don’t understand what Randy wants – maybe we should get hollywood to slip evolution into mainstream movies or dramatic stories about evolutionary biologists – Russel Crowe as JBS Haldane or some rot like that. I frankly don’t think it is the communication skills of scientists that is the problem. Are scientists in Europe and Japan better communicators – is that why they have higher acceptance of evolution? Maybe we should go study the Danes or something.

    Students are the public, but not all members of the public are students. These are the same people who sit on school boards, hold political offices, or vote on legislature that impacts scientific research and education. You simply cannot reach out to them through formal education, because they are way past that stage; it has to be done through the mass media. In fact, the mass media can even help get excited about or understand science in ways that the educational curricula cannot.

    I’m not saying that science communication and education are the sole problems, because the evolution issue is strongly politicized in the United States, as opposed to most European countries and Japan. However, given the challenges posed by the latter, communication has to be a part of the solution.

    We shouldn’t downplay the internet as a powerful medium; I think YouTubers and bloggers have done a great job of debunking creationism and making the evidence for evolution more accessible. I would presume that The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker have helped a lot of laypeople understand evolution better. Duae Quaternicae brought up how Sir David Attenborough has played a huge part in getting the British public interested in natural history. There is already a substantial effort going into promoting science, but I think we need to figure out how best to reach out to certain groups.

  96. #96 Duae Quartunciae
    April 22, 2008

    Randy, I’ve noticed that you’ve said nothing bad about NCSE, or PZ, or other bloggers. I’ve noticed you saying positive things about their work, and I’ve been a bit dismayed at the number of folks here who are taking you as being critical of what they are doing. You aren’t… (and I wish Chris Mooney could figure this out.)

    I agree with you; and I think PZ stands out in particular for the sterling work he has done to help expose Expelled for what it is. For all that I don’t share his approach to religion; I have not been able to fault his approach to Expelled. I just saw a great example: the blog article Expelled, or Why I Won’t Be Seeing It, by a young guy who is a Christian and a science enthusiast. He says that when he first heard about it he was interested, but then he heard about PZ Myers’ expulsion, and continued to read further. End result; a guy in the Christian community telling his friends that Expelled is nothing more than propaganda.

    There was no way in the world anything we could have prevented the large number of theaters and the high absolute total at the box office. The producers have thrown enormous sums of money at this; and they’ve purchased this limited success. Keeping silent in the hope no-one would notice the film would have been insane. Fortunately, the sciencebloggers, and the NCSE, and SciAm, have done a sterling job of making readily available to anyone who takes time to look some good solid background information. I suspect that this work had a significant part to play in the panning it has received from professional film critics; and that’s good work well done.

    The other side of the coin, is that perhaps the pro-science side could do something to help market evolution better; put up the kind of money (or more) that Expelled had to work with. I agree again; that would be great.

    One project that deserves a hat tip (though it was not a film and has limited visibility) is the Understanding Evolution website put together by NCSE and UC Museum of Paleontology. The best film example (in my opinion) is the BBC and David Attenborough’s life series, which I’ve mentioned before. I wonder could a kind of combination be done… an “Understanding Evolution” made for film?

  97. #97 Ian Turner
    April 22, 2008

    Have any of your contributors realized there is a simple way to avoid future embarrassing Ben Stein type expose’s?
    It is that we stop persecuting academics who, for whatever reasons, disagree with the present stifling consensus on evolution, global warming, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

  98. #98 Andrew
    April 22, 2008

    #62 Maybe that is the best idea for the Super Awesome Documentary – take a group of creationists, get them moderately tipsy then ask them the awkward questions and see how they do. Repeat with a group of scientists.

    Compare and contrast.

    Possibly have more beer.
    :)

  99. #99 Echidna
    April 22, 2008

    No films on evolution? I don’t think David Attenborough would agree with you. There are plenty of great science films around, but science tends towards information rather than entertainment.

  100. #100 MH
    April 22, 2008

    Randy, the bad reviews and poor turnout for Expelled has hurt the ID crowd, but at least they are taking comfort for your post:

    Chris Mooney – Shaken (Not Stirred) by Expelled

    Nice one!

  101. #101 Boo
    April 22, 2008

    Being right doesn’t matter if you come off as a prick.

    Even worse is being wrong and coming off as a prick, remember Greg?

    http://live.hollywoodjesus.com/?p=1813&page=2

  102. #102 Shirakawasuna
    April 22, 2008

    Well, I for one agree that the multi-pronged approach is best and that well-done (and honest) mass-media approaches are sorely needed when it comes to proper science education, particularly when opposed by rich fundamentalists, etc. What are the chances that you might, you know… make another ‘Flock of Dodos’ only better this time? Not to say it was bad, it was actually fairly good, but I think a slightly different style with a bit more flash (like Expelled! only coherent and honest) could be very successful. It would need some hooks, though. The ‘atheist Nazi Darwinism conspiracy’ thing worked fairly well for Expelled! and it’s tough to see a pro-science correlary that didn’t involve painfully exposing the ID crowd for the arrogant/liar-types they tend to be.

    If one were interested in supporting such a thing, as you suggest, what would you recommend we actually do? You have experience raising money, etc, so what would say… a student group do with money it raised for the cause?

  103. #103 Iggy
    April 22, 2008

    Have any of your contributors realized there is a simple way to avoid future embarrassing Ben Stein type expose’s? It is that we stop persecuting academics who, for whatever reasons, disagree with the present stifling consensus on evolution, global warming, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

    Posted by: Ian Turner

    This word, I do not think it means what you think it means. Being laughed at for having a stupid idea is not persecution. It is mockery. People who think the (badly) transcribed oral tradition of bronze age nomads trump mountains of repeatedly verified data collected in multiple fields over the course of 150+ years need to be mocked. Most religious people do not do this. They are not mocked.

    85% of this country are Christian. As a vast majority, Christians are not persecuted in America, World Net Daily stories aside. Around 50% of American scientists are Christian. Very very few of them do not accept evolution.

    If an astronomy professor taught Geocentrism as fact, should he keep his job? Why not “teach the controversy?”

    If your local high school science teacher taught the Hindu creation myth as fact, should he keep his job?

    Would you hire an engineer who claimed his perpetual motion machine was being suppressed by Illuminati agents in black helicopters?

    The fact is `creationism is a conspiracy theory. “They KNOW that there is no evidence for evolution, but they’re in it for the money/power/trophy wives. They have Proof that God exists, but are too proud and arrogant to share it because they couldn’t live their horrible, dissolute, amoral lives.”

    Ad nauseum.

    Scientists make a name for themselves by overturning long held views. Was Einstein hounded out of science for the “sin” of overturning Newton? The laws of motion were as close to dogma as science ever came.

    Was he instantly heralded as a hero? No. His ideas needed to be tested and verified. Were they controversial? Yes. But as the data piled up reasonable people were convinced. Why hasn’t ID or any other flavor of creationism been accepted? There is no “there” there. They are vacuous, without explanatory power.

    Ask an ID proponent exactly what ID “theory” is. Ask for testable predictions. Huh, no answer? Me either. Why isn’t the data piling up? Isn’t there any?

    TL;DR
    People with non-scientific ideas don’t get to portray them
    as if they were. And certainly not in a high school science class.

  104. #104 Jim Lippard
    April 22, 2008

    #96 Ian Turner: You obviously haven’t read the facts of the cases in “Expelled” that are at ExpelledExposed.com. As Iggy points out, that’s not persecution.

    This is persecution.

  105. #105 Randy Olson
    April 22, 2008

    MH – What exactly are you wanting — some soothing, motherly voice saying, “Yes, little MH, it’s all going to be okay, the Ben Stein movie is a flop and everyone hates it so it will go away and the world will embrace evolution again.” Why are you and so many others here so thin-skinned? There is a problem. We still live in a television society. Take a look at all the latest surveys on media usage — where people get their information. Last week the mainstream channels of television were blasted with a very clear signal that evolution is a controversial topic and there is a conspiracy of repression on college campuses — utter and complete nonsense. But where is the media effort in response?

    I suppose I’m hearing that some of you hate the thought of what George Lakoff has to say in his book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” He talks about how inept the Democratic party is with this very sort of thing. He tells about how the first Bush administration developed the term “tax relief” to further skew the public’s perception of taxes, and how the Democrats could use mass media to combat such tactics … but they don’t. They don’t get it. Except for one guy, as I keep mentioning — Al Gore. He has seen the light. He looked at this problem of global warming a few years ago, put together a single small movie, marketed the hell out of it, and has changed the course of environmental history.

    That is what I’m talking about. And all the insults and baby rants and wound licking and self-delusion that you folks want to pour out in your support sessions on Pharyngula and anywhere else is not going to change my opinion of what I have just said. If there was leadership at the highest levels — and I’m talking about levels higher than PZ and Genie and all the other superstars who are doing their best on this issue but simply don’t have the Al Gore level of influence — if there was leadership from the largest foundations who have the millions of dollars to pour into such a mass media campaign — if there was agreement that there’s a need for a massive re-labeling of evolution — not by the people who have attacked it for decades and managed to successfully label it as a “controversial subject” when there is nothing controversial about it — if the evolution world were able to pull itself up and project it’s own voice powerfully in the mainstream media, a great deal of this noise would go away. And don’t tell me it’s not possible. Look at global warming. Al Gore is successfully steamrolling over the scattered voices of opposition. He is on Oprah today, he’s all over the place.

    And you’ll say, “well, we don’t have an Al Gore, so it’s impossible.” Well, the large foundations and science organizations should say, “this is our highest priority for the communication of evolution, we need an Al Gore,” and figure out a way to get one. There are ways to search for and foster voices, IF you raise this up as a high priority. But it hasn’t been. And that’s because the science world, traditionally, simply does not value, understand, or support the need for effective mass communication.

    So go ahead and call Chris Mooney and me traitors for speaking the truth. Enough of you people. I said this on Pharyngula last September and I’ll said it again here. It’s like being on a baseball team, coming in last place, then spending the off season blaming the first place team for the situation, instead of taking a look at your own team and trying to figure out what’s missing. Last week evolution was the losing team. And I’m sorry if the truth upsets you, but what do you think any high school kid saw last week if they watched the Daily Show? They saw that “evolution controversy” again, with no clear counter voice. End of story.

  106. #106 Randy Olson
    April 22, 2008

    SIGNING OFF ON THIS POST – Sorry to have to do this, but this discussion ate up too much time for me yesterday, and I think we’ve pretty much run the full course. But please, feel free to continue the discussion without me. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

  107. #107 Matti K.
    April 22, 2008

    Olson: “Last week evolution was the losing team.”

    That’s your analysis. There have been other opinions, as well. “I am right, end of story” does not convince everyone, as you certainly understand.

  108. #108 M.
    April 22, 2008

    Olson: “Last week evolution was the losing team.”

    That’s your analysis. There have been other opinions, as well. “I am right, end of story” does not convince everyone, as you certainly understand.

    Amen.

    And to add: Randy, I understand that you are bitter at the funding agencies who refuse to support science communication.

    Really, I do. No need to repeat yourself again.

    Now, did Al Gore get the money to produce “An Inconvenient Truth” by applying for a grant with one of those agencies?

    What can we learn from that?

  109. #109 windy
    April 22, 2008

    It’s like being on a baseball team, coming in last place, then spending the off season blaming the first place team for the situation, instead of taking a look at your own team and trying to figure out what’s missing.

    IMO, this is a counterproductive ‘frame’. If scientists are the baseball players, aren’t you guys the cheerleaders? (I know that you played ‘baseball’ too, so this is not meant to disparage) This popularity contest in the US media is nothing like a fair baseball game between ‘opposing teams’. The other side doesn’t have a ‘baseball team’, they only have cheerleaders. They are ugly nasty mean cheerleaders that want to frighten the players off the field, but still.

  110. #110 FastLane
    April 22, 2008

    I’m not sure how you can call this a resounding success, Randy, even for a documentary.

    By comparison:

    Fahrenheit 911, “Michael Moore’s Bush bash celebrated over the weekend with $23.9 million at 868 theaters.”

    ‘Bowling for Columbine’ grossed more thatn $21 million.

    ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ grossed over $24 million (But I couldn’t find good openeing weekend numbers).

    If you want to quote per screeen average, all three of these movies trounced Staien’s propaganda piece. They didn’t really change the world either.

    While I understand some of where you’re coming from, Randy, I think you have a bit of a case of Chicken Little here.

  111. #111 windy
    April 22, 2008

    …on second thought, baseball doesn’t really have that much cheerleaders, but perhaps that fits the analogy too

  112. #112 Ian Turner
    April 22, 2008

    >>>Iggy – 102
    Your response is a red herring. The question at issue in the Expelled documentary is this: In the prevailing climate in academia, what assurance can be given to scientists and philosophers of science that they will not be marginalized, denied tenure or promotion, or drummed out of their posts because they hold minority positions on Darwinian evolution? This documentary provides solid evidence that such forms of abuse have taken place quite recently in publicly funded universities. The only riposte worthy of consideration is proof that allegations made in the documentary are untrue. I wait with bated breath to hear it.
    >>> Jim Lippard – 103
    You are really naive. The facts encapsulated in the Expelled documentary have been public knowledge for months, even years in some cases. Ben Stein has merely brought them together in his inimitable fashion.

  113. #113 Randy Olson
    April 22, 2008

    Ian Turner – the only thing that could draw me back onto this post was something like what you just said. The movie is utter and complete dog poop. We were set to interview Smithsonian staff about the Sternberg story in the summer of 2005. I was set to make it into a big controversy. But when I heard the specifics I was disgusted. The details are on the Expelled Exposed site, http://www.expelledexposed.com. Total dishonesty, like the rest of the film. Now please let me get back to battling with my fellow evolutionists. You’re confusing things by bringing up the dumb movie. We’re engaged in a discussion of how to communicate evolution, not how to mislead the public.

  114. #114 Bad
    April 22, 2008

    “Have any of your contributors realized there is a simple way to avoid future embarrassing Ben Stein type expose’s? It is that we stop persecuting academics who, for whatever reasons, disagree with the present stifling consensus on evolution, global warming, abortion, euthanasia, etc.”

    Stopping something that by and large isn’t really happening in the first place is going to be sort of difficult. I have a feeling that no matter what we do, crying persecution is going to be pretty much the biggest, and often the only, weapon in the arsenal of some of these groups.

  115. #115 Jim Lippard
    April 22, 2008

    Ian Turner: Randy Olsen has already said it well, but just to support his point with the definitive facts on the Sternberg affair, see Ed Brayton’s analysis, here and here.

    You’re right that the facts have been known for years–Brayton dissected the bogus Souder report in 2006.

  116. #116 Logan Zagzebski
    April 22, 2008

    ERV,

    You wrote

    “and what was that one comment from Behe? Oh yeah, he told me I should go kill myself. He told a 24 year old female student to go kill herself after she had the audacity to point out he hadnt even done a goddamn Google search before dismissing decades of HIV research.”

    The problem here, ERV is that the overall tone and attitude of your response to Behe was very rude and out of line. Please do not try to get any sympathy by claiming you are a “female student”. This is irrevelant. If you provoke someone (who has said nothing to you personally), you can expect an angry response. That’s just human nature.

    Please learn to behave yourself, and to conduct scientific discussions with some class and dignity.

    Behe would not have any problems at all with someone politely pointing out gaps in his research.

  117. #117 windy
    April 23, 2008

    Behe would not have any problems at all with someone politely pointing out gaps in his research.

    Bwahaha. Remember “piddling results”?

  118. #118 Logan Zagzebski
    April 23, 2008

    No windy, please remind us about “piddling results”. And add some links so we can check.

  119. #119 M.
    April 23, 2008

    “Behe would not have any problems at all with someone politely pointing out gaps in his research.”

    Yes, he has no problem with it, he just ignores the facts and repeats the same fallacious conjectures again. See the tone of his responses to all the negative reviews in scientific press…

  120. #120 windy
    April 23, 2008

    DI reliable enough for you?

  121. #121 Logan Zagzebski
    April 25, 2008

    windy, I do not think that has any bearing on Behe’s harsh response to ERV.

    I doubt very much that he literally told ERV to kill herself, but even if he did, it would be because of ERV’s obviously ill-mannered ways, and not because she was criticizing his views.

  122. #122 Chad Orzel
    April 27, 2008

    Here’s a Manual TrackBack ping regarding comment #33.

  123. #123 Norb
    April 29, 2008

    NOVA’s production of “Forgotten Genius,” featuring the life of Dr. Percy Julian, 1899 – 1975, is my nomination for the best science program. All can identify with at least one character in the program starting with the Jim Crow era to the yokels in Kalamazoo, MI who found and enzyme along with Julian’s “compound S” that provided the complete synthsis of cortizone. This is only one example from the extra ordinary life of Dr. Julian that makes this the top hit in Science Journalism in 2007.

  124. #124 Brian
    May 1, 2008

    Randy,

    You mention needing voices to counter the anti-evolution message. There are scientists who are willing to be part of that voice, but simply don’t know how. We haven’t the training or connections to be part of the media engine. I’m no Al Gore, but as a one who was raised in a creationist, evangelical home I know the language and emotional hooks of the anti-evolution community. I know a bit about how to counter their message. I’m also a physics professor, so I’ve travelled the road from creationism to science. Quite frankly I would be more than happy to dedicate my career to being one of those voices of reason. As far as I’m concerned, it is the most important work I could do.

    So what do I do? Write a blog? Write a book? Quite my job as a professor and sign up for film school? Seriously, I am more than eager to stand up to the plate.

  125. #125 Brian
    May 1, 2008

    Ugh. Forgive the typos. Next time I’ll proofread.

  126. #126 Paul W.
    May 5, 2008

    Expelled’s third weekend take was about $684K, down a shade more than 50 percent from the second weekend, which was down more than 50 percent from the first.

    It appears that Expelled box office has a half-life of about a week and it that it won’t do much more than 8 million, gross. (No, I don’t really expect it to conform to a negative exponential, but I don’t expect it to stay in theaters very long either.)

    http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2008/EXPEL.php

    The estimates I’ve seen say that the movie cost $10 million to make and market, or maybe $13 million. (Anybody actually know?)

    It looks like they’re falling several million dollars short of their net covering their costs.

    It’s a drag that if you spend several million dollars on advertising, get a lot of free publicity from committed wackos, and open on 1000+ screens, you can get a million people to see such a steaming pile of dog poop. Scary.

    On the other hand, given those things, it’s hard to imagine a movie being more of a failure. Their entire run won’t come close to covering their costs, or even their opening weekend expectations.

    That’s gotta be discouraging for the forces of darkness, making it harder for them to raise the money for the next try.

  127. #127 Paul W.
    May 10, 2008

    Third full week numbers are in, and Expelled grossed (slightly) under $1M, again dropping by half, for a total of $6.9 million gross.

    It’s also losing over a third of its screens going into its fourth week, as it did from week 2 to week 3, due to poor per-screen take. It’s poised to continue to continue its exponential loss of audience, with a half life of a week, and only do around a half million in the next week.

    This despite Premise Media’s exit polls saying over 90 percent of its audience would recommend the movie. Somehow, the positive word of mouth from viewers doesn’t seem to be saving the movie from tanking as the critics say it should.

    Presumably that says something about the audience, and maybe about how credible their friends find them.

  128. #128 Jim Lippard
    May 13, 2008

    Paul W.: I think $8M is being generous. “Expelled” pulled in less than $39K yesterday ($97/screen), and will continue losing a large percentage of its remaining theaters on Friday (it’s already down to 402 from 1,052). I’d say $7.5M is closer to what its total take will be. It’s currently the #10 Christian film on boxofficemojo’s list, but will get pushed out of the top 10 when Prince Caspian makes more than $7.5M in its opening weekend that starts on Friday.

    The movie cost $4M to make, “a multiple of that” to distribute and promote, and has more expenses piling on from Yoko Ono’s lawsuit. It can’t go out to more theaters and they can’t release DVDs until that lawsuit is resolved. If they’ve had $16M in costs so far, but only earned $7.2M (shared with the theaters), they’ve lost more money than the movie has earned.

  129. #129 Paul W.
    May 14, 2008

    Jim,

    I think you’re likely right that it won’t do 8M. I’d guess it it will do more than 7.5M. Revenues have been going up a little from Mondays to Tuesdays, so I’d expect that by the end of the fourth full week (Thursday) it will do another $125K or so, putting it around 7.4M. If it manages to retain any reasonable fraction of its theaters for another week, it should break $7.5M over the coming weekend. (Assuming I did my math roughly right.)

    Beyond that, I just don’t know how to predict the actual shape of the tail. I could imagine they just pull it, and revenues drop to zero. I could also imagine that it hangs on for weeks and weeks in a few profitable theaters in places like Kansas, and the total just keeps inching toward 8M.

    Maybe we should have a betting pool on this.

    As for costs and net losses, I’ve said elsewhere that I expect it to be millions in the red at the end of the theater run… maybe millions and millions if the higher cost estimates are right.

    Where did you get your cost figures? I’ve heard estimates anywhere from 3.5 to 6 million for production, and around 6 or 7 for marketing, for a total of around 10 to 13 million. I have no idea if those numbers are realistic, but given all the ads I would be surprised if they hadn’t spent several million on marketing.

    I also don’t know how to estimate the lawsuit costs, or how that depends on whether Yoko wins. (I think Yoko should lose, by the way, much as it pains me that the Premise people should win.) If she loses, does she have to pay their costs? Are they getting pro bono representation?

    I do find it plausible that they’ll have spent $16M and lost $8M or so, but I don’t know how to confirm that.

    I also don’t know how to predict post-theatrical revenues that might make back some of their lost money. I could imagine this thing being shown a lot on the Trinity network, etc., and being moderately popular with the Family Values loons on DVD. That might reduce their losses, though I find it hard to imagine it would put them in the black.

    That’s the kind of thing it’d be good to have a real movie person comment on, and I’m not one.

    Olson? Anyone? Anyone?

  130. #130 Paul W.
    May 14, 2008

    Attendance dropped a shade from Monday to Tuesday; if Wednesday and Thursday are about the same, the gross will be a little under 7.4M by Thursday.

    More interestingly, expelled is losing 48 percent of its screens, down to 209, going into Week 5.

  131. #131 Randy Olson
    May 15, 2008

    Guys, you’re swinging in the dark. Aside from the fact that Premise Media has boatloads of money and they didn’t make this film to get rich, the box officer performance of the movie has been solid. Virtually all movies taper off after their opening weekend. This movie didn’t come anywhere close to “tanking” as one of you imply. The industry has a fixed model with which they can fairly well predict home DVD sales revenues based on opening weekend grosses. Three million on opening weekend was plenty for them. They will more than make back their money on the home DVD, and they have the Stanford University Fair Use Project going to bat for them on the Yoko Ono case.

    I’m sorry, but you’re just swinging in the dark. Listen to my podcast on Skepticality, and currently posted on The Intersection. Rather than still trying to find a way to proclaim defeat for them, your energy would be better spent trying to figure out a way to create victories for evolution.

  132. #132 Paul W.
    May 15, 2008

    Randy,

    Thanks for replying. Interesting.

    One reason I ask questions is because I do believe you when you say that most of us science nerds are movie- and PR-biz clueless. I’d like to know not just what you think the bottom line is—e.g., that Expelled is a success—but also how you come to such conclusions. That way, maybe I’ll be a little less clueless in the future.

    It’s interesting that you predict they’ll actually make a profit after DVD sales. That is interesting over and above the “success” of suckering about million people into theaters.

    I’d be interested in knowing what the formula is for estimating DVD sales, too.

    I’m sorry, but you’re just swinging in the dark.

    You said that twice. You might want to dial the condescension down a little bit.

    Rather than still trying to find a way to proclaim defeat for them, your energy would be better spent trying to figure out a way to create victories for evolution.

    Okay, but part of that is trying to figure out in some detail what counts as a successful movie, and why, in some detail.

    I’m tempted to ask some questions about the movie biz and advertising—some of the things you say sound inconsistent with some of your recommendations about grassroots stuff like Film Festivals—but am afraid you’ll interpret questions about that as just refusing to believe what you’ve already said.

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    Yoko Ono’s lawsuit. It can’t go out to more theaters and they can’t release DVDs until that lawsuit is resolved. If they’ve had $16M in costs so far, but only earned $7.2M (shared with the theaters), they’ve lost more money than the movie has earned.

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  148. #148 ucuz tatil
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    I think $8M is being generous. “Expelled” pulled in less than $39K yesterday ($97/screen), and will continue losing a large percentage of its remaining theaters on Friday (it’s already down to 402 from 1,052). I’d say $7.5M is closer to what its total take will be. It’s currently the #10 Christian film on boxofficemojo’s list, but will get pushed out of the top 10 when Prince Caspian makes more than $7.5M in its opening weekend that starts on Friday.

    The movie cost $4M to make, “a multiple of that” to distribute and promote, and has more expenses piling on from Yoko Ono’s lawsuit. It can’t go out to more theaters and they can’t release DVDs until that lawsuit is resolved. If they’ve had $16M in costs so far, but only earned $7.2M (shared with the theaters), they’ve lost more money than the movie has earned.

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  153. #153 film izle
    August 11, 2010

    Attendance dropped a shade from Monday to Tuesday; if Wednesday and Thursday are about the same, the gross will be a little under 7.4M by Thursday.

    More interestingly, expelled is losing 48 percent of its screens, down to 209, going into Week 5.

  154. #154 komik videolar
    August 11, 2010

    Ian Turner – the only thing that could draw me back onto this post was something like what you just said. The movie is utter and complete dog poop. We were set to interview Smithsonian staff about the Sternberg story in the summer of 2005. I was set to make it into a big controversy. But when I heard the specifics I was disgusted. The details are on the Expelled Exposed site, http://www.expelledexposed.com. Total dishonesty, like the rest of the film. Now please let me get back to battling with my fellow evolutionists. You’re confusing things by bringing up the dumb movie. We’re engaged in a discussion of how to communicate evolution, not how to mislead the public.

  155. #155 sex hikayeleri
    August 31, 2010

    Attendance dropped a shade from Monday to Tuesday; if Wednesday and Thursday are about the same, the gross will be a little under 7.4M by Thursday.

  156. #156 islamisohbet
    December 3, 2010

    Who are these people making these comments here, and why isn’t NSF calling them up for advice? Both comments are right on the money and are helping relieve my anxiety today.

    Dodos had such a clear warning about the communications savvy of the anti-evolutionists. And for a year or so I was feeling like I might have gotten it wrong as the Discovery Institute seemed to fumble with such amateurish things as the Hoax of Dodos website they built to attack my movie. But I had heard over a year ago about Ben Stein getting involved in an anti-evolution movie, and I tried to start warning people what was coming.

    And now, the same evolution communications people who ignored the warnings, will figure out their own spin thank you

  157. #157 porno uhr
    April 15, 2011

    A very interesting article, a vivid metaphor and rhetoric decency. I very much like it.

  158. #158 kibarlı
    August 12, 2011

    Part of what I’m advocating is for scientists to take a greater role in demanding media that is not only accurate, but also compelling, interesting, and motivational to the broad audience. You don’t have to go train yourself as a speaker.