Have creationists tricked scientists yet again?

Update: I have released important new information about this story here.

Creationists have made a habit out of tricking scientists and historians into appearing in pro-creationism films. Such "culture warriors" view their dishonest tactics as fully acceptable. They think their deceit is working for the greater good, and scientists must increasingly be aware of who they are being interviewed by. (For a relevant discussion of dishonesty among evangelicals see the chapters on conservative philanthropist Howard Ahmanson Jr. in Republican Gomorrah, particularly the portion about Ahmanson's connection to the Discovery Institute.)

Have creationist filmmakers tricked scientists for a third time? Today the Discovery Institute announced the release of a new DVD, Darwin's Dilemma, which attempts to use the "Cambrian Explosion" to disprove evolution. This is the third film in a trilogy created by Illustra Media, the other two being Unlocking the Mystery of Life and The Privileged Planet. By itself this release would have barely registered a blip on my radar, but I noticed something peculiar in the promotional materials published by the Discovery Institute;

The film, shot on location at fossil digs in China and Canada, traces Darwin's own study of the fossil record and recreates the prehistoric world of the Cambrian era with state-of-the-art computer animation. Darwin's Dilemma also features interviews with leading evolutionary paleontologists such as Simon Conway Morris of Cambridge University and James Valentine of the University of California at Berkeley, as well as Dr. Meyer, Dr. Wells, and other intelligent design proponents. [emphasis mine]

Did Valentine and Conway Morris, two prominent evolutionists, know the ends to which their interviews would be used? I could not imagine that they had knowingly participated with Illustra Media given the company's previous work and association with the Discovery Institute. I sent both of them e-mails to find out the truth.

I am still in the process of discovering all the details, but both Conway Morris and Valentine have stated that they were unaware that they were going to appear in Darwin's Dilemma. Conway Morris, in fact, did not recall giving an interview for any such film at all. Said the paleontologist;

... I wouldn't know [how] they managed to obtain any such material nor if they did how they are able to use it without my permission. I certainly wouldn't give it ...

Just where Illustra Media obtained the footage and how they obtained permission to use it is not yet fully known. (Valentine, by contrast, acknowledged that he did provide an interview but had no idea at the time that it would end up in creationist hands.) I have asked Illustra Media and the Discovery Institute for an explanation, and I will keep you all posted as I learn more.

[Update #1] Here is the trailer for Darwin's Dilemma;

Also, last week the Disco Institute podcast "ID the Future" featured an interview with the producer of the film, Lad Allen. At about the 8:36 mark the host asks Allen about the interviews with not only DI cronies but also Conway Morris and Valentine. Here's what Allen had to say;

Host: ... did you actually conduct those interviews?

Allen: Yeeah... I did. Um. It was very interesting. Um. All brilliant guys with, um, diverse points of vie... not, not so much diverse points of view. Some, but the different fields of expertise, and kind of looked at this ... subject from, from slightly different viewpoints or areas of expertise, and Simon Conway Morris is at Cambridge University, and it really was in, in the early 70's... The Burgess Shale, and the significance of the Burgess Shale, this is interesting because on August 30th of 1909 the Burgess Shale, the fossils there, were discovered by Charles Walcott, and ... it was really one of the great fossil discoveries in history because they were so well preserved and these were first complex animals that had appeared on earth and it's the 100th year anniversary of that and, um, so, we were, we were working with Mo... Simon Conway Morris, um, in the 1970's he and two other guys, Morris was a graduate student at the time, uh, went to the Smithsonian where all these fossils, over 60,000 fossils that Walcott had excavated were down in the basement basically and these guys pulled them all out and really began the first comprehensive study of what was down there and made discoveries. No one had any idea what these f... I mean it wasn't ID that they represented but no one fully understood it and Morris and two others made spectacular discoveries and really put, put these fossils and the "Cambrian Explosion" on the map scientifically and so we interviewed Morris at Cambridge talking primarily about his work on the Burgess Shale. A brilliant paleo, paleobiologist and a brilliant writer, he has written several books, and then, um, Steve Meyer, Paul Nelson, Paul Chien, all affiliated with the Discovery Institute of course, had done, uh, tremendous amount of work on the Cambrian Explosion over the years.

As stated above, Conway Morris does not recall any such interview taking place. The producer knows a little bit about what Conway Morris has done, but I wouldn't be surprised if the "interview" ends up being reused material from another source. For all the time Allen spends on Conway Morris almost nothing is actually said about the supposed interview. I am still waiting for Illustra Media or the Discovery Institute to clear up this matter.

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It's a shame that the creationist crowd has to resort to this kind of stuff to prop up their bull crap, but then again not much surprises me from them anymore. If their stuff stood up by itself with evidence they wouldn't have to trick people into doing things like this. Besides, doesn't the bible say something about lying? For the greater good though? Who's greater good? Who determines what's good? Good for whom? Subjective BS to excuse the lies that they have to tell in their goal of indoctrination.

It's sort of a double edge sword too as scientists will become more and more leery about giving interviews to anyone the more this stuff happens. In this type of scenario we would all be deprived of the information that science puts out into the world.

I've been trying to dig into it and find out as much as I can as well; you're doing slightly better than I am. Did you watch that preview on the media page?

Also, they it seems they grabbed some animations, wonder if they paid for them...
The "cambrian" animation at the very end of the preview I know I've seen on the Discovery Channel or one of those.

Lying for Jesus is perfectly acceptable since it's for the greater glory of God or some such rationalization. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo both flatly said that a lie made with the intent to deceive is forbidden by the Bible. Augustine went even further, claiming that it is never lawful to tell a lie.

Aquinas noted that lying is opposed to the virtue of truth or veracity. Truth consists in a correspondence between the thing signified and the signification of it. Man has the power as a reasonable and social being of manifesting his thoughts to his fellow-men. Right order demands that in doing this he should be truthful. If the external manifestation is at variance with the inward thought, the result is a want of right order, a monstrosity in nature.

As we are dealing with something which belongs to the moral order and with virtue, the want of right order, which is of the essence of a lie, has a special moral turpitude of its own. There is precisely the same malice in hypocrisy, and in this vice we see the moral turpitude more clearly. A hypocrite pretends to have a good quality which he knows that he does not possess. There is the same want of correspondence between the mind and the external expression of it that constitutes the essence of a lie. The turpitude and malice of hypocrisy are obvious to everybody.

If it is more difficult to realize the malice of a lie, the partial reason, at least, may be because we are more familiar with it. Truth is primarily a self-regarding virtue: it is something which man owes to his own rational nature, and no one who has any regard for his own dignity and self-respect will be guilty of the turpitude of a lie. As the hypocrite is justly detested and despised, so should the liar be. As no honest man would consent to play the hypocrite, so no honest man will ever be guilty of a lie.

Their abuse of SCM is particularly dishonest since for the last 20 or so years he's largely been involved in demonstrating that the Cambrian explosion is a story of continuity.

By Mike from Ottawa (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

Their abuse of SCM is particularly dishonest since for the last 20 or so years he's largely been involved in demonstrating that the Cambrian explosion is a story of continuity.

It's especially dishonest considering that Conway Morris is a regular speaker and writer on the compatibility of religion and science, and on how (in his opinion) the findings of the former support the latter. If the DI's aims were actually what they publicly claim that they are, then you'd think that Simon and they would be on the same side. Funny how these things turn out.

Wow; someone is seriously off his meds. AND in the wrong blog. :P

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

I'm particularly bummed out because I've been using the term 'Darwin's Dilemma' for several years in print and in a book I'm nearly finished with. Not, of course, to make this ludicrous creationist claim, but to describe the historical consequence of Darwin's negative assessment of the fossil record on the development of evolutionary paleontology. Now I wonder whether I'll have to drop the term so nobody confuses it with this creationist crap. Too bad you can't copyright terms like this (although in fairness, I'm not the first person to have used it--Bill Schopf has used a the label in a slightly different context. Still, it does make one wonder what the paper trail is on that particular title...)

By David Sepkoski (not verified) on 15 Sep 2009 #permalink

actually the punishment for blasphemy is DEATH...

You have absolutely NO idea what "blasphemy" means, do you?

I'm wondering how much of dilemma the Cambrian Explosion actually would have been for Darwin, anyway. Brian, do you know anything about this?

Acceptance of evolution (or, specifically, common descent) was not an all-or-nothing thing. Linnaeus, for instance, seems to have held that a small level of evolution was possible - say, each genus had a separate creative origin, but within a genus it was possible for one species to give rise to another (generally by hybridisation, if I recall correctly). Even after people came to accept that most organisms shared a common remote ancestor, they didn't necessarily apply that to all organisms - it might have been thought possible, for instance, that plants and animals had come into existence separately. After all, there was little known at the time about micro-organisms to bridge the morphological gap, and even less about their shared biochemistry. Besides, it hadn't really been that long since the idea of Spontaneous Generation had been regarded as an open question.

So my question is, would Darwin have necessarily thought it an insurmountable problem if a small handful of animal lineages had arisen independently and diversified from that point?

Maybe Science, Nature, and PNAS should on their web sites and in an issue provide a standard contract for interviewed scientists. It would say that interview is intended to be published/show in [fill in name of publication(s)/show(s)] that the interview is for purposes of the interview is working for [fill in organization]. The interviewers agree as a condition of this interview that material will not be used for any purpose for creationism, evolution denial, intelligent design, saying the Earth is young, that humans don't impact climate, and/or that vaccines cause autism. Furthermore it may not be used the following organizations or any affiliated with them: Discovery Institute, [etc. someone can make the list]. Furthermore before any video or audio of the interview can be shown, a full copy must be provided to the scientist who will have the full right to do with it as he pleases including full publication rights. [An exception to this probably needs to be for immediate coverage of news stories by legit news agencies. Obviously if you just published a major discovery an interview might be done live or shown in a few hours.]

Real lawyers should actually draft the language. But I think everyone should get the drift of my thought. The point is is you don't know who the guys are, there is a risk that they are up to no good. That applies to pretty much everyone and not just scientists: if someone out of the blue wants to interview you there is a nontrivial chance that the interviewer is after you, your company, your university, your cause, or something you don't want maligned. And of course anyone should always be aware of any policies your organization has for interviews before granting one.

The threat is gone. I can deal with creationist crankery to an extent, but threats automatically get the boot. Just gotta love how the person had no reservations about threatening violence but couldn't bring themselves to write "fuck"...

Jared; Still no word from Disco or Illustra. Good point about the computer animation. Maybe the Cambrian scenes were patterned on what has appeared in other documentaries. That might be something worth looking into, though I would not exactly be sure where to start.

David; Ouch. That is a bit of a pickle. I don't think your readers would confuse what you were doing with this film, but I can imagine it is still an irritating situation. Whatever you decide to do, though, I will certainly be looking forward to your book!

Chris; I know a little something about it. I will try to write something more substantial on the topic later, but IIRC in Darwin's time it seemed like the fossil record abruptly started in the "Cambro-Silurian System." In 1860 the geologist John Phillips used this abruptness to argue against Darwin's evolutionary ideas in the book Life on Earth (see this post for a sample). At the time it might have seemed like a genuine barrier that had to be reconciled with evolution, but it is a little odd to see modern creationists unknowingly recycle Phillips' arguments nearly 150 years after he made them!

Maybe it's b/c I just recently finished Gould's Wonderful Life, but watching that trailer really made me want to see a Pixar movie about the Cambrian Explosion.

anyone who believes in evolution is out of their mind.

Strange that believers in all things Darwin are afraid to be interviewed in an ID film. Perhaps they are worried that their little emperor is a little starkers. Common guys and girls science is about the search for truth, right - no matter who is asking? This whole thing is like Obama vetting journalists. Oh I forgot that is happening now. Good ok liberal thought police, reducation camp... Bring it on....

By ratattackm (not verified) on 26 Oct 2009 #permalink

I have actually seen this film... something that I get the impression few of the commentors on here have...and the interview with SCM does not appear to be out of context. He is apparently asked about the Burgess Shale and the Cambrian Explosion, and he answers the questions. It's fairly straight-forward. The fact that his statements support the idea that the Cambrian Explosion was a relatively rapid event, and the Cambrian fossil record is, in his opinion, very complete, are a reflection on his own understanding, not imposed Creationist dogma.

A good documentary should have viewpoints taken from multiple backgrounds and perspectives...obviously SCM's interview was selected because it supported the claims of the film. It seems to me that your issue should be the fact that there are no persons interviewed who would have a counter-claim to what SCM and others were saying. SCM was given an opportunity to answer questions, and for those specific issues, he answered from his knowledge and own opinions. He was given a chance to trounce the claims of abrupt appearance of forms and a fairly complete cambrian fossil record...but he upheld these claims (because they are true).

SCM is quoted accurately. His ideas happen to support a larger idea that he may not personally support, but that is irrelevant. The film required that question to be answered by someone who knew what he/she was talking about... SCM fit the bill. And regardless of what he remembers, at some point in time he agreed to an interview.

I agree that scientists who wish to purposefully only support evolutionary theory and never want any of their work to have implications for creationist theory should hide away and never agree to be interviewed unless they are absolutely certain the interviewers only intend on feeding that interview into the evolution matrix. However, true scientists, who present research and information for education and unbiased study regardless of how it affects their personal belief system, should allow access to their findings by multitudes of interested parties for the use of support or non-support of ideas. If it supports a theory contrary to their original idea, so be it.

Since when did "how a scientists research is interpreted or used as support of a theory" become a crime? If it is wrong, let it be proven wrong. If it is right, it will stand the test of further study and research. So far, what I have read has convinced me that there are serious obstacles for chance to produce the amount of forms present in the Cambrian stratum. SCM's understandings seem to support this idea as well.

By Luke Flowers (not verified) on 23 Nov 2009 #permalink

Luke; Thank you for the comment, but I think you have missed the point. The post had nothing to do with what SCM said or did not say in the actual interview. The question was whether the documentary production company was honest in letting the scientists know what the documentary they were participating in was about.

In the case of SCM, he said he did not recall being interviewed at first but later said that he had forgotten about the interview, which he did not know was going to be used for a creationist documentary (otherwise he would not have done it). In the case of James Valentine, the production company took a previously-recorded interview by another Christian film group (who did not tell Valentine what he was being interviewed for) and reproduced it, claiming that they included an original interview.

The issue brought forward by this post was not whether or not scientists should participate in creationist documentaries. It asked whether the producers of this documentary were honest in letting the scientists know what they were participating in/where they obtained the previously-recorded footage that they reproduced without the permission of one of the scientists. This is the third time within the last two years that this issue has come up. While it might not be true in all cases, it appears that creationists are trying to boost the credibility of their films by tricking reputable authorities into appearing in their films. While the scientific assertions of the film are incorrect, that is an entirely separate issue from what I discussed here.

When talking to people who think the dinosaurs died out because they would not fit on the Ark, you should always bring the Dover PA. trail. It really pissss them off so much.

Ask them if they have better evidence than was given during the trail and what is it,

Also ask them if they can tell you want a scientific theory is.

Even a GW Bush appointed, conservative, federal juge, (self proclaimed born again Christian Boy Scout Leader), Ruled in the Dover Pa trail that ID is nothing more than creationism and is not science. He also said the DI people were fundamentally dishonest.
Judge Jones said...
"The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the Board's ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents. [...]
The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy. With that said, we do not question that many of the leading advocates of ID have bona fide and deeply held beliefs which drive their scholarly endeavors. Nor do we controvert that ID should continue to be studied, debated, and discussed. As stated, our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."