Not another creationist TV blitz…

Scott* has uncovered another slick media effort by creationists: the Seventh Day Adventists are putting on a four-part series called Out of Thin Air to trumpet their fundamentalist lunacy.

What I want to know is … where are the slick media people willing to put together lovely dramatic stories of the scientists — the brave minority fighting uncowed against a wealthy and ignorant majority? Come on, there's a real story here. We do cool stuff! We're passionate! We are probing reality! Our stage is the entire freaking universe! We don't have money for PR, and our support organizations are underfunded! Oh … I guess that's the answer. We aren't going to be able to pony up as much cash as one of the many religious cults around here, and we aren't going to be an uncritical, captive audience. That must be why so many of the science documentaries are either a series of talking heads, all science with no heart, or they're nature vignettes, all pretty pictures and no science.

It's a shame. The science story is so much more spectacular than the creationist foolishness, but we're not building the media resources and the strong narratives that we need to compete with the liars for Jesus.

*Stop making excuses for the SDAs, Scott. They're kooks, plain and simple. Maybe they're nice people, but they've been brainwashed into believing idiocy.

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"Lairs for Jesus"

I'll have to remember that.

What I want to know is ... where are the slick media people willing to put together lovely dramatic stories of the scientists

On PBS? Specifically, WGBH Boston. There really have been lots of excellent programs from them and other PBS efforts. Right?

Sucks when your funding has to go to actual work.

Where are all of the secular materialist atheists that Hollywood is supposed to be full of, and why haven't any of them come forward to slickly package Science for the masses (global warming notwithstanding)? Or is saving the whales a safer bet for celebs than saving the minds of our nation?

By PuckishOne (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

Bob, you made a spelling mistake. It should've been, "Liars for Jebus". ;¬)

By Richard Harris, FCD (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

This is awesome. Load into that site until the dude pops up and babbles for a bit (feel free to turn your sound down). When he's done, he'll ask you to click on the different subjects, and while he's waiting, he starts a bizarre looping series of expressions: nervous smile to more serious, purses his lips a little, and so on. He's waiting, ever so sincere for your click. Won't you click now? Please? I worked so hard!

Clicking on the event locater is pretty funny at the moment as well: you click and.... look, here some binoculars: see if you can find some events yourself mofo!

You know, as someone who writes popular science posts here with some frequency, you might think about scripting a documentary explaining something that you think is profoundly nifty in your particular field.

What are the costs of making a science documentary? What sorts of those costs could be amortized or removed by the donation of time and energy from interested volunteers, many of whom are quite capable of making animations and whatnot for illustration purposes.

What sorts of things are barriers? What would you want to do in a documentary, but don't have the cash for?

I've done some TV work in the past, and the major barriers that I see are technical expertise, in operating the gear necessary to film something (it's much harder than it looks); post-production, to get the raw stock down to something palatable; distribution, though the web makes that easier; and overall direction, "the vision thing" as it were. The amount of effort and knowledge to produce even a short professional level documentary is pretty amazing. You need a huge amount of inspiration and dedication to overcome any technical shortcomings... all that aside, it can be done by amateurs and relatively cheaply (relatively!)
I'm watching my step-brother working on a documentary right's wild. i help him brainstorm solutions but he's doing the work on his own.
all that said, I'd gladly help out ,considering I have no money or equipment.

I knew a Seventh-Day Adventist in college. He gave me a book that praised the temperance movement in passing but warned against Sunday blue laws. It was interesting; did you know that belief in the immortal soul is a Satanist lie?

"Lairs for Jesus"

"False Witnesses for Jesus" has a better ring to it. Actually, that sounds like it almost could be a religion:
Jehova's False Witnesses

Sigh...I grew up in as an SDA, what a screwed up bunch that is. A 12 year old girl gets hit in the head with a rock, goes into a coma for a week or two, then when she comes out of it claims to have visions, etc. Sure, sounds as good as anything else, lets build a cult around her. Again...sigh.

There's an SDA church right next to my home. They have picnics and order florida citrus.

You have to remember that these films will get a relatively low number of viewers compared to a science doc on international distribution. I work in science docos and we would expect for one of our big series we'd get roughly 8 million viewers worldwide, hopefully more - that pisses on anything the 7th dayers could hope for, no matter how much cash they have. I don't know what the situation in the states is like but you'd never get national transmission of something like Out of Thin Air here and there are proper science docs on pretty much every night. Worry if you like, but i'm sure these films have little impact really.

By carpworld (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

I think relative to other creationists, the SDA lot are actually fairly admirable. Their Geoscience Research Institute (a flood geology) is reasonably unusual in that it consistently links, without comment, to good science and material on atheism. I can't imagine AiG doing anything like this:

Also, the flood people at GRISDA are extremely unusual in that they do actual field research (some of it perfectly good) and publish in the mainstream literature. This paper was in Geology a few years back, for example:

Esperante, R. et al. (2004) Fossil whale preservation implies high diatom accumulation rate in the Miocene-Pliocene Pisco Formation of Peru. Geology, 32, 165-168.

Diatomaceous deposits in the Miocene-Pliocene Pisco Formation contain abundant whales preserved in pristine condition (bones articulated or at least closely associated), in some cases including preserved baleen. The well-preserved whales indicate rapid burial. The 346 whales within similar to1.5 km(2) of surveyed surface were not buried as an event, but were distributed uninterrupted through an 80-m-thick sedimentary section. The diatomaceous sediment lacks repeating primary laminations, but instead is mostly massive, with irregular laminations and speckles. There is no evidence for bioturbation by invertebrates in the whale-bearing sediment. Current depositional models do not account for the volume of diatomaceous sediments or the taphonomic features of the whales. These taphonomic and sedimentary features suggest that rapid burial due to high diatom accumulation, in part by lateral advection into protected, shallow embayments, is responsible for the superb preservation of these whales, leading to a higher upper limit on phyto-plankton accumulation rates than previously documented.

Do you people listen to RadioLab, on WNYC and syndicated elsewhere? Cuz that is a pretty slick pro-science radio show. Very informative, very entertaining. I could see something like that being done for television. It would sort of be like a Bill Nye the Science Guy for the grown-up crowd.

But here's another problem I see: Science is slow. Or, rather, progress happens by accumulation. "Eureka!" moments are few and far between. And narrating the ideas behind big scientific theories with any amount of detail would be exhaustive and, frankly, pretty boring--especially for the non-scientist. The other extreme--covering every scientific discovery as a "breakthrough"--is irresponsible and rightfully pisses off the scientific community.

That said, I think there are ways to do it. Covering the works of specific, noted scientists is one. For instance, I think The Double Helix would make for an interesting movie/documentary. Another way to do it would be to document interesting field research in disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, geology--fields that get to travel to exotic locales and present interesting visuals. Sorry to say, but pipettes and centrifuges just aren't that visually appealing.

When you say "the science story", PZ, what do you mean?

I think we have to be more creative. Professional looking tv and movies are hard to do, but we have lots of nerds here who can probably do a pretty good CGI movie. Then you only need to have PZ do voice overs. Or you could do video games - again, we have the nerds to do it.

I think one of the things we need to work on is the public persona of the science enthusiast. The key word is "enthusiast" - I have heard some science radio shows, for example, that are frightfully boring. This has got to stop!

Can we get Eugenie Scott in a fedora?

Atheist/Pro-Science filmmakers are out there/here but Garth is right - the amount of time and money it takes to make one 60 minute documentary can be enormous, especially compared to a reality show. Also, you could spend thousands and thousands of your own dollars and then never get picked up for distribution or syndication. Network execs are slaves to advertising dollars, and even PBS has to get extra corporate funding to stay on the air.

I think the time will come for more pro-science entertainment but I think the atmosphere for learning needs to change in this country. If network executives and programmers knew that people watched PBS science documentaries en masse, you'd see them pop up everywhere. Instead, you see singing/dancing competitions on 3 networks 3 nights per week. That's why I have more hope for on-demand online systems like iTunes or Veoh to distribute content. When all those 18-34 year olds stop watching TV and start downloading (legally) the system will change. But now I'm rambling...

Until then, know that a lot of filmmakers who love science and math are trying to do something about it. I just got my first animated movie released on DVD for teachers - 'Flatland: the Movie'. We've been showing it at Math conferences and math teachers are flipping out at the fact that somebody made a movie for them that's entertaining and that actually spawns conversations about math. (end of shameless plug)

We do cool stuff! We're passionate! We are probing reality! Our stage is the entire freaking universe!

But you're not handsome. End of discussion.

Perhaps we could coopt a currently popular science-based TV show. How about "CSI:Olduvai"? After a series of field experiments (performed by hot guys and gals over a techno soundtrack), Horatio gets Behe to confess that he's descended from apes?

Mike P, are you saying "Bill Nye the Science Guy" isn't for adults? Boy do I feel stupid...

PZ, I will edit your slick science documentaries. I also DVD author, CC, and can computer animate (although that is the newest and least refined of my skills)

By Jason Failes (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

This is awesome. Load into that site until the dude pops up and babbles for a bit (feel free to turn your sound down). When he's done, he'll ask you to click on the different subjects, and while he's waiting, he starts a bizarre looping series of expressions: nervous smile to more serious, purses his lips a little, and so on. He's waiting, ever so sincere for your click. Won't you click now? Please? I worked so hard!

That's exactly what I thought; I wondered how many facial tics they would roll before it looped. Quite impressive, but it only takes two or three before it gets creepy.

BTW, the background music is much better suited to reading this blog; I left Mr. Facial Tic Man running in another tab whilst I finished reading the comments here. It was particularly enjoyable for reading comment #15.

By dwarf zebu (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

How does Dawkins fund his Channel 4 productions? Would that model (whatever it is) work in the US?

I have been enjoying the History Channel's recent addition, The Universe. It does a decent job of making some esoteric concepts (like the process of light being emitted from the Sun, for example) very accessible and understandable.

There's a pretty good talking-head:pretty-graphics balance as well.

By Seraphiel (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

Gary Gygax, of DnD fame, is also a SDA. He claims to be libertarian, but he echoes mainly right-wing talking points, even anti-evolution screeds.

We do have to get out there and tell the story. It's a central feature of every successful religion: they repeat and repeat and repeat their "truths." I'm not suggesting that we need to be "religious," only that we need to recognize that the numbers are against us if the "other side" is constantly propagandizing their position, while we sit quietly by, smug in our knowledge that we are right.

Christopher Hitchens said in a recent debate that he has no need of joining groups, organizing, or proselytizing. Well in spite of the fact that he's doing a great job proselytizing on his book tour, the fact is that the strength and development of our point of view does rely on bunches of us a)putting in time and effort, b) devoting funds to the cause, and c) telling our story over and over and over.

I mean, really, if Pat Robertson can put up Liberty University and stuff the Justice department with idiots holding "biblical" interpretations of US Law, surely we rationalists can put together similar efforts with similarly focused, precise goals?

By BeyondBelief (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

Maybe Peter Ward should be talking to a lawyer, since they appear to have swiped his book title:…

By the way, although I'm not qualified to evaluate what he's suggesting, it's a fantastic book about how atmospheric oxygen level might be a more important driving force for animal evolution than has been considered in traditional palaeontology... I've been sorta hoping to see a review of it here...

I'm a Seventh-day Adventist, and I plan to attend this series. I have my own reasons, which don't include belief in the party line.

I continue to wonder who they imagined (besides SDAs) would want to attend such a series. Them, and the stray evolutionist.

Here is what you do.. write a book called 'the secret (or mystery)of science'

The cover should be dramatic and old fashioned... full of the romance of alchemy... the scientist as sorceror dabbling with the power of the universe..

The text should be full of the romance of science.. it's origins in the stars, lots of connections with religious thought and the occult, oppression by authority because of it's secret hidden power! All the fear-inducing visions of science in popular culture.. the powerful themes that have run from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through to the present day, the portrayel of the mad scientist as dabbling with divine forces should be utilised to emphasise that Science has power, secret hidden power that most people do not understand, fear and that some do not want ordinary people to know!

This should lead to an explanation of the secret, critical thinking and scientific method, aimed at the lowest common denominator of the reading public.. so anyone can understand with lots of examples involving everyday life problems rather than mice or bacteria.. with lots of emotive language and rhetoric to etch the reasoning underneath it deep in the minds of the reading public.

All sold on the notion that the deep dark hidden mystery of science (scientific method, critical thinking etc) is a tool that will change your life, allow you to be more successful in relationships and business, be happier and make the most of your life!

This book would sell like hotcakes, would enlighten masses of otherwise gullible folk and would really hit a lot of folk right where it hurts.

By Supreme Martin… (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

From Seventh Day Adventists' official documents.

"#5 Although some data from science can be interpreted in ways consistent with the biblical concept of creation, we also reviewed data interpreted in ways that challenge the church's belief in a recent creation. The strength of these interpretations cannot be dismissed lightly.

We respect the claims of science, study them, and hope for a resolution. This does not preclude a re-examination of Scripture to make sure it is being properly understood. However, when an interpretation harmonious with the findings of science is not possible, we do not allow science a privileged position in which it automatically determines the outcome. Rather, we recognize that it is not justifiable to hold clear teachings of Scripture hostage to current scientific interpretations of data."

What is meant by "properly understood"? A little bit of relativism there. Does it mean they made mistakes in the past? Like when the instigator of the church William Miller prophetized the second coming for 1844, or when the church was originally arianist and only converted to trinitarianism in the 20th century.

Then finally scripture is superior to scientific study. What a surprise. Another official church position,

"We reaffirm the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the historicity of Genesis 1-11: that the seven days of the Creation account were literal 24-hour days forming a week identical in time to what we now experience as a week; and that the Flood was global in nature."

What is scary is that the SDA apparently has around 7,OOO skools with 1,300,000 pupils.

Richard Dawkins's programs go out on Channel4 which is a public broadcaster (like the BBC, oh Aunty!) but also commercial. So for wonderfully worthy stuff like that they can draw up license payer's money (if you own a tv in the UK you must pay a license fee, currently GBP135.50). They are charged with being edgier, younger, more cutting edge than the Beeb, so they do Big Brother as well as Prof Dawkins...

On the Beeb, who did Jonathon Miller's Brief History of Disbelief, you 'just' have to pitch your idea through a series of commisioning editors. Mind you they hid it away on their digital channels and it took some pleading to get them to put on analog. I understand they were gratified by the viewing figures which hopefully might encourage them...

By Peter Ashby (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

Mark Montague, you cannot copyright a title. I have read a review somewhere of Peter Ward's book and he has a case. For eg there used to be really giant scorpions during iirc the Permian which could not exist today as there is not enough oxygen for their system. It also explains how birds and possibly bats got going and then gradually adapted to lower levels. O2 levels are obviously not the only driver, his point is that it is an overlooked one.

Ah here is where I read about it, of course:…

The review is there too.…

You may need to register to read the whole thing.

By Peter Ashby (not verified) on 28 Aug 2007 #permalink

Here we go again.

I must say, I'm getting really sick of here creationists and their apologist make the same, ridiculous arguments over, and over and over again.

Surley knowledge must rise above idiocey and ignorance? Surley enlightenment can proceed against superstition?

Had you asked me these questions six years ago, when I first started at university, my answer would have been a resolute "yes!". Now days, I'm a little older, wiser, more cynical and I'm not sure what my answer would be.

Nothing I can do but keep plugging away in the lab (my lab is my computer and a series of orbiting satellites, but it's still a lab right?) and talk to the general public as much as I can?

Gary Gygax, of DnD fame, is also a SDA. He claims to be libertarian, but he echoes mainly right-wing talking points, even anti-evolution screeds.

How about some links to back that up.

Gygax isn't my favourite person in the world, and I can see him as a libertarian, but the only "anti-evolution" stuff I've found attached to his name is an obvious parody.

Scott Hatfield,
I was quite serious. Though I often use a lot of humour to carry my ideas on my site:
This time I was quite serious. I think it would be the perfect piece of framing the message of science, as it would firstly target the audience that is massively targetable by rhetoric and romantic notions but hard to target by reason and plain data that are the swing voters if you will in the culture wars. They are folk who are hard to target with normal attempts at public science journalism. It would be a perfect vehicle to enlighten emotive thinkers to the genuinely life-changing influence of logic and reason.

So, anyone want to collaborate on an outline? Health problems would make it difficult for me to complete the project alone in any timely fashion but I would be happy to co-write or merely advise on such a project.