Flock of Dodos – Yet Another Review.

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I attended a screening of Flock of Dodos last night at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The film was shown in the IMAX theater – of course it was not filmed in the IMAX format, but anyone who’s been in an IMAX theater knows how many people will fit into one. And the place was packed. The filmmaker Randy Olson (and his mother, Muffy Moose, who was featured prominently in the film) were on hand to introduce the movie and to answer questions afterwards, which was a special treat.

Before I go into gripes about the film, I want to say that on the whole it was excellent and definitely worth seeing. It was above all entertaining. It made for a decent if somewhat incomplete exposé of the ID movement. And a number of nonsense arguments that the IDists promulgate were knocked down, in many cases through the documentary technique of just letting the silliness speak for itself. The recurring theme of Mt. Rushmore was the sterling example of this.

Nevertheless, in spite of the film’s strengths, my job as semi-obsessed-ID-watcher was to notice those parts of the movie where I think Olson missed the mark. Below I’m going to go into a lot of detail about this, and it could take awhile, so you might want to buckle in. This isn’t because I think Olson got a lot of things wrong – there are really only a few issues here – it’s that I think these are key points that are important to movie’s theme and the broader issue of defending science. They are therefore worth expounding upon at length.

Problem number one: During an interview with Michael Behe, Olson as the narrator interjects to explain what ID is, and the problems that ID has with evolution. His response: It actually doesn’t object to evolution that much at all. In fact, according to Olson, ID for the most part accepts common descent, the ancient age of the Earth, etc. This is a classic mistake. Yes, Michael Behe does accept common descent, meaning he thinks that humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common ape ancestor. However, his position is very much in the minority among prominent ID advocates, to say nothing of their less prominent, more creationist-leaning base. Much of the material put out by the Discovery Institute and their associates attacks common descent. As for the age of the Earth, I think it’s probably safe to say that a majority of leading ID advocates accept an old Earth, but there are a significant number who are young-Earthers. Prominent examples would include Paul Nelson, John Mark Reynolds, and possibly Phillip Johnson, the godfather of the ID movement (but he’s too cagey to say). The official position of the ID movement on the age of the Earth is… there is no position. The Discovery Institute will not categorically state whether the Earth is really old or young according to ID theory. They say it doesn’t matter.

Now this is important for two reasons: First of all, it tells us that the ID movement isn’t really interested in doing science. You can’t exactly come up with a testable model of natural history if you can’t even agree on how old things are. ID therefore consists of little more than an attempt at poking holes in evolution, and has yet to come up with anything resembling an actual theory of its own. Secondly, there’s really no telling what kind of nonsense is going to worm its way into public school science classes if the ID people were to have their way with the curriculum. Since there is nothing in ID theory that says the Earth isn’t young, and since the IDists don’t spend time arguing that young-Earth views should be barred from classrooms (that would contradict half their arguments for allowing ID in), then there’s nothing to stop the most extreme young-Earth views from being taught. Most IDists would probably not intend for this to happen, but it’s no accident that the movement refuses to take a stand on the age of the Earth. It’s not that individual ID advocates just really don’t have any idea how old the Earth is, it’s that the ID movement was formulated in large part as a compromise between old-Earthers and young-Earthers. (The compromise does not sit well with many young-Earthers, but that’s another story.) The ID movement needs the young-Earth contingent for its sheer numbers and well-established base. When the door is finally thrown wide-open and the ID movement can have its way with science curricula, the young-Earthers will demand their due. Or, as Phillip Johnson has said, that is the point at which they’ll begin to debate the age of the Earth. Won’t that be fun.

Another thing that bothered me about the movie was the way in which the ID movement’s religious and ideological roots were glossed over. Yes, Olson does get around to mentioning the Wedge Document and the whole thing about destroying “materialism” somewhere about 2/3rds of the way through the movie. But we’re led to believe all the way up to that point that these ID people are perhaps just a bit misguided, or… maybe they’re even onto something. What I found quite telling is that the audience was audibly shocked when shown the whole “splitting the log of naturalism” icon and other creationist illustrations which blame evolution for all of society’s ills. The audience was even more shocked when Olson said during the Q&A session that a creationist doctor (or scientist, or whatever) once told him that our propensity for heart disease was a sign of good design because it gives God an easy method of punishing us for our sins. (It’s not as fun as the lightning bolt, but it gets the job done.) Anyone who is the least bit surprised by these things – which included most of the audience, apparently – doesn’t know much about the creationists and the ID people. This is clearly an area where Olson could have done more to educate, but his treatment of the ID movement’s rather extreme ideological underpinnings was tepid at best. To me these underpinnings are very important, not because they serve as a stick with which to beat the IDists, but because you simply cannot understand the movement without taking into account its creationist roots and reactionary politics. You cannot understand, for example, why the ID movement refuses to take a stand on the age of the Earth if you don’t know that the movement seeks to be a “big tent” for all forms of creationism. Nor can you understand why the far right-wing of the Republican Party is so enamored with ID, and why cramming it into public schools is by far the movement’s top priority, if you don’t know that ID’s whole raison d’être is to provide an intellectual justification for socially conservative political beliefs.

And now, finally, let me say a few things about the subject of communication and how we scientists apparently suck at it, a running theme of the movie which while true in many ways has justifiably irked some people. Yes, scientists could do a better job of communicating. Ain’t that the truth. However, a scientist’s main job is to be a scientist, not a public spokesperson. It’s no wonder that people who dedicate their lives to the deep study of certain issues have a hard time explaining things in layman’s terms to people who are not inclined to know anything about those issues at all. The movie even makes the excellent point that while scientists feel constrained by the truth, the art of public relations (or, less charitably, propaganda), which is essentially what the Discovery Institute is engaged in, is not so constrained. Yet Olson seems to want to blame scientists for their failure to successfully compete with the intellectual equivalent of fast-talking used car salesmen. I’m all happy to put at least some of the blame on scientists, but the thing that bothers me is that Olson gave no real solution for how we’re supposed to be better at communicating. Everyone who tried to ask for such a solution was instead treated to anecdotes on what not to do. Olson was full of stories of evolutionists who gave rotten presentations because they got too angry while their creationist counterparts remained poised and calm. In one example, the evolutionist he referred to made himself look bad by simply responding “no, no, no, no, no, no.…” to some of the nonsense delivered by his creationist opponent.

What I don’t think Olson quite gets, and there was at least one questioner who I think tried to hammer this into him, is that it is not possible to debate creationists on a level playing field when they use the fast-talking used car salesman technique, which is of course all the time. I kept thinking about what the prominent Holocaust historian Deborah E. Lipstadt said when asked why she doesn’t debate Holocaust deniers: I don’t debate liars. It is near impossible to have a reasoned debate with someone, much less win that debate, if the person in question is not intellectually honest. If they keep spouting falsehoods that have repeatedly been shown to be false, sometimes “no, no, no, no, no, no.…” is the only thing left to say. Perhaps a better approach is not to agree to appear with them until they clean up their act. There is no easy answer to this conundrum, but I’m afraid that Olson hasn’t even correctly diagnosed the problem.

In the end, the only message I got was that we’re apparently supposed to lighten up, to be all bright, cheery, and good natured with the people who are on an ideological crusade to smear us in every way possible. People who, for example, compare us to Nazis, Stalinists, and the dark lord Sauron. Okay, so we’re supposed to be happy with people who are utter jerks to us. Got it. Olson also made disparaging remarks about “angry bloggers”, which made me cringe because I feared he may have been talking about us, in which case my thought was that he must not read our blog. But that can’t be right because he later made a positive reference to PZ Myers, one of the most active members of our blog. This is very strange, because PZ is the very archetype of the angry blogger, the one who comes out with guns a blazin’ and holds nothing back. Yet in spite of his sandpaper persona, PZ is very effective and probably has more readers than the rest of us put together. This tells me that righteous anger, when properly channeled, works quite well. What, then, is Olson actually suggesting?

The happy dude stance became all the more ironic when during the Q&A session Olson recounted the Discovery Institute’s recent smear job on him. We’ve all seen the whole Hoax of Dodos nonsense. This was something that also seemed to shock the audience, which again tells me that the movie failed to inform them about how the ID movement really operates. Olson himself seemed somewhat surprised, as if he thought they were going to give him a pat on the back when up until this point all they’ve given him is the finger. In recounting the tale, however, Olson sounded rather… bitter. Almost as if he didn’t really appreciate being blatantly lied about. Hey, welcome to the club! It happens to all of us eventually. But what about being all happy with people who are acting like jerks to you? Why the angry blogger routine? Maybe Randy Olson should lighten up a bit.

(Cross-posted to Sunbeams from Cucumbers.)

70 Comments

Amen. When Olson was present for a Q&A after a screening here at Kansas State University a while back, he shared the stage with the lying jackass (can’t remember his name at the moment) who, in the film, alleged that the discovery of DNA and the genetic code was a major setback for “evolutionists”. Olson wondered aloud why scientists couldn’t be more communicative, and when it was pointed out to him that it was difficult to communicate to liars like this idiot if you were constrained by the truth, he just moved on to the next questioner.

I also find it vexing that Olson has lots of stories about bad communication, but no concrete suggestions for those of us who slog in the trenches. Since he used to slog in those same trenches before he went to Hollywood, that is a bit surprising. Hopefully he doesn’t think we should all climb out of the trenches and head to Hollywood…

Good review!

Yes, Michael Behe does accept common descent, meaning he thinks that humans and chimpanzees evolved from a common ape ancestor.

Behe had his fingers crossed. He “accepts” evolution provided the Designer did it and designed the appearance of evolution.

I saw AFOD last night at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle - it’s had a week-long run there. I had the same overall impression as you, Steve - generally very good, but a few things I wasn’t comfortable with.

Thw whole structure of the film was designed to reinforce the (apparently preconceived) overall point - creationists might be wrong, but they are friendly salt-of-the-earth people, while scientists are right but cannot connect with the public. I thought the poker game was a set-up - a bunch of scientists socialising with each other are not going to be in the same “get your ideas across” mode as creationists interviewed one-on-one. Perhaps if Olson had rounded up half-a-dozen creationists at the ID conference, it would have been a fairer comparison. It might have been hard to get them to play poker and drink wine, though.

Olson clearly went out of his way to be nice to Michael Behe. Perhaps because of this, his coverage of Dover was weaker than it could have been - he didn’t mention the Behe cross-examination train wreck. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have come out of the theatre thinking Behe’s ideas were considered credible. Behe is by some distance the least loony of the ID gang, and the furthest removed from the YECs. Concentrating on him, as Steve says, gave a misleading impression of the overall consensus within the movement.

I would take a slightly different tack to Steve on the issue of communication. While I agree it’s rarely a good idea to take on creationists in a “public debate” format (Gish Gallop ahoy!), we do need to make a more determined effort to engage with the world of soundbites and press releases. I think our gut reaction is to treat this debate as a scientific one - and we know we’re right, we can demonstrate we’re right, and the scientific review process will consign ID creationism to the Museum of Failed Ideas in due course. But it’s not a scientific debate. It’s a political one, and we need to use political tools to present our case. The IDers aren’t doing science. They’re doing PR and lobbying. We need to do the same.

It seems a shame that scientists are not better at communication, especially since that is what many of them do for a living, teaching science and biology classes. Then again, we generally get little training in preparation for this task, except perhaps lots of practice at meetings where the audience is quite different. Perhaps training in public speaking and teaching preparation should be part of a graduate program for scientists. After all, some graduate without even getting any experience as teaching assistants. Of course this might take away from the time available to do good science, but then again, if it makes better teachers and better debaters it might be worth it in the long run.

It also seems to me that Steve is right about venues for debates. Letting creationists call the shots, pick the audience and control the questions hardly seems to be the right way to go about things. Under the proper conditions it might be useful to debate even the most unreasonable person. It might be hard to get a level playing field, but that should at least be an important consideration. That is why the boycott of the recent Kansas kangaroo court was so widely supported. It was obvious the fix was in, so why bother? I have had some positive experiences, but only because of a good impartial (or even slightly sympathetic) moderator. Showing people up as lying, disingenuous and ignorant can be hard work, but somebody has to do it. Maybe once Olson has gotten a taste of the DI treatment he might understand better why some people get upset.

I would take a slightly different tack to Steve on the issue of communication. While I agree it’s rarely a good idea to take on creationists in a “public debate” format (Gish Gallop ahoy!), we do need to make a more determined effort to engage with the world of soundbites and press releases.

Please note that the structure of press releases, soundbites and PR campaigns came about after years of empirical work. And there’s some sound science in there, as well, if you’ve perused some of the social science research.

Let’s not look down our noses at PR and soundbites; they’re used because they work in their standard arena. If we want to step into that arena, then we’d better learn the tools that are usually used there…

JohnW Wrote:

I thought the poker game was a set-up - a bunch of scientists socialising with each other are not going to be in the same “get your ideas across” mode as creationists interviewed one-on-one.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I mean, you 1) get a bunch of males together, 2) get them playing poker, and 3) get them drunk. If there’s a better recipe for bringing out obnoxious behavior, I don’t know what it is.

PZ is the very archetype of the angry blogger, the one who comes out with guns a blazin’ and holds nothing back

“Moi?” he asked, innocently.

I’ve talked to Olson, and I know he’s no compromiser on the issue of science, and has no respect for the DI. I think, though, that he made a conscious decision in this movie to bend over backwards, way way waaaaaay back, to be nice to the creationists as human beings, to remove any grounds for complaint that he’s a mean and bitter person. That’s also why he’s consciously keeping everything light and humorous.

I also have similar complaints about the movie. I thought the scene where he asked, “who would you rather play poker with?” and he set up Martin and Calvert and Morris as good, fun people to play cards with was a bit much – I saw them and thought, “no way would I enjoy a game with those liars, I’d rather play with the Harvard scientists.” But I don’t think I’m his audience.

There’s something more subtle going on there. I mean, consider that scene where he’s chatting with Kathy Martin, and talking about them as just good folks, and the camera zooms in on the GW Bush calendar in the background. There’s a message there. He’s just delivering it with a very light touch.

Obviously it’s not my style, but it’s a style that works. Despite being so easy on them, the DI has gone absolutely ballistic over the movie. Maybe one point is that even with the gentle, humorous touch, the whole creationist gang comes off as a bit stupid.

There are two simple problems relating to communication here:

1. subject matter - to properly get across the history of the field of evolution, how the theory itself has adopted information like molecular genetics, and explain how all of the evidence fits, requires an entire COURSE, not just a few minutes of someone’s time.

2. audience - the audience of most public debates is poorly educated wrt to evolutionary theory (and often science in general) to begin with. Does someone with expertise in quantum mechanics expect that an average audience member at a public debate will understand the intricacies of the theory, or even some of the more basic mathematics involved?

These two things combine to make it extraordinarily difficult to compare a complex thing like evolutionary theory to a far simpler idea that “sky fairies did it”. As Dembski is fond of saying: “We don’t have to match your pathetic level of detail”. indeed. The end result of course is rather like a catch 22; the audience can grasp the simple concepts of the IDist, and will end up taking those home with them to teach their kids instead of the more complex reality. Thus THEIR kids will be ignorant when their time comes to attend a “debate” of this sort, and their delusions will only be reinforced.

This is why it isn’t simply a matter of “communication”, because, as has been said many times, it simply will not work at the level that the IDist’s message will.

The only real communication that needs be done is increasing the level of funding and resources for teachers involved in teaching evolution to secondary school and university students. making sure that teachers involved in this subject have the resources and materials available to them to teach it well.

The rest, in time, should take care of itself.

PZ -

No disagreements with you there. But it makes Olson’s propensity for pointing fingers at us scientists all the more perplexing. If he didn’t know it before, he definitely knows it now that the real angry and unhinged people, the one’s who can’t tolerate any criticism without blowing up, are working for the Discovery Institute.

Actually, there is one disagreement. I think I’d rather play poker with Kathy Martin and the rest because they probably don’t know much probability and would be dead money on the table. But of course, that’s not what Olson was getting at.

When Olson was present for a Q&A after a screening here at Kansas State University a while back, he shared the stage with the lying jackass (can’t remember his name at the moment) who, in the film, alleged that the discovery of DNA and the genetic code was a major setback for “evolutionists”.

Salvador “Wormtongue” Cordova, perhaps?

Nice review! I haven’t seen AFOD yet, but I’d like to see it soon. Because of that, perhaps I’m not in a position to comment, but I’ll comment anyways!

It seems that Olson is suggesting we accept a double standard; that is, we allow the creationists to be rude, offensive, and angry against us, but we should be “bright, cheery, and good natured” back to them. That doesn’t seem to make sense, and yet I think he is probably right. Why? Well, I think the problem is that we need to think about whom we are trying to communicate with. We aren’t trying to communicate with IDists/creationists such as Behe, Dembski, etc. We are trying to communicate with the general public. You know, the general public that doesn’t know very much about science, and typically has at least a vague belief in God, and many of which probably even go to church every Sunday. People who at first brush, not knowing anything about either side, would probably side with the creationists. If we approach these people with rudeness, anger, indignation, etc., it’s going to instantly make them put up their defenses and drive them into the creationist camp, regardless of how righteous our indignation might be. What we need to do, God help us, is to show the ID/creationist people respect, even while we show their ideas are baseless, ignorant, and sometimes idiotic, especially if taken to their logical conclusion (which the creationists usually don’t do). While I generally agree with the people posting here, and think there’s a great deal of excellent information on this site, I would hesitate to send someone I knew was sympathetic to creationism to this site, for fear that they would read something insulting that would make them more defensive than they already are.

Raging Bee - No, this particular lying jackass is named Jack Cashill, and in the movie he is conversing with Olson in a bar in Lawrence, Kansas. Wormtongue almost certainly would not frequent a bar, would he?

Doug Schwer - I agree that Olson’s message is that we need to speak nice and avoid saying things like “liar” or “hypocrite” or “jackass” when we discuss ID in front of the general public. But the problem with that message is that science is so dependent on truth and trust that most scientists (myself included) just can’t hold back when someone emits a bald-faced lie about science. I can certainly restrain myself when confronted with confusion or ignorance, or when quibbling about interpretation of data, or about which wording about an observation works better in the discussion section of a paper, or any other legitimate scientific dispute. But I just have a hard time with bald-faced liars, and I don’t think I am unique in that regard. So even if Olson wants me to go out and play nice with folks who show the ultimate disrespect for science and the way it is done (by lying about it), I just can’t do it.

Doug Schwer Wrote:

It seems that Olson is suggesting we accept a double standard; that is, we allow the creationists to be rude, offensive, and angry against us, but we should be “bright, cheery, and good natured” back to them.

That’s not quite it. The creationists shown in the film were nice and personable for the most part. Olson’s point was that the nice guy shtick works better than the angry, confrontational shtick as demonstrated by his poker playing foils.

What Olson perhaps didn’t know is that the very same people who will smile and be all nice when you’re speaking with them face-to-face will act extremely nasty under different circumstances. John Calvert is probably one of the worst, as past posts on PT will attest to. His behavior throughout much of the Kansas controversies was downright despicable, yet he comes across in the film as a decent fellow. (For what it’s worth, I’m sure most of these people are quite decent in their personal lives; their public lives are a different matter.)

It seemed to me that Olson was somewhat naive going into this, thinking that the ID people really weren’t all that bad after all. Then the Discovery Institute releases their attack poodles, and now he’s suddenly realizing that they’re a bunch of dishonest jerks. It’s nice that he’s finally figured this out, but unfortunately it came about a year too late.

Steve & PZ

I saw the movie as well and thought it was generally well done so when I hear that the DI is going “ballistic” over it it makes me wonder if there are IDists who are becoming disaffected. It also makes me wonder if there are former IDists around somewhere who finally got sick of things like this too.

On the “angry blogger” issue and without pointing fingers there are a few people here who come off as extremely unstable at times and this probably hinders communication quite a bit.

Re: importance of teaching ev. in schools: (1) Just two nights ago a fellow grad-student told me about a friend of hers teaching in a private school in Utah who was requested to teach creationism alongside evo. in a science class - and buckled. Is this the result of only fear of job loss, or also lack of resources to combat such a request? Is there enough outreach to teachers who get stuck in these situations? (2) While I agree that complex science stuff should be taught in classrooms, that’s no reason to drop the ball in the public arena. People know next to nothing about the wildly compex world of ocean/atmosphere circulation, yet there is a growing public consensus that climate change is occurring, we’re responsible, and we need to do something about it.

Another thing to keep in mind is that no matter how good we scientists ever become at communicating our work to the general public, (in the U.S.) there’s always going to be a signficant percentage of people who simply will never accept it.

The slickest presentation, the most friendly demeanor, the most handsome smile, and the easiest to understand content isn’t going to matter one bit to the evangelical who’s already convinced that evolution is a tool of Satan.

To a lot of folks, evolution is one of many threats to the eternal fate of their soul. And as long as creationists have their material available on the internet, these theologically frightened folk will never lack for “rebuttals” that justify maintaining their willfull ignorance. And I belive there will always be people who tell believers what they want to hear (in this case, “evolution is wrong, the Bible is right”).

So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that clever marketing will suddenly result in public acceptance of evolution and no more challenges to public school science curricula.

I posted this below, but I think too deep for most to notice- at a discussion on “the New Atheism”, featuring Adrian Wyard of Counterbalance.org and John West of the DI, I got to hear the DI recommending going to see Flock of Dodos, as well as their explanation of why they didn’t return Olson’s calls during the making of the movie. You can read more in a highly biased perspective at abdulmuhib.blogspot.com, before the podcast comes out at the Kindlings Muse.

I don’t know. I’ve read a fair bit of stuff from DI and the ID crowd, besides Behe, that advocates evolution, except in the gaps of “irreducible complexity”. (Speaking of the leaders of the movement here, and not the masses.) Granted, I think a lot of them flip-flop as good as a politician, and their words seem to be equally obscured at times. But I think we can still hold them to their words, or “use their words against them”, when they advocate evolution in most cases, except for those exceptions.

And I know the words were meant in jest, but I’d have to say, yes, we should be bright and cheery with those who are on a campaign to smear us. The way of the world simply is, that regardless of how one might feel, that gets people’s respect. It’s what a lot of the ID crowd (though not all) is doing, and so, as Olson makes the point in the movie, most of the public would rather have a drink with the ID guy, even if they disagree with his facts. I don’t say they are nicer- but they truly appear to be nicer. And in the modern information age, appearence is everything.

Bloody Seabird Flavour:

speak nice and avoid saying things like “liar” or “hypocrite” or “jackass”

Maybe use the line Al Franken uses in “Liars”, after quoting some idiocy from the right: “It’s not… what’s the word? Oh yeah: true.”

Geogeek-

I think you make an excellent point about climate change. It’s some complex stuff, too complex in it’s entirety too be taught without classes in it. But it takes something like An Inconvenient Truth, a rather light mass-market approach, to reach the public on it. There are two tiers here- what is dispensed to the general public without a science background, and what the scientists are doing.

Steve:

Okay, I stand corrected. Honestly, I have a hard time watching creationists for more than a few minutes, so my opinions might be a little off. Most of what I have read or watched by creationists, though, they come off as dismissive, arrogant, and condescending. Maybe I’ve just read too much Uncommon Descent.

However, I still stand by my general comment that if we want to win the hearts of ordinary people (which is what this is about), we should be on our best behavior. If Olson had come off bitter in his movie, people might just have passed him off as someone with an axe to grind. I think the better approach is to focus on why their (the IDist/creationists) ideas are so ridiculous, and not on their other actions or personality traits. I understand that that’s a very frustrating and difficult thing to do, but I also think it’s the most effective.

Jason F Wrote:

So let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that clever marketing will suddenly result in public acceptance of evolution and no more challenges to public school science curricula.

I agree with you that there will always be some people who won’t see reason and who will try to challenge the science curricula, etc; but there are a vast number of other people that sit on the fence simply because they have never really thought things through, and it’s these type of people who we can influence, if we go about it the right way. I don’t necessarily suggest a slick marketing campaign, but something that focuses people on the basic arguments; because I think if we can focus people on that, the IDists/creationists don’t have a chance. Which is why the spend all their time on other topics.

I saw it in the IMAX at the Seattle Science Center on Friday night. Although it wasn’t packed, there was a good crowd, mostly science teachers I suspect. Is Muffy Moose for real? She was a delight. I enjoyed the film very much, the humor was a bonus.

I saw the movie at Case yesterday with my HS senior daughter. Although she goes to a school system with v.v.strict scientific standards - and her biology teacher makes fun of creationists at ever turn - her first question after the movie stumped me. “Why can’t we teach both these things?” While I am some sort of a “lay expert” in the recent history of IDiocy, and can read between the lines, first time viewers of “…Dodos…” like my daughter may end up thinking that IDiocy may be wrong but not dishonest, crazy, crooked, and fraudulent. Randy Olson simply does not provide enough for people fresh to this issue. He is preaching to the knowing ones. And like scientists who are busy doing real job and most of whom have little time to waste on IDiots, he seems to be late to the party. This movie has been in the making during a very busy time for science popularisers. Randy’s inexperience with IDiots/Creos shows up when he bats away the “Mt.Rushmore is Design” play with a casual flick of “Yeah, human design,” as his interviewee drones on ignorant as ever. That’s not a seasoned science popualriser talking, it’s a scientist. Good work all the same Randy. We need more movies like this one. Now I know why BillyBoy is so miffed with the book/movie. Randy simply ignored him!

Doug said:

I have a hard time watching creationists for more than a few minutes, so my opinions might be a little off. Most of what I have read or watched by creationists, though, they come off as dismissive, arrogant, and condescending.

Well come on now Doug. If I knew the absolute truth, I would no doubt also be dismissive, arrogant, and condescending to those who had to slog through years of studies in pathetic level of detail to figure out what I already knew. Wouldn’t you?

BIG NEWS!

“The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning evolution that had made the state an object of ridicule.”

The full story here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17132925/

thanks for the tip, Buridan.

Did you check out the MSNBC poll associated with the story.

points for anyone, or everyone, who can point out what’s wrong with the questions in that poll.

The poll questions assume that there are alternatives to evolutionary theory? Well, at least implies that the alternatives are more coherent than goddidit or goddiditbyfrontloadingdesignatthebeginning.

Whoah. The CNN article on the subject just got edited. It originally had the following into paragraph as pasted from my cache…

The Kansas school board, long ridiculed for its resistance to teaching evolution, prepared Tuesday to repeal rules backed by social conservatives and switch to science guidelines that embrace Charles Darwin’s mainstream theories.

I was going to kvetch about about the misconception that evolution is Darwin’s theory. He may have given the ball one hell of a push a century and a half ago, but please do not contribute to the fallacy that Darwin’s ideas are the sum total of evolutionary thought.

But…the article is now substantially different. No such paragraph in sight.

The poll questions assume that there are alternatives to evolutionary theory?

more specifically, it does not make the necessary distinction of scientific alternatives to evolutionary theory, which there theoretically at least could be.

magic sky pixies is not a scientific alternative, nor is ID.

IOW, the poll is poorly constructed and would tend to lead the uneducated to answer it in the affirmative.

If you take a look at the person who set up the poll, and the discussion, he seems rather overly interested in the topic, based on other related stories he has contributed to.

It’s really pathetic how poorly MSNBC is at hiding their bias.

Re: being nice versus being angry.

I’m going to register my extreme disagreement with the idea that evolutionary scientists will go a lot further if only they act nicer to Creationists and IDists. I have nothing against scientists who wish to take the softly-softly approach. Carl Sagan used to do it extremely effectively. But anger also has polemic value – after all, it’s pretty much what the IDists tap into. They blame evolution for every social ill. They accuse scientists of unfair treatment. They act like the major media are part of a gigantic conspiracy against ID when in fact the mainstream media have been far too easy on them. Anger, distrust, and bitterness towards evolution and scientists are all you ever hear from them. And guess what? Does it turn off the religious right? Do they think, “Oh no, we shouldn’t besmirch Jesus’s name by association with these people?” Not at all. The anger *works*.

The reason why evolutionary scientists lose debates has nothing to do with arrogance or being dismissive. It has everything to do with the way the debates are stacked with a Creationist audience who can’t be talked around. Has there *ever* been an evolution/Creation debate that had a significant positive impact? Not that I’m aware of (and if it has happened, I’d like to know what made the difference). The scientist gets up, tells the truth, and because the truth isn’t what most of the audience wants to hear, it gets labelled as arrogance. There is no way to talk politely to Creationists about it because they are irreconcilably offended if anyone expresses a positive view of evolution. And I don’t believe being nice helps the middle ground, either. I think most people who don’t know about ID will find anger a perfectly understandable reaction – provided it is articulated well.

I’m not saying that everyone should speak with anger. It suited Sagan’s temperament not to do so. But I don’t think PZ or Richard Dawkins should be hauled up for writing according to their temperament. Specific mistakes are fair game for criticism, but saying people shouldn’t express anger at being lied to and misquoted and forced to waste time defending solid science against ancient superstitious claptrap? Come on. The Dixie Chicks just won five Grammys for an album that was so politically outspoken many commentators thought would destroy their careers. Why should scientists have to make nice?

I’d suggest being outspoken and being mean-spirited (or appearing that way) are different things. I have known people from the middle ground who have been severely turned off by the negative attacking attitude of Literal Creationists/ID, and I’ve known people who have also been turned off by the perceived arogance of scientists. The way we approach things can help as much as the content of our message.

I realized this thread has strayed far from the OP but I would like to add a comment on the movie.

I saw the movie last night in DC. It was followed by a panel discussion with Olson, Jack Cashill (see his recent Sternberg article on WND), Barbara Forrest, and a lawyer whose name I did not get. I agree that Olson treated Behe with kid gloves and that Behe came across as a smart pleasant fellow just trying to get some basic points across while demonstrating the workings of a mousetrap.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the much harsher treatment of the DI (who did not grant Olson’s interview requests). Olson pointed out that a major portion of their budget goes to PR rather than research and he linked them to the Swift Boat PR group. He also pointed out their abandonment of the Dover school board. So I am not surprised at the reaction of the DI to this movie.

Apparently the movie will be on Showtime in a few months.

Richard Sauerhaber -

Your arguments show either blatant use of dishonest strawmen, or substantial misunderstanding of the theory of evolution. For example, proferring the arguments that your children are of the same species as you, or that you have not observed different kinds of fruit growing on apple trees, as “evidence against evolution”. This kind of gross misunderstanding is usually, in my opinion, deliberate.

But what provokes me to post is the desire to ask some background questions -

1) Where and when did you receive your PhD, and in what discipline?

2) The PubMed database shows no articles by Richard Sauerheber, but a Google search does reveal some vanity press books on general science topics, and mention of an article published in Science in 1972, on the subject of mussels exposed to hydrocarbon products. We know you are the author of the former; are you the author of the latter?

How dare you mock Dr. Sauerbraten. He is the discoverer of the Zeroth Law of Biology (click to 7th preview page, after all the abominably laid-out photos).

Coming soon: the Negative Oneth Law of Bio, I suppose.

Re 161223: I found 22 articles in PubMed by one Richard D. Sauerheber, most recently of the Lilly Research Labs in Indianapolis, IN and/or the California Metabolic Research Foundation in La Jolla. Mostly detailed membrane biochemistry stuff, for what it’s worth. Try this search: “Sauerheber RD”[Author]

CK1: And yet, at least the DI has been forced into a position of recommending people to go see the movie.

On OP: Will FoD be coming out on DVD soon? I missed the Bay Area screenings and am really interested in seeing it.

Revolutionary stuff, the zeroth law:

…What differentiates a live organism from one that is not alive? There are innumerable characteristics of living organism, including in some cases locomotion and in many the ability to reproduce, but the essence of what constitutes the state of being alive is not measurable because life only emanates fro organisms that are already alive.

How this never made it into Science I’ll never know.

I saw the screening last night in Washington, DC, and afterwards, Olson explained that his film wasn’t meant as a documentary. Instead, he was merely telling a story. I’m not sure I quite understood what he meant by that, but he did admit to leaving out a clip that would’ve made Connie Morris of Kansas School Board fame look menacing because he thought the film worked better if she came across as a sweet and sexy character. He also sort of compared himself to Michael Moore, who makes entertaining films albeit slanted, biased and distorted. So I don’t think his intent was to accurately portray the ID fiasco as much as it was to make a film that would appeal to a wide audience. I think he went overboard with the sweet, wholesome image he was trying to give creationists, er, I mean IDists, versus the curmudgeony arrogance he wanted to paint scientists with, but what do I know.

By the by, Jack Cashill was at the DC screening as a panel member and the audience got fed up with his nonsense and lies after a while. Several audience members took him to task and begin peppering him with questions that he couldn’t answer. Panic-stricken, I presume, he launched into even more baffling nonsense, like claiming the more Missouri voters learned about embryonic stem cell research in the run-up to the election last fall, the more they opposed it (Senator Claire McCaskill won with her pro-stem cell campaign and the voters also passed a constitutional amendment allowing the research).

Aryaman Shalizi (and Richard Sauerheber) -

I stand corrected on the issue of PubMed citations. I foolishly searched only under “Richard Sauerheber”.

The most recent citation I saw was from 1991, suggesting that Dr Sauerheber (giving him the benefit of the doubt with regard to his PhD, although he hasn’t clarified it yet) may be retired from active research.

It’s possible that the misspellings and grammatical errors in Richard Sauerheber’s posts reflect dyslexia, a later-life medical condition affecting written speech, or English as a second language.

His blatant misunderstanding of the theory of evolution - feigned, in my opinion - remains undeniable. Offering the fact that apple trees produce apples rather than other fruit as an “argument agaist evolution”, for example, instantly damages the crebility of whoever makes such a claim.

I did find something that may explain what’s going on. It seems that Dr Sauerheber may have written a letter to a newspaper editor entitled “Bush needs our prayers” to the North County Times. http://www.nctimes.com/articles/200[…]06153735.txt

I happen to strongly agree with that sentiment, but almost certainly not in the sense which was originally intended.

Althoughthe US right wing has, in the past, used distortions of the theory of evolution to justify economic policy, and may again, we may once again see evidence that the current creationism/ID fad is politically motivated.

It could be a coincidence that all advocates of ID happen to endorse the contemporary version of the “conservative movement” ideology, and that they all happened to come to the same mistaken conclusions about the theory of evolution by a tremendously odd happenstance.

Or it may not be a coincidence.

Some comments on Flock o f Dodos, from one of the dodos.

There are no silver bullets and no one thing is the way to handle this issues.

The film is dense with information and usually requires more then one viewing. Many academics find things wrong with Dodos on first viewing. If you think that the message of the film is that we have to be “nice” to communicate better, you need to watch the film again. I have observed that academics/intellectuals have an emotional response to the poker game and being told that they may have some part in the general issue of science illiteracy. Watch the poker game a bit more carefully. We (I include myself in these feelings) say that; * People want simple answers to complex issues * Students do not want to work hard enough to understand complex issues * People are isolated from the outdoors and have trouble understanding biology * NSF will have to cut off our funding if we use the word evolution in our public statements of research.

While I agree with these and other statements made around the table, all of them are outside of anything we have control over, except one. Only one of the poker players suggested a change in our behavior — Mark Patterson. It is interesting that few flocks pick up on his suggestion that we do not treat the public like they are idiots. Look at the ID conference; those people site through the discussions of dense material (OK, it may be utter crap) because the ID folks treat them like they can understand. Where do we do something similar? We do have control over how and what we say to the public.

It is also important to consider our audience when are communicating. What is their prior knowledge, what do the care about and how can we connect what we have to say to both an emotional level and connecting new knowledge to what they already know.

BTW: Randy has made several suggestions online about how we could improve our communication. Frankly, I do not need to look to Randy to tell me how to communicate better. I prefer to think for myself and consider my audience.

Here is one suggestion anyway — the film creates an opportunity for dialogue. Buy the film and show it in your home to your neighbors. After the film sit and talk with them about the film and any issues they think are interesting about science.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve Reuland published on February 13, 2007 10:38 AM.

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