Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger, both of the BioLogic Institute, have put out a series of videos summarizing some of the content of “Science and Human Origins.” They attempt to undermine the case for common descent, and in particular the descent of humans from non-human ancestors. John Harshman, in comments on my posts on the use of a commercial stock photo of a lab as a background for Ann Gauger’s blather about “… a hidden secret in population genetics and in evolution,” argued that the focus on the green-screening diverts attention from the real issue, which is her mangling of the science (see here for an example). While John is right that setting the record straight on the science is important, it’s also the case that the green-screening is but one aspect of a larger effort on the part of the Disco ‘Tute to erode public confidence in ‘mainstream’ science. And that effort is what underpins the newest strategy of the Disco ‘Tute and its fellow travelers, which is to promote legislation embodying so-called “academic freedom” for public school teachers who want to teach creationism and intelligent design (see here for an overview and here for a Barbara Forrest video on it).
The “science” in the Axe/Gauger/Luskin book “Science and Human Origins” was eviscerated by Paul McBride (see here for pointers to the six posts of McBride’s evisceration). Commenters on several blogs have critiqued the representation of the science in a couple of the videos. But is the green-screen issue irrelevant? Nope.
It’s obvious that the target audience for the videos featuring Douglas Axe and Ann Gauger is not composed of professionals in biology. Gauger says:
There’s no time. Population genetics equations for humans or primates–the population size, the mutation rate, all the factors that are known–say that it takes six million years for for one mutation in a DNA binding site to arise. That’s published in the literature. One mutation in a DNA binding site in six million years. (Here at 0:15 ff)
She’s not speaking to professionals, who would laugh her out of the room. Her remarks addressed to lay people in the pews, to school board members, and to state legislators, and they’re designed to show just how deluded those materialistic Darwinists are to think that chimps and humans share a common ancestor. Just one mutation in a DNA binding site every six million years? Those Darwinists must be crazy to believe that humans and chimps have a common ancestor!
It’s plain that the intent of those videos is purely rhetorical, not scientific. It is to throw up a smokescreen of sciency-sounding blather to provide school boards and state legistatures with cover to sneak creationism into public schools. It is aimed at eroding support for real science by employing the forms of science without its content. If it looks sciency enough, those legislators and board members will feel quite justified in opening public school science classrooms to what John Freshwater’s pleading (pdf) to the Ohio Supreme Court called “competing academic theories.” Two such “academic theories” named in a subsequent document (pdf) he filed are creation science and intelligent design. Freshwater is making an academic freedom argument for teaching creationism and/or intelligent design in the public schools. And Gauger is participating by lending her purported scientific authority to publicizing the scientific misrepresentations that bolster Freshwater’s case in particular and the “academic freedom” strategy in general. Again, Gauger’s target audience is not professionals, it’s lay people and the legislators and school board members they elect.
Given that the intent of the video is rhetorical, the stage setting is not an irrelevant factor to consider. The stage setting in which an actor performs influences the perception of the actor’s role, and in critiquing a performance (which is what Gauger is doing–performing), the set design is a completely legitimate object of consideration. When commenters on Youtube, Sandwalk, and here looked at it, they found that the stage setting was not what it appeared to be in the video, Gauger’s lab in which she was being sciency, but was a commercial stock photo masquerading as Gauger’s lab. That, of course, immediately gave rise to speculations, some of them going well beyond any evidence. But looking at the stage setting for Gauger’s remarks is not inappropriate.
Gauger, we are told, has a real laboratory at the BioLogic Institute. In a post whining about the ridicule Gauger’s video evoked, David Klinghoffer offered us a photo of it, showing some shelves with bottles and Gauger herself peering intently at a Petri dish. I fully believe that Gauger has a lab at the BioLogic Institute, and that it has shelves with bottles on them, Petri dishes, and some appropriate equipment for the work she does there. That would have been an appropriate backdrop for Gauger’s video remarks; it’s an authentic credential, and green-screening her talking into a photo of it would have been unproblematic. But the DI chose instead to use a stock photo, a fake credential. And that’s why the green-screened background is relevant: It’s a fake credential presented as though it were genuine. Why the DI opted to use a fake credential rather than an apparently real one is unknown, but that it did so speaks to its mindset, and calling attention to the use of a fake credential to lend specious authority to Gauger’s words is entirely appropriate.