In case it had escaped your notice, there is a documentary being released in April called “Expelled! No intelligence allowed” (IMDB, Wiki). It’s aim seems to be point out instances of discrimination against academics who are proponents of Intelligent Design in academic circles. Not surprisingly, it is being proclaimed to be all about academic freedom and a blow to the Theory of Evolution and so on. However, even a casual investigation of the film and the cases it supposedly uses clearly show us that … well, just read on and make up your own minds.
Ben Stein is the presenter of the documentary and it is a fair call to say he is fairly right wing himself. He is a former Nixon speech writer, gives financial advice and so – but he is most likely best known for his role in the movie ‘Ferris Buellers Day Off’. Needless to say, his speech aren’t memorable, his acting a one trick pony and his financial advice in newspaper is often ridiculed.
First of all, they interviewed a bunch of scientists for the movie. A good start you might well think but … no. Interviewees, according to their own statements, were lied to and apparently treated less than fairly. PZ Myers, a well known biologist who was interviewed, gives his statement regarding the affair on his own blog. Numerous other interviewees have come out with similar accounts, including Richard Dawkins.
Next let’s turn to the film’s widespread use (see later for reviews stating this) of attempts to tie eugenics to the Theory of Evolution. Eugenics is sometimes also called Social Darwinism, but it has (under either name) nothing to do with the Scientific Theory. The philosophy of social darwinism was actually around long before Darwin after set sail to those islands and noted that something was odd about the native birds. One of it’s earliest proponents, know that I think on it, was Thomas Malthus … a Christian Minister. Regardless, it is a very silly argument akin to blaming Christianity for the Klu Klux Klan.
How about the supposed main thrust of the film; the supposed academic discrimination? Well, let’s get one thing straight first of all. Is Intelligent Design science to begin with? Well, no. Not only do scientists not count it as science but even Michael Behe and the Courts state that it is not. Therefore, on that alone, it does not deserve academic recognition in that particular field.
What about the cases that the film brings up? Well, let’s take a quick look at three of them.
Caroline Crocker: Supposedly fired for her support and belief in Intelligent Design but it soon became apparent that she was fired for just plain gross incompetence. TinyFrog found examples of her work and you can clearly see that anybody that produced/used such materials and presented them in a class would be fired.
Guillermo Gonzalez: Claimed to have been denied tenure because of his support for ID. Soon was revealed that he was denied tenure because of his extremely poor academic performance. As stated by the University: “specifically considered refereed publications, level of success in attracting research funding and grants, the amount of telescope observing time he had been granted, the number of graduate students he had supervised, and most importantly, the overall evidence of future career promise in the field of astronomy … simply did not show the trajectory of excellence that we expect in a candidate seeking tenure in physics and astronomy — one of our strongest academic programs.“
Richard Sternberg: Claimed he was fired from the Smithsonian Institute and lost his role as an Editor because of his Pro-ID beliefs. Soon was revealed that he was never actually employed by the Smithsonian Institute (instead only had research privledges, which he still retains) and was set to retire as Editor anyhow.
Really not looking good for the Documentary so far, is it? But it’s really not surprising since they rely on horribly unreliable and discredited sources, as PZ Myers outlines here.
So what else is wrong with ‘Expelled’? We’ve already covered deceitful practices and very poor research to the point of dishonesty. Well, their marketing is highly suspicious it would seem.
Well, the films makers have had to resort to paying people to come and see the film, using terms such as ‘mandatory field trip’ and the like. Looking at the figures, the films creators are paying more than the ticket price back to organisations that get groups to go see it. Illegal? Not in the least. Immoral? Only if they try to then boast ticket sales as proof of the films success. Dodgy? Yeah, pretty much.
The press conferences are also highly suspicious. Usually at press conferences, you can expect qualified and recognised journalists to be able to ask questions to whoever is the spotlight of the event (sportsmen, actors, businessmen, whatever). However, this common practice has not been used at all – instead it seems that only respresentatives of the films on publicity company got to ask questions (just imagine how hard hitting they had to have been) while questions from anyone else (if you were able to get in at all) were very carefully screened. How is that for open academic discussion and questioning? Academic freedom, anyone?
It is also a common practice for those who are in a film or documentary to be able to go and see it. Common curtesy, if nothing else. PZ Myers, one of those interviewed, attempted to go and see a public screening of it with his wife, child and a guest. What happened? He was refused entry simply on the grounds he was PZ Myers, reknowned biologist. His wife and child were let in, as was his guest. His guest? Richard Dawkins of all people. I guess security didn’t recognise the famed British citizen. To say this is causing a lot of laughter in certain sections of the community is an understatement. There is more information on this particular incident here, which verified what PZ Myers states.
Of course, the screenings themselves are rather questionable themselves. People going in have to sign non-disclosure agreements, show photo ID, not take in any bags or purses and so on. Rather odd all in all. The screenings are patrolled by off duty police officers using night vision goggles. How is this known? Well, people have gotten in and had a look at a screening and reported back on the whole affair. ‘Nomad’ made a lengthy review of the whole thing, Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel also saw it and gave it a damning review. And here’s another review of Expelled, just to make it a trio of them. This is actually very interesting since the films makers are, as seen, actively filtering who actually gets to see screenings and who doesn’t; making sure that positive crowds get the chance to see it. Again, extremely eyebrow raising considering the supposed point of the film being academic freedom. I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning.
But all in all, it may not be so bad. Oh wait, it seems that it is. The Expelled team invited a whole bunch of legislators (no public or members of the press) in Florida to a free screening of the documentary. The result? As you can read, only about one hundred people in total turned up, none of them anyone of any actual note.
In response to the rather hopeless contents of this film, two main things have happened. First, a rather simple website called Expelled Exposed has been put up which rather succintly points out some related news, articles and the like. The second? Well, let’s end with some comedy and turn to the good ol’ Flying Spaghetti Monster and the horrible case of FSM studies not getting proper academic recognition!
So is the film credible? Does it make rational arguments from solid sources? Does it use verified evidence? Well, No. Did the film makers use some pretty dodgy practices in both film creation and marketing? That seems pretty evident and clear.
The rest? Well, I think you can make up your own minds.
Dawkins and Myers sat down and quickly hashed over their initial thoughts on the film and the circumstances surrounding it.
The story about the silliness at the screening has also been picked up by the New York Times.
Richard Dawkins has made a post on his own blog which reviews the expelling of PZ Myers and the film itself. To say that he shreds it to pieces and Mathis (and other film creators involved) is/are revealed as liars is an understatement.