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The Movie "Expelled: No Intelligence
Allowed" - a big attack on science

The Ben Stein movie/documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" is scheduled for release on April 18th. The movie casts Stein (former Nixon speech-writer with a minor acting career) as an “anti-establishment rebel” facing off against “Big Science”. It is a crude attack on evolution, insidiously framed as defending the “Freedom of Speech” of scientists who dare to go up against the scientific establishment. P.Z. Myers, evolutionary biologist and author of the science blog Pharyngula, was recently expelled from a screening of the film (although his guest, Richard Dawkins, was not!) Myers, who was interviewed by the producers under false pretenses and appears in the film, immediately exposed the hypocrisy of the films producers who ejected a critical voice from the screening of a film purporting to be about freedom of speech. (See his blog http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/03/expelled.php ). This, and other exposures of the film’s attack on evolution, created a firestorm in the blogosphere and brought the film some much needed criticism (check out the links below which give a general idea of the discussion). Here we aren’t going to repeat material well-covered elsewhere. In this email we want to address some of the specific strategies of the film.

The film is not aimed at winning over scientists or friends of science. It doesn’t attempt to make a rational case for the truth of intelligent design (which can’t be made in any case, but it doesn’t really try). The movie instead openly poses religion in opposition to evolution, and panders to the prejudices of its intended Christian fundamentalist audience. It poses the little guy vs. “Big Science”; “faith-based common sense” vs. the complexities of reality; and Americanism and freedom of speech vs. the way science has really developed and what science has learned about the world. If you apply the logic Stein applies to evolution to another field, for example astronomy, what is really going on becomes clear to anyone. The logic is equivalent to saying that if the field of astronomy insists on professional standards and demands that astronomers all acknowledge that the earth goes around the sun, then this is an assault on freedom of speech – what about those who want to be astronomers and insist that the earth is the center of the universe?

In this framework, it also makes an insidious political linkage. Stein wrote a piece on the Expelled blog in October: "Darwinism, perhaps mixed with Imperialism, gave us Social Darwinism, a form of racism so vicious that it countenanced the Holocaust against the Jews and mass murder of many other groups in the name of speeding along the evolutionary process." Using innuendo, images of Nazi death camps, and even filming at the memorial to the victims at the Dachau concentration camp, the film “establishes” the horror of “Darwinism”.

As for “Big Science”, the film utilizes what everyone knows - that corporate interests and governments often subvert science to serve immediate narrow objectives - and twists this to unfold a slander campaign against “Big Science”, in a way that equates science itself with “big government”, “big brother”, etc. The claim is made that “many scientists” face persecution for suggesting that intelligent design is evident in such things as DNA and the genetic code. Isolated examples (already thoroughly discredited, as the film-makers must have known) are seized and twisted to paint a picture of the horrible dictatorship of “Big Science”. The battle is framed as a struggle of the little scientists who question orthodoxy against “Big Science”. In this way, such things as peer review, professional standards, and - most fundamentally - the process by which science, and scientists, sort through data to reach new understanding of the world, and then test that understanding, are all put in the camp of oppressive “Big Science”.

The same company that did the campaign for Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” promotes "Expelled". They have used the tactic of screening the film for creationist-minded people (tapping into church networks, getting favorable reviews from people like James Dobson of “Focus on the Family”) to try to create a big audience for the film when it is initially released. To some degree this tactic appears to have backfired (negative publicity, exposure of lying and deceit in production methods, and hypocrisy on the freedom of speech issue raised by expelling P.Z. Myers), and it is not clear exactly how the producers will respond (so far they have lied about the P.Z. Myers expulsion and cancelled scheduled preview showings throughout the country).

There is great duplicity here that needs to be highlighted. The promoters cast the film in terms of opposing fascism and “Big Science”, yet the endorsement of people like Dobson, who advocates the theocratic transformation of American life and political institutions and who sees science and scientific understanding as a real obstacle to that plan, is central to their strategy. "Expelled" is a well-funded attempt to consolidate and expand creationist forces as the Bush Administration enters its final year.

It’s great that the plans of the producers to quietly build an audience among creationists to launch "Expelled" were spoiled by the excellent work of P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins and others. But this film highlights the fact that the creationist forces are still at it, and also that the attacks on evolution lie at the heart of the attacks on science. Defend Science does not call for opposing religion per se, but for defending science from a specific right-wing political agenda, still in power, which is coupled with a particular brand of fundamentalist, religious ideology. All this calls for stepped-up efforts to broadly defend science!

--Defend Science
email: mail@defendscience.com

Sources of further information:

"Expelled" trailer; http://www.expelledthemovie.com/playground.php

National Center for Science Education list of links: http://expelledexposed.com/

Greg Laden’s list of blog entries regarding P.Z. Myer’s expulsion: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2008/03/pz_myers_expelled_gains_sainth.php

Expelled’s backers exposed: Scott Hatfield on MonkeyTrials blog: http://monkeytrials.blogspot.com/2008/03/quacks-like-duck-conclusion.html

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