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Monday, March 24, 2008

Myers Follow-Up

Richard Dawkins has written a review of Thursday's incident—in which P.Z. Myers was barred from a screening of the "intelligent design" movie Expelled—as well as a review of the film itself. He's also posted a clip from a to-be-released 90-minute discussion between the two evolutionary biologists and atheists, in which they talk about what happened. "What astonishes me about this is—well, everyone's been pointing it out around the globe—is that it's an incredible piece of inept public relations to expel somebody not just from any film but from a film about expelling people for their, I don't know, opinions or what they say, or think what they think," Dawkins tells Myers. Dawkins also calls the movie "bad" and "boring," though Myers' appearance is said to be "genial." (On his own blog, Pharyngula, Myers corrects a point he makes in this clip about a cell video in the movie.)
Over on the Panda's Thumb site, Allen MacNeill, who teaches biology and evolution at Cornell University, left a comment saying that he and William Provine, a professor of the history of biology at Cornell, were also interviewed for the film under false pretenses (like Dawkins and Myers, they were told the movie was called Crossroads and would fairly examine the relationship between science and religion), but "unlike P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins, the interviews with Will and I were not included in the film. Why not? Because (as many posters at this site are well aware), we regularly invite ID proponents (such as Michael Behe, John Sanford, Hannah Maxson, and Phillip Johnson, among many others) to make presentations in our evolution courses at Cornell. But this fact would clash in an unfortunate way with the premise of the film, which is that “Darwinists” unfairly discriminate against ID supporters and creationists," he writes
"In other words, Expelled is a propaganda piece, pure and simple, as are virtually all of the public pronouncements of the Discovery Institute and their supporters. Scientists don’t make propaganda movies (although we are sometimes invited to participate in them under fraudulent pretenses). No, we go out into the field and the laboratory and investigate nature," he continues. "This fascination with the way the universe works is the heart and soul of science, not a desire to undermine religion. If that were the case, why were many of the founders of the science of evolutionary biology (including Ronald Aylmer Fisher, Sewall Wright, Theodosius Dobzhansky) and so many current evolutionary biologists (including Ken Miller and myself, among others) members of various religious traditions?"
On his blog, Framing Science, Matthew Nisbet, an American University communications professor who focuses on the intersections between science, media, and politics, says that if Myers and Dawkins really want to counter the message of the film, they should let others, like Miller and Francis Ayala, be the voice of the scientific community. "The simplistic and unscientific claim that more knowledge leads to less religion might be the particular delusion of Dawkins, Myers, and many others, but it is by no means the official position of science, though they often implicitly claim to speak for science. Nor does it stand up to mounds of empirical evidence about the complex relationship between science literacy and public perceptions," Nisbet says. "As long as Dawkins and P.Z. continue to be the representative voices from the pro-science side in this debate, it is really bad for those of us who care about promoting public trust in science and science education. Dawkins and P.Z. need to lay low as Expelled hits theaters. ... Lay low and let others do the talking.
"So Richard and P.Z., when it comes to Expelled, it's time to let other people be the messengers for science. This is not about censoring your ideas and positions, but rather being smart, strategic, tactical, and ultimately effective in promoting science rather than your own personal ideology, books, or blog." Nisbet promises to expand on this point on Thursday, when he talks about "Consensus and Conflict in Communicating About Science" at the University of Wisconson-Eau Claire. —Heather Wax