Saturday, March 22, 2008

Expelled from Expelled

P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula, who is actually featured in the dishonest Ben Stein intelligent design propaganda movie "Expelled," was denied admittance to a screening and asked to leave the premises. His guest, however, was permitted to attend, and was apparently, quite astonishingly, unrecognized--Richard Dawkins. (Myers provides a few more details here.)

The New York Times contacted "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis about it, and he claimed that Dawkins was intentionally allowed in and insinuating that Myers would cause trouble at the screening. (Anyone who has met Myers in person knows this is ridiculous.)

Here's video of P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins describing their respective experiences.

Jeffrey Overstreet gives what appears to be the spin that will be used to respond to this event, based on the clearly mistaken description of Myers' removal from student Stuart Blessman:
I just happened to be standing directly in line behind Dawkins’ academic colleague. Management of the movie theatre saw a man apparently hustling and bothering several invited attendees, apparently trying to disrupt the viewing or sneak in. Management then approached the man, asked him if he had a ticket, and when he confirmed that he didn’t, they then escorted him off the premises. Nowhere was one of the film’s producers to be found, and the man certainly didn’t identify himself. If a producer had been nearby, it’s possible that he would have been admitted, but the theatre’s management didn’t want to take any chances.
Myers points out:

I had an invitation. I had applied through the channels Expelled set up. I applied under my own name, and was approved. I have the first email that confirmed it, and the second email reminder, all from Motive Entertainment. Wanna see them?

You were not near me when the security guard told me I was being kicked out. No one was. He first asked me to step aside, away from the line, and he told me directly that the producer had requested that I be evicted. Theater management had nothing to do with it.

I returned to my family to explain what was happening. That’s when a theater manager came along and told me I’d have to leave right away. You might have been in a position to hear something then, but it certainly wasn’t that I was not on their pre-submitted list. I was.

If you were right there, you would have noticed my wife, daughter, and her boyfriend in line too. They got reservations in exactly the same way I did. They were not kicked out. How did that happen? Did they have invitations and they just didn’t tell me?

UPDATE: Pharyngula commenter Sastra offers this hypothesis as to what "Expelled" producer Mathis might have been thinking:

Richard Dawkins writes:
Seemingly oblivious to the irony, Mathis instructed some uniformed goon to evict Myers while he was standing in line with his family to enter the theatre, and threaten him with arrest if he didn't immediately leave the premises... did he not know that PZ is one of the country's most popular bloggers, with a notoriously caustic wit, perfectly placed to set the whole internet roaring with delighted and mocking laughter?

You know, as I read this, something occurred to me regarding the reasoning behind Mathis' "bungling incompetence," as Dawkins calls it. I wonder if Mathis made a serious blunder in his assumptions on what PZ's reaction to being thrown out of the theater would be.

He just made a film where all the academics are whining and looking pathetic about being rejected, humiliated, and tossed unceremoniously out of academia and the Halls of Science. He has been surrounding himself with people playing the poor-me victim card, claiming ignominous oppression and unfair suppression.

What then if Mathis assumed that PZ Myer's reaction would not be "delighted and mocking laughter," but what he was used to -- whimpering bellyaching. And then he could use that to make a point.

PZ was to have gone to Phayngula to lick his wounds. "People, I have sad news. I am so ashamed and humiliated. I was kicked out of the theater when I went to see Expelled. I have never heard of someone doing something like that to an academic like me. It felt awful."

And then Mathis and his publicists would go in for the kill:

Ah-ha! Now the scientist knows JUST HOW IT FEELS! What has been done to other academics was done to him! And he complains, too. How ironic is THAT??"

Instead, PZ reacts with amusement. Extreme amusement. And, worse, there is the Dawkins angle, which no, Mathis had not been expecting when he decided to play a game and toss PZ out. If PZ whines, he wins on tit for tat. If PZ creates a nasty, messy scene, he wins on 'look at the immoral fascist-like atheist temper.' But instead, PZ laughs and laughs, and with Dawkins in the theater Mathis just looks like a fool.

More I think about it, the more I think Mathis underestimated PZ's sense of humor about things, and how he would not be mortified by the incident, but jubilant. He's been around too many pretentious professorial sob-sisters. He thought they were all like that.

UPDATE: Several All of the pending screenings of "Expelled" have been removed from the registration website. That includes screenings scheduled for Santa Clara, CA, Portland, OR, and Seattle, WA. It also includes Tempe, AZ, as John Lynch points out.

UPDATE: Richard Dawkins has written a review of the film. Short version: "A shoddy, second-rate piece of work. ... Positively barking with Lord Privy Seals. ... clunking ... artless ... self-indulgent ... goes shamelessly for cheap laughs."

UPDATE: "Expelled" screenwriter Kevin Miller agrees with Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet that the controversy over P.Z. Myers' removal is actually beneficial for the film. I think that's highly unlikely.

UPDATE: At the "Expelled" show that P.Z. Myers was not permitted to attend, Kristine Harley asked Mark Mathis during the Q&A why he told Myers, Richard Dawkins, Eugenie Scott, and others that he was working on a film called "Crossroads" instead of "Expelled." He answered that this was just a working title for the film. But this is apparently not true--Wesley Elsberry has pointed out that they acquired the domain name "" on March 1, 2007, while Eugenie Scott was interviewed in April 2007, Myers in April or later 2007, and Dawkins in Summer 2007. Mathis doesn't explain why "Crossroads" was being produced by "Rampant Films" (which had a fake website with innocuous-looking films on it) rather than Premise Media.

UPDATE (March 24, 2008): "Expelled" producer Mark Mathis admits that P.Z. Myers wasn't kicked out for being unruly, but just because he wants to make him pay to see the movie. Mathis claims in Inside Higher Ed that he doesn't like Myers' "untruthful blogging about Expelled," but with no details of what "untruthful blogging" he means.

UPDATE: Ed Brayton pulls no punches when he points out that Walt Ruloff of Premise Media lied about why P.Z. Myers wasn't allowed into the film.

UPDATE: Mooney and Nisbett, supposed experts on "framing" communications about science in such a way as to be persuasive to the general public, have created a firestorm at Science Blogs and gained them the approval of William Dembski and "Expelled" screenwriter Kevin Miller, but disagreements from just about everyone else at ScienceBlogs, bloggers and commenters alike. In hindsight, I think they should conclude that they are the ones who should have remained silent this time. (Some of my favorite posts on this topic are from Orac, Greg Laden, Mark Hoofnagle, Russell Blackford, and Mike/Tangled Up in Blue Guy. Greg Laden has thoughtfully collected a bunch of links on the topic.)

UPDATE (March 25, 2008): P.Z. Myers has posted a roundup of additional coverage. Particularly noteworthy is Scott Hatfield's look at the backgrounds of the people involved with making "Expelled." Troy Britain and Jon Voisey look at the IDers' mutually contradictory accounts of the Myers expulsion incident.

Mark Chu-Carroll at Good Math, Bad Math gives a good overview of the framing debate (arguing in favor of the idea that framing is important, but that Mooney and Nisbet have made poor choices regarding framing in this recent kerfuffle.)

Sean Carroll also provides a very good analysis of the framing issue in terms of politicians and critics--Mooney and Nisbet want politicians, but Dawkins and Myers are critics.

UPDATE: "Expelled"'s producers really are a bunch of liars who keep on lying. They've issued a press release claiming that their movie, rather than their stupid action, has been the top subject of discussion on the blogosphere, falsely claim that Richard Dawkins signed up with his "formal surname" Clinton (it's his first name, not his surname, and he didn't sign up at all but was one of Myers' RSVP'd guests), falsely allege that Dawkins and Myers have "slandered" them and their film (without giving a single example), and falsely claim that Myers has asked his readers to try to sneak in to screenings of the movie.

UPDATE (March 28, 2008): The "Expelled" producers had a telephone conference call with questions by email. P.Z. Myers dialed in early, and heard "Leslie and Paul" talking, and they gave out the telephone number to the conference bridge number for presenters (all other participants are muted). So Myers hung up and dialed back in on the presenter line. After listening to the producers dissemble and answer softball questions, he interrupted:
I said, in essence, hang on -- you guys are spinning out a lot of lies here, you should be called on it. I gave a quick gloss on it, and said that, for instance, anti-semitism has a long history in Germany that preceded Darwin, and that they ought to look up the word "pogrom". There was some mad rustling and flustering about on the other side of the phone some complaints, etc., and then one of them asked me to do the honorable thing and hang up…so I said yes, I would do the honorable thing and hang up while they continued the dishonorable thing and continued to lie.

Then I announced that if any reporters were listening in, they could contact me at and I'd be happy to talk to them.

The "Expelled" producers will probably now spin this as Myers having "hacked" their conference bridge or something. Personally, as much as I think this is amusing, I think Myers' actions were unethical and possibly illegal--even if someone stupidly hands out an authentication credential (in this case, the presenter access code for a conferencing event bridge) when they don't realize they're being observed, that doesn't mean that they've authorized someone else to use it.

UPDATE (March 29, 2008): Troy Britain gets to the bottom of exactly how P.Z. Myers originally signed up for the screening he was expelled from.

Wesley Elsberry reports that the "Expelled" producers are now offering financial incentives to groups that go see the movie--the five largest groups will get $1,000 each.

UPDATE (April 10, 2008): "William Wallace" argues that Myers did "gate crash" a "private screening." I don't think anyone questions that these screenings were "private" in the sense that you couldn't just walk up and attend, you had to pre-register. But the pre-registration process was openly advertised on public web pages and there was no indication that it was limited to those who were explicitly invited due to membership in a church or similar organization. In the case of the conference call, Panda's Thumb bloggers were directly invited by email as a group (and some individually as well), though Myers did not receive one directly addressed to him.

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