Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Expensive intelligent design movie uses Borat tactics

[UPDATE (April 15, 2008): See the NCSE's "Expelled Exposed" website for a look at the deceptive tactics of the filmmakers and the real facts that they aren't showing you.]

In February, the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," starring Ben Stein, will be released. [UPDATE: The release was delayed until April 18, possibly due to copyright infringement worries.] The film apparently argues that intelligent design is being wrongly excluded from public school classrooms, despite the fact that intelligent design is rebranded creationism and is a religious view without scientific support. There is no scientific theory of intelligent design to be taught in schools--it doesn't exist.

The advertising for the film says that P.Z. Myers appears in the film--but he was not interviewed for a film called "Expelled," but for an apparently fictional project called "Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion." Mark Mathis, a producer for Rampant Films, contacted Myers, and he agreed to appear in that film. Now, as it turns out, Mathis is an associate producer on "Expelled."

Myers writes:
Why were they so dishonest about it? If Mathis had said outright that he wants to interview an atheist and outspoken critic of Intelligent Design for a film he was making about how ID is unfairly excluded from academe, I would have said, "bring it on!" We would have had a good, pugnacious argument on tape that directly addresses the claims of his movie, and it would have been a better (at least, more honest and more relevant) sequence. He would have also been more likely to get that good ol' wild-haired, bulgy-eyed furious John Brown of the Godless vision than the usual mild-mannered professor that he did tape. And I probably would have been more aggressive with a plainly stated disagreement between us.

I mean, seriously, not telling one of the sides in a debate about what the subject might be and then leading him around randomly to various topics, with the intent of later editing it down to the parts that just make the points you want, is the video version of quote-mining and is fundamentally dishonest.
Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education reports a similar experience--she also was interviewed for "Crossroads."

The producers of this film are sleazeballs. This kind of technique is already at or beyond the ethical edge for a comedy film like Borat, but to do this for a film that purports to take on a serious issue--and pretends to be on the side of God--is well past any such boundary. If, as has been suggested, this film is going to argue that belief in God is necessary for moral behavior (a falsehood), the behavior of the producers proves that it is not sufficient.

The lesson for the future: Do not sign an agreement to be interviewed for a film if the agreement contains language that says they can use "…footage and materials in and in connection with the development, production, distribution and/or exploitation of the feature length documentary tentatively entitled Crossroads…and/or any other production…" That "and/or any other production" is a big loophole that will be exploited.

UPDATE (August 23, 2007): Ed Brayton observes that two of the alleged controversies that "Expelled" will cover are bogus claims of persecution--the denial of tenure for Guillermo Gonzalez and the alleged martyrdom of Richard Sternberg. Ed notes that he has an article coming out in Skeptic magazine in February 2008 which will debunk the Souder report about the travails of Sternberg at the Smithsonian (a subject he has already written extensively about on his blog--linked to from the articles at my blog under the "Richard Sternberg affair" category).

UPDATE (December 18, 2007): Ed Brayton points out that a new argument from the Discovery Institute for why Gonzalez shouldn't have been denied tenure actually undermines that claim.

UPDATE (February 10, 2008): John Lynch has a nice visual diagram of Gonzalez's publication record.


AlisonM said...

This is not surprising, of course. Since ID cannot support itself with actual science, it depends upon subterfuge, quote mining, and a full range of other lying techniques, from omission to outright. Unfortunately, PZ and the other interviewees are in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. Had they declined, the movie would have used that to support itself. Had they known the nature of the film and spoken anyway, their words or the way they spoke them would be edited and turned around to support the IDiots. This way might turn out to be the best of the three, actually, since everyone was rational rather than strident, and stating a positive rather than an oppositional viewpoint. Any editing to show otherwise will give them more legal ground to protest than they would have with the other two options.

Olorin said...

A sadder but wiser Myers will next time read the contract more closely, and will perhaps consult a copyright attorney. Eugenie Scott should have already done so, with her background. Film contracts are prepared by professionals who know all the tricks.

As to the film itself, I would predict that it will fall flat as to other than Sunday-evening church audiences. "Flock of Dodos" succeeded because it was humorous in getting its message across. If "Expelled" is dead serious, it will appeal only to the zealots, and will hardly even rate notice from genral reviewers.