Friday, July 24, 2009

Creationist Darwin docu-drama and allegations of misrepresentation

Three historians interviewed for the Creation Ministries International docu-drama, "The Voyage That Shook the World," published a response maintaining that their views were not accurately represented by the film. Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, and Sandra Herbert wrote a note to that effect in the July 2009 issue of the Newsletter of the History of Science Society, which was also publicized by the National Center for Science Education's website (and see John Lynch's commentary at a simple prop).

CMI has now published a response to the historians on their website, noting that "The historians’ description of the film, while not totally accurate at all points, is not unreasonable and in some respects complimentary." It also uses the historians' statement that had they known the nature of the film, they might not have participated, as evidence that they were justified in concealing that information from them.

CMI takes issue, however, with the two specific allegations by Bowler and Herbert that their words in the interviews were taken out of context and misrepresented in what appears in the film. To rebut them, CMI's website publishes more extensive quotations from these two historians and compares them to how they were edited and placed in the context of the film.

Although I haven't yet had an opportunity to view the screener copy of the film in my possession, the CMI rebuttal appears to be sound with respect to those two specific allegations. The CMI web page concludes by noting that each of the participants was given their raw footage, as well as a copy of the film, and ends by saying, "We are hopeful that it will turn out to have been a case of not having checked the raw footage sent to them, instead relying on memory. We would be delighted to publish news of a retraction of either or both of these two claims in this space, should that occur."

So we can add up the lessons here:

1. Do due diligence about the production company and find out who's behind it before agreeing to appear in a documentary.
2. Make sure your release gives you some way to defend yourself if misrepresented, e.g., make sure you get the raw footage.
3. If you [think you] are misrepresented and go public with it, consult the raw footage to make sure your charges of misrepresentation are themselves accurate.


Ktisophilos said...

"3. If you are misrepresented and go public with it, consult the raw footage to make sure your charges of misrepresentation are themselves accurate."
That needs a bit of re-wording to something like, "If you think you are misrepresented ..."

This comment from the trio is revealing:

"but the producers do have a point: if academic historians refuse to participate when movements they don’t approve of seek historical information, these historians can hardly complain if less reputable sources are used instead."

Lippard said...

Agreed, on the first point.

The second needs some qualification--if an expert in a field declines to participate in a production that is going to be using bad information and disreputable sources whether that expert participates or not, then it's certainly legitimate for the expert to complain about the outcome even if he doesn't participate. Take, for example, any of David Balsiger's programs--none of those were going to be sober, accurate, or fair-minded regardless of any participation from reputable experts, and any who participated gave the projects credibility they didn't deserve.