3/23/2008

THE FRAMERS OF SCIENCE OBJECT!

Incredibly, there are those within the science blogging community who take exception to Dr. D and PZ's attempt to view the 'Expelled' documentary. Apparently those two are the wrong messengers, and they should, for the good of science, just clam up.

That didn't sit too well with other science bloggers, who are currently giving both Matt Nesbit and Chris Mooney a hard time, so much so that Chris remarks:

The abuse being heaped on Nisbet, and me, speaks for itself. I can only assume that we are challenging dogmas that are just as deeply held as any religious belief.

Well, Chris, I've already posted at Dr. Nisbet's site, but for the record I'm a theist. If this were actually about a direct attempt to spin 'evolution-as-the-catspaw-for-atheism' I might share your concern.

But the 'PZ Expulsion Affair' is not about evolution, or even about science. It's about speaking the truth to power. The filmmakers are liars, Chris, and you and Matt's high-minded appeal to PZ and Dr. D amounts to giving them a free pass. The idea that atheists who have been lied to shouldn't make a big stink about it, just because they are atheists, how does that work? Well, it won't work even if you get a theist like me in there to carry the message, Chris, because anyone who holds these guy's feet to the fire is going to be called an atheist whether they are, or not. The same card will be played, the same script will be recited.

Instead of blaming PZ and Dr. D for pointing out the dishonesty and the hypocrisy, let's put the fault for this affair where it lies. If Mr. Mathis had simply ignored PZ, this wouldn't be splashed all over the media right now. But he just couldn't stand the idea of an outspoken atheist in attendance. He acted unwisely. If he hoped to provoke a controversy, it has clearly backfired. Why? Because the issue is no longer whether or not ID is getting a fair case in the court of scientific opinion. The issue is why these guys are such obvious, clueless, liars.

In my most assertive voice: FRAME THAT!

13 comments:

Starwind said...

Scott Hatfield:

The filmmakers are liars, Chris, and you and Matt's high-minded appeal to PZ and Dr. D amounts to giving them a free pass.

...

The issue is why these guys are such obvious, clueless, liars.


(emphasis yours)

Why are they liars? What is the evidence? I'm asking for the facts as you understand them that substantiate the accusation, I'm not arguing (at least not yet - lol)

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

Let's ignore the purported 'Darwin caused the Holocaust' argument which is supposed to occupy a substantial portion of the film. I haven't seen the film, and I'm not going to judge its merits until I've seen it, but for the record I think that is a deeply misleading argument, the kind of faux history whose only intent is to slur the scientific community.

Here, I'm referring specifically to the manner in which Stein, Mathis and Company have created the film and the way they have represented themselves since that point.

What are the facts? For one thing, they solicited interviews and gathered footage under false pretenses. While interviewing PZ, Dr. D and others, they told them they were making a film called 'Crossroads', which was billed as a general exploration of the interaction between science and faith. PZ posts the letter with which he was contacted here, along with a screen shot of the blurb for 'Crossroads' that at one point appeared on the Rampant Films site (it has since been removed).

The well-respected Times science writer Cornelia Dean interviewed the Rampant executives, and their statements can be found here. They essentially claim there was no deceit, and it was a marketing decision to change the name from 'Crossroads' to 'Expelled', the difference in descriptions between the two films not withstanding.

Well, that's just a lie, Starwind.
Wesley Elsberry researched the matter and found that the domain name for 'Expelled the Movie' was created back in Feb. of 2007, long before Dawkins, Myers et al were interviewed. No domain name was ever created for 'Crossroads.' Also, at the time the interviews were done, Rampant Films was not identified as a subsidiary of the more obviously-evangelical Premise Media, as it is now. Again, this was part of their deception, as investigation of their purported office address shows.

I won't bother trying to parse the competing accusations of dishonesty from both sides over the 'PZ Expulsion Affair', but based on their prior conduct, I find their denials and shifting explanations more than a bit hard to swallow.

Starwind said...

Well it seems the accusation pivots on when and why the movie was retitled.

Movies typically have working titles (as do most books and almost all products prior to active marketing) and that title was undoubtedly used to solicit interviews as the legal release forms no doubt were written well in advance of production and used the working title.

It does not seem unusual that the title "Expelled" once chosen (perhaps at the recommendation of Paul Lauer, the Marketing guy with experience in marketing such films) then a website domain was registered, and I would suspect other materials like theater posters began to be worked up. I wouldn't see any reason to go back and revise the legal release forms or solicitations to reflect a new title. I'm sure the release forms were "generic" and I seriously doubt any promises were made to the interviewees.

While the Expelled website may have been registered in Feb. of 2007, here is at least one individual (Ralph Seelke) who claims to have been interviewed for the movie in Nov. 2006, so again, it would seem the movie title was changed after the release forms had been drawn up with working titles and interviews began.

While I don't understand the structure and relationship of legal entities in the movie industry per se, that Rampant Films was a subsidiary of Premise Media doesn't seem unusual. You may find that for tax reasons, royalty arrangements, IP rights, etc., a number of key people worked as "subcontractors" to Premise Media. Rampant Films seems to have been an independant film maker. That said, I'm often bewildered anyway by the roles and responsibilities implied by movie credits - the varieties of "producer" and who really has artistic, fiscal, and legal control often evade me.

Aside from Paul Lauer the guy hired or contracted (no doubt for his obvious evangelical experience) to market this film, I don't see any evidence of Premise Media being "obviously-evangelical".

Based on the "Crossroad" blurb posted by PZ Myer, I don't see that what "Expelled" is purported to be (not having seen the movie but being somewhat familiar with its premise) differs materially from what PZ Myers was told Crossroads would cover. The "conflict between science and religion" has certainly "unleashed passions". Has anyone been "expelled" as a consequence of their ID viewpoints? I'd have to see if the movie makes it case. Would Dawkins, Myers, etc knowing the movie would argue some have been "expelled" have altered the opinions expressed by Dawkins, Myers, etc? Not if Dawkins, Myers, etc were being honest to begin with, no.

So, while I can understand Dawkins, Myers, etc feeling blindsided and denied an opportunity to spin their positions, I don't, yet anyway, see the evidence for them having been intentionally mislead on any matter of substance.

Might the producers of Expelled have kept their true agenda a secret? Yes, they may have. But did they "lie" about the ultimate title of the movie? I don't see that case has been proven, not yet anyway.

I gather PZ Myers has been challenged to show his original invitation (not the confirmation of his "RSVP") to the private screening, as apparently others had received who had been invited by Paul Lauer. Perhaps along with that invitation if Myers were to disclose the release form he signed in its entirety, there might be some evidence therein to make the argument for lying.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

That's an interesting link to Dr. Seelke. He's an evolutionary skeptic. He's the faculty advisor for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. He parrots Behe's discredited 'mousetrap' and bacterial flagellum arguments.

In other words, while he might be a very good scientist in other respects, he is a ID enthusiast, a sympathetic 'fellow traveler' for whom there would be no reason for Stein, Mathis and Company not to divulge the talking points that they kept hidden from the firm of Dawkins, Myers and Scott: the alleged 'conspiracy' against ID within the scientific community.

It would be interesting to learn if Dr. Seelke was approached to do 'Crossroads', or whether he was told something else about the film!

In any case, the evolutionary biologists involved were not told the title, they were not told the real premise of the documentary, and they were given deceptive contact information for an outfit that was operating out of an apartment complex, an obvious front, and not told that the money and brains behind the operation was an evangelical outfit, Premise Media.

And, the evolutionary biologists in question were interviewed for this film many months after the 'Expelled' domain name was registered. I mean, it's all there in black and white. It would be like interviewing members of the NAACP for a documentary on race relations without being told that the money behind it was a white supremacist outfit which intends to abandon the working title and use the footage for a film called 'Aryans Rise Up!'

Starwind said...

In any case, the evolutionary biologists involved were not told the title, they were not told the real premise of the documentary,

Let's see what the release forms actually disclosed and if the interviewees were treated differently than anyone else.

and they were given deceptive contact information for an outfit that was operating out of an apartment complex, an obvious front,

What is deceptive about working out of ones home? All startups operate that way. If it was Speilberg or Lucas giving an apartment address you'd have a point, but it was a nobody operating on a nothing budget from a nowhere address.

and not told that the money and brains behind the operation was an evangelical outfit, Premise Media.

You've yet to establish that Premise Media is "evangelical" and you presume the money is coming from them. It probably isn't but rather from investors that Premise and others (including Rampart and Motive) solicited, and you're making assumptions about how those investment funds are booked and disbursed, as well as who has the intellectual property rights to the film versus who has the responsibility to make the film (i.e. put the interviewer infront of interviwees). I'd also like to know whose idea the project was. It sometimes seems like the direction (artistic) came partly from Ben Stein.

I don't know myself, but I know you presume many facts (simplisticly) not in evidence.

badger3k said...

The denialists are everywhere, aren't they?

Anyway, that is the first time I actally went to rhw Premise Media site, and actually read a press release that called Ben Steins character in Ferris Bueller "lovable". Now I know they're idiots. The Stein character was a laugh because he was so unlovable - he wasn't a character, but a two-dimensional stereotype of the moronic, monotone teacher who lacked all elements of personality. He was hardly lovable.

As for the facts of the case, they have been posted all over the web, from PZ's site, to Dawkins, to Pandas Thumb - all documented, including emails from the producers, and all showing the shady, decietful nature. OF course, for the creationist apologists, that can all be explained away.

What I'd like to see is how they explain away the lies the movie tells about Gonzales, Sternberg, and the rest. Much of the so-called "persecution" never happened. Funny thing, that, but when I was a kid, when I told my Mom made up things that never happened, I got spanked for lying. But then again, we are speaking about people to whom "lying for Jesus" is a literal truth. Sad.

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

it was a nobody operating on a nothing budget from a nowhere address.

How do you know that?

You've yet to establish that Premise Media is "evangelical"

Hmmm...here's what I've got...

Co-founder A. Logan Craft is identified as a minister and TV producer on the American board of the Canadian Center for Cultural Renewal. These facts are curiously absent from the Premise Media web site.

Screenwriter Kevin Miller is an evangelical Christian who describes his background as "four years of Bible college, one year of seminary, and nearly ten years of researching and writing Christian books under my belt" prior to entering the film industry. These facts also not on the Premise site, but I dug them up in this blog of his.

Producer Mark Mathis is interviewed here by YEC Carl Weiland. Mathis is coy on the age-of-the-Earth but otherwise delivers the sort of boilerplate statement that I associate with evangelicals and Biblical literalism. I actually sympathize with his point of view, I just don't share his perceptions. You can decide for yourself.

The Marketing Director (Paul Lauer) worked on grass-roots marketing for previous films targeting evangelicals, among them The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia. His web site talks about tapping into the 'Faith and Family Market'.
To get an idea of his schtick, check out this Slate article on his promotion of "The Polar Express." Very slick. Does that make him an evangelical? Maybe not. Does it make him an expert in the advertising industry on marketing to evangelicals. Oh, yes...

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then....well, you can see where I'm going with this.

...and you presume the money is coming from them.

Or being funneled through them, as you say, through investors. However, interestingly enough, the CEO is a software engineer who retired at age 32 on Microsoft stock options, a fella named Walt Ruloff. Call me cynical, but he's not a billionaire, he's close. This is a guy who doesn't need investors to make money.

Stan said...

Badger3k said, amongst other things,

"The denialists are everywhere, aren't they?"

"Now I know they're idiots"

"creationist apologists,"

"lying for Jesus"


"Denialism" became a pejorative with the advent of Holocaust deniers. It is now the worst insult that can be thought up by the protectors of the materialist faith. "Idiots", "Lying for Jesus", these are examples of the juvenilism that is rampant on atheist faith-based websites.

Not being attached to either side of the evolution/creation issue (neither side has empirical evidence for its position), it is interesting to me how the evolutionists swarm like killer bees when a perceived "threat" arises to their hive. Evolutionist venom flows in rivers.

According to the evolutionists, the "true" evidence is on the atheist websites; and all other evidence is false, by definition. The lack of rational, wait and see, weigh both sides, calm response indicates a deep emotional issue, hatred even, of any differing opinion. Such insecurity indicates a lack of serious underpinning for their belief system.

It appears almost as if a smear of the movie is intended before they even see it. Reminiscent of the stir before Passion of the Christ, a pre-hate campaign.

This movie will fade before evolution does. Calm down, take a breath. Evolutionists are in control.

Interesting also that no one rises up in shock and alarm when atheists make biased evolution videos and movies that purport to be fact. ("Why is this animal this way? Evolution!) It's the answer to everything. evolution is so "persuasive" that empirical evidence is not needed. In fact, no falsification is possible, because it is tautological...we say it is so, we are the experts, so it is so.

It is all in your particular faith, and it is a war of faiths. Neither side will be persuaded of any change to their faith based on this film.

Starwind said...

Scott Hatfield:

These facts are curiously absent from the Premise Media web site.

These facts also not on the Premise site


I was relying on your Premise link, but I accept these other cites as supportive of your point.

Does that make him [Lauer] an evangelical? Maybe not. Does it make him an expert in the advertising industry on marketing to evangelicals. Oh, yes..

I agreed with this at the onset.

Or being funneled through them, as you say, through investors.

One of the aspects of movie "credits" that often is vague is who is actually doing the funding and how much control do they have. Consider for example "credits" which say:
"Produced by personA & personB"
"Executive Producers personX, personY, personZ"
"A Premise Media production of a Rampart film"

Who funded the movie?

This is a guy who doesn't need investors to make money.

You have a naive understanding of finance. Most every venture doesn't put their own money at risk, they put other people's money at risk. If enough other people are willing to invest that is considered one criteria of vetting the financial success. i.e. if no one is willing to invest, maybe it's not such a good idea to begin with, vs if several people invest then they all affirm the likely success.

And checks don't get written up front and deposited by the top dog and doled out like an allowance. Money often sits in escrow accounts, tied to milestones and or other co-commitments before it can be touched or spent and everybody (including the subcontractors) is hustling and not always for cash, often services in trade or discounts on other fees are negotiated.

Lastly, depending on IP and royalty terms, Mathis/Rampart may have been putting in their own funds/time on the front end in exchange for a bigger percent of revenue or post-cost profit on the backend.

There are (I suspect based on my experience in other industries) lots of legitimate ways Mathis was in fact making a movie that Premise was also credited with "making".

Scott Hatfield . . . . said...

There are (I suspect based on my experience in other industries) lots of legitimate ways Mathis was in fact making a movie that Premise was also credited with "making".

I agree.

But you should be aware that the most visible member of the 'Expelled' team (Mr. Mathis) is the individual whose name appears on the registration for both the Rampant Films and Premiere Media domains, and that both were concocted pretty much-simultaneously. That argues heavily against some of the more convoluted scenarios, and points parsimoniously to their mendacity.

Starwind said...

Scott Hatfield:

That argues heavily against some of the more convoluted scenarios, and points parsimoniously to their mendacity.

No, it argues heavily for a very common and deliberate legal arrangements for two entities to be affiliated for "Expelled" and yet seperable for other ventures each may be pursuing independently now or in the future. Pretty much every joint venture between two companies engage in similar "mendacity".

Partnering on one project is not intended to be an ongoing binding, shared risk on all other unrelated projects.

Starwind said...

Scott, some background germane to your criticism of "Expelled" and ejecting Myers from the screening:

PBS's 'Evolution' series is propaganda, not science
PBS claims there was no stonewall. The producers say that they contacted the Discovery Institute – a center of much of the ID movement – and invited its scientists to participate. Indeed the producers did, but only in the last segment, "What About God," and only to give their personal testaments of faith. In as much as ID is a scientific movement, and not a religious one, the scientists declined. It was an especially wise decision, since the producer of the "What About God?" episode, Bill Jersey, was well known for a 1992 documentary on religious fundamentalism that more or less equated American evangelicals with Muslim terrorists in the Mideast. As it turns out, Mr. Jersey's contribution to "Evolution" was very much in character, a condescending and offensive look at antievolution fundamentalists and their beliefs.

At a recent PBS press conference I asked the overall series producer, Richard Hutton, why Intelligent Design's scientific critique of evolution was completely ignored. He answered that he'd looked into it and decided there was nothing there. That's one way to decide important scientific disputes – let a TV producer decide.

Leaked Memo Says Political Agenda Was Behind PBS Series ‘Evolution’
The leaked memo confirms that Intelligent Design theory was treated as religion by Evolution’s creators. In a section designed to answer “anticipated controversial questions,” the memo states:

Why isn’t the Intelligent Design perspective included in [the final episode] Program 7, “What about God”? You just include Ken Ham, a young earth Creationist who does not represent the current scientific thinking about the accuracy of Darwin’s theory.

[Answer:] In this film, we’re not trying to cover the landscape of different religious belief systems. Rather, we are looking at how belief and scientific inquiry can be in conflict through the lens of the students’ personal struggles. [The episode features Wheaton College students struggling over evolution and their Christian faith.]

http://www.asa3.org/asa/newsletter/MAYJUN02.htm
For instance, an earlier Boston Globe article, "'Evolution' gets hot reception" (by Suzanne C. Ryan, Sept. 24, 2001), trumpeted the WGBH-TV PBS series "Evolution," with its executive producer Richard Hutton reiterating that "evolution is the linchpin of all biology." He also commented that the series is not about attacking faith but is intended to re-open dialog. He conceded that six-day creationism is in conflict with what is presented in the series, which was financed by Clear Blue Sky Productions, the film company owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen.

The article, however, gave dissenters some space for rebuttal. "They want everybody to think that only religious fundamentalists oppose Darwinism," said Discovery Institute president Bruce Chapman. And young-earther Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, who was included in the last episode of the series, contends that he was misrepresented because "Evolution" portrays him as "Bible thumping." "They interviewed me for two hours and filmed almost an entire seminar but they didn't play the bit about me talking about science," Ham said. "I don't disagree with genetics, mutations, and natural selection."

My own points follow:

So, a Microsoft billionaire can sereptitiously fund production of PBS movie, a segment of which deliberately excludes ID scientific views while focusing on 6-Day Creationist religious views, and the producer of the "What About God?" segment, Bill Jersey, previously made a documentary that juxtaposed American evangelicals with Muslim terrorists, that movie warrants being shown in your science classes.

But if an evangelical film company founded by a Microsoft millionaire makes a movie deliberately excluding evolutionist scientific views while focusing on ID reseachers being expelled for their views, and the marketeer previously worked on distribution for "The Passion of the Christ", they're mendacious liars.

PZ Myers can call for anyone espousing ID viewpoints to be fired from their jobs, but if Myers is denied a free movie screening because of his ID viewpoints, then he's merely an outspoken atheist who should have been allowed to attend. And what of the "Expelled" ID researchers? Should they get their jobs back?

Paul Allen and PBS (a public organization) made a movie with the message they wanted to tell, but Mathis and Premise Media (a private company) shouldn't make the movie with the message they want to tell. PBS can "stack the deck" against 6-Day Creationists but Rampart films owes Myers and Dawkins an opportunity to redact their views plus free screenings.

And you don't see any hypocrisy, criticising the making of Expelled or advocating Myers be given what he denies others.

Starwind said...

Scott:

A final couple of points.

In light of the above and our previous argument, perhaps you recall:
September 29, 2007 12:20 PM wherein I said:
"Given your support of Colling against the abridgment of his academic freedom and pursuit of science wherever the facts lead him, will you likewise now write a supportive post for Dr. Robert Marks whose Evolutionary Informatics Lab at Baylor was shut down for having placed limits on the scope of Darwinism and offered scientific support for Intelligent Design?"

We were less rancorous in our conversations then. Perhaps some day we can return to that, and I apologize for my role in adding to the rancor.

I suspect you are a very good teacher and your students like you a lot - they probably call you "Mr. H" or other such term of endearment. I'm far too iconoclastic to function in your job, and I certainly wouldn't like coping with school misadmininistration and then come home to find some guy on the internet criticizing me on my blog.

Yet, in spite of your sincerity and efforts to excel, much of your reaction on the subjects of Colling, discussing religion in your evolution unit and now the Expelled/Myers episode, has lacked balance and equity. It doesn't seem deliberate or cynical but rather automatic and ingrained, perhaps because the circles in which you move tend to think as do you, not surprisingly. However, an investment advisor I occasionally follow, John Mauldin, is fond of saying regarding his eclectic views "If you only read people who think like you, you will soon find you don’t do much thinking".

Not all NCSE objectives are honest and not all ID viewpoints are dishonest. Stridently towing the NCSE partyline is polarizing and infuriating to anyone trying to have an honest discussion of the science. That doesn't mean they should be abandoned altogether, but a larger grain of salt would seem in order.