Orlando Sentinel Review of Expelled

There is a new film making it’s way around the country. You may be familiar with the movie Expelled. You may have seen the previews with that super serious and always monotone Ben Stein. But chances are you have no idea what the film is about. Do a little bit of driving around the internet and its not hard to discover what an insulting, accusatory and proof-less piece of celluloid has been pushed into the headlights of society.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is described by the filmmakers “A heroic and, at times, shocking journey confronting the world’s top scientists, educators and philosophers, regarding the persecution of the many by an elite few. Ben Stein travels the world on his quest, and learns an awe-inspiring truth…that bewilders him, then angers him…and then spurs him to action; that educators and scientists are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired – for the “crime” of merely believing that there might be evidence of “design” in nature, and that perhaps life is not just the result of accidental, random chance.”

My interest in this film hit an all time high this week when PZ Myers posted this article on his blog Pharyngula:

There is a rich, deep kind of irony that must be shared. I’m blogging this from the Apple store in the Mall of America, because I’m too amused to want to wait until I get back to my hotel room.

I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird — I was standing in line, hadn’t even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn’t going to cause any trouble.

I went back to my family and talked with them for a while, and then the officer came back with a theater manager, and I was told that not only wasn’t I allowed in, but I had to leave the premises immediately. Like right that instant.

I complied.

I’m still laughing though. You don’t know how hilarious this is. Not only is it the extreme hypocrisy of being expelled from their Expelled movie, but there’s another layer of amusement. Deep, belly laugh funny. Yeah, I’d be rolling around on the floor right now, if I weren’t so dang dignified.

You see … well, have you ever heard of a sabot? It’s a kind of sleeve or lightweight carrier used to surround a piece of munition fired from a gun. It isn’t the actually load intended to strike the target, but may even be discarded as it leaves the barrel.

I’m a kind of sabot right now.

They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn’t notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn’t recognize him. My guest was …

Richard Dawkins.

He’s in the theater right now, watching their movie.

Tell me, are you laughing as hard as I am?

PZ’s expulsion was picked up by several newspapers and media outlets, including twincities.com.

Considering the fact that Professor Myers was not only tricked by the filmmakers into thinking he was being interviewed for a film that would take an even handed look at both evolution and creationism and then banned from a screening of the film he was in is a good base to start from when examining this film.

Now, while I have yet to see the film, I’ve read dozens of reviews and watched the eight minute long trailer that is floating around YouTube, put there of course to “spike the interest of a hip young college guy like myself”.

So far, its not looking good for Expelled.

The following article from the Orlando Sentinel website highlights some of the absurd claims made by the films and begs the question “where is YOUR proof?”:

Is Ben Stein the new face of Creationism?

How do you re-package that tried, untested and untestable faith-without-facts warhorse, “Creationism” after its nearly-annual beat-down by an increasingly exasperated scientific community?

After you’ve tried renaming it “Intelligent Design,” I mean.

With comedy. Mock your “Darwinist” foes the way comics, thinkers, scientists and educated people everywhere have been mocking creationism since Scopes took that monkey off our back.

Tuck into them the way Michael Moore would, with a documentary hosted by a funny Don Quixote willing to tilt at science the way MM has gone after the gun culture, corporate cold-heartedness, George W. Bush and Big Health Care.

Get droll funnyman and ex-Nixon speech writer Ben Stein to host it, to be the on-camera jester-interviewer.

And re-cast this argument about what people chose to believe vs. what others can prove as fact as a fight for “Freedom.”

That’s the mnemonic device Stein came back to, time and again, last night in an Orlando screening of his new documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. It’s a rabble-rouser of a doc that uses all manner of loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts and mockery of hand-picked “weirdo” scientists to attack those who, Stein claims, are stifling the Religious Right’s efforts to inject intelligent design into science courses, science curricula and the national debate.

He was showing the movie to what he and the producers hoped would be a friendly, receptive audience of conservative Christian ministers at a conference at the Northland mega-church next to the dog track up in Longwood. They’re marketing this movie, which they had said, earlier, they’d open in Feb. (now April) the same way other studios pitched The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, said Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment, who introduced Stein.

In other words, a stealth campaign, out of the public eye, preaching to the choir to get the word out about the movie without anyone who isn’t a true believer passing a discouraging judgment on it. Friendly words in the press only.

They postered the Orlando Sentinel with email invitations, then tried to withdraw the one they sent to me. No dice. They also passed out non-disclosure “statement of confidentiality” agreements for people to sign. I didn’t.

What are they hiding from you? Straight propaganda, to be sure. But again, if Michael Moore or Robert Greenwald can do it, why not Ben Stein?

It’s a movie that uses animation, archival documentary footage, interviews with outraged “people of science” who want ID on the table, and “atheists” (scientists) who see all this as a step backward, all freighted to back up the argument that it stifled “freedom” when you refuse to consider the work of a supernatural being in America’s science classes.

It just isn’t particularly funny. Or the least bit convincing.

I lost track of the number of times Stalin’s image hit the screen, and in the ways the movie equated science with Darwinism with atheism with Hitler or Stalin. Subtle, it’s not.

Stein (he co-wrote it) builds his movie on classic Big Tobacco Tactics. Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution by pitching this argument in terms of academic freedom. “Legitimate” learned scientists are being silenced by the Darwinian cabal of thought police. Says Stein.

He uses anecdotes from a few Fox-over-publicized cases of people who claim to have lost tenure/their jobs/their position in the scientific world for daring to suggest the hand of a supernatural being in the creation of life. He hasn’t a scintilla of proof of, well, anything. Then he has the audacity to whine, “Where’s the data” when questioning cellular biologists and other real scientists who build their lives around doubt, and finding testable, legitimate answers to those doubts. Where’s YOUR data, Ben?

He uses “straw man” tactics to attack, mainly The Origin of the Species, as Darwin wrote it in 1859. That’s like a music critic reviewing “the latest” by only referring to Edison’s wax cylinders. He sets up false theses that “the other side” must hold (classic Limbaugh, putting lies in the other fellow’s mouth, then calling him a liar) and knocks those straw men down. Citing scientific research as recent as 1953, he can’t understand why no peer-reviewed scientist thinks his “fairytale” version of the emergence of life is worth his or her time. No, not having a definitive answer about the moment life began…YET…is damning enough for Ben.

Most despicably, Stein, a Jew, invokes the Holocaust, making the Hitler-was-a-Darwinist argument, this AFTER he’s used the Holocaust denier’s favorite trick, probabilities, “math,” to show how remote the chances are that life was created by natural, not supernatural processes. There were plenty of reasons eugenics caught on as an idea among certain nationalist-conservative and even scientific circles in the early 20th century, and most of them have nothing to do with Darwin. It reminded me of the phony slump Michael Moore showed walking away from ambushing crusty old Charlton Heston in Bowling for Columbine.

Animation, similar to that used in Columbine, makes its mock points about how science comes to conclusions and how the culture is structured to accept them. Snippets of The Wizard of Oz, Inherit the Wind and other films (if this polished, credited, scored film is indeed “unfinished,” it may be from unresolved rights-clearance issues) to make his points funny. Not really. The Stalin and Soviet and Nazi clips are used in a not-quite-subliminal seduction way to demonize the people who might hold a contrary view.

But all the creative editing in the world only appears to let Stein hold his own with noted British scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins, whose words can be twisted to suggest that “aliens” seeded life on Earth, or at least that’s more likely than anything in the Bible being literally true about creation. That’s still a more rational explanation than any Stein, being a veteran Republican persuader/operator, offers. Does he really believe the blather he tosses out here? Introducing the movie at the church screening I attended, he had to trot out some nonsense about living in Malibu but not among “the stars. The REAL stars are fighting and dying for our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Ok. Know your audience, if you’re a speech-writer (He used to work in the Nixon White House). Pander, baby, pander.

I remember stumbling across, at a bookstore, one of the more shrill and lunatic “Bill Clinton had people KILLED in Arkansas” books that came out during the 90s. I open it at the B. Dalton, and lo and behold, there’s Ben Stein writing the foreward. I had no idea…

Before that, he was just the guy giving away money on Comedy Central, the ever-droning teacher of TV shows and movies (“Bueller. Bueller.”).

The PBS NOVA series did a terrific piece on the court battle over intelligent design as fought in the courts in Pennsylvania, a lacerating film of finely honed facts and dagger-sharp arguments that should be shown in every school district with intel. design-dreamers running for the school board.

ID is “creation science” is “creationism” is “God dun it.” Teaching that as something provable beyond faith in a science curriculum is a big reason future Nobel winners will pour out of China and India, and not Kansas. Or Florida. That’s the reason a consensus of the world’s scientists fret so much over the time they have to waste on this non-debate. Stein found a Pole and the infamous Discovery Institute to back up his attacks, even though they offer no counter theories that they can back up.

Expelled makes good points about academic freedom and the ways unpopular ideas are shouted down in academia, the press and the culture. But not offering evidence to back your side, where the burden of proof lies, makes the movie every bit as meaningless and silly as that transcendental metaphysical hooey of a couple of years back, What the Bleep Do We Know?

In Stein’s case, you really do wonder what he knows, or what he’s willing to claim he believes just to make a buck off the Scopes deniers.

Oh, and keeping your movie from the public because you’re afraid of ridicule is just gutless. Put it out there, let people have time to chew on your arguments. Your fans will buy tickets. And plenty of folks will emerge to tear it apart. Even Michael Moore has the courage to do that.

Maybe Stein will repackage himself as the new face of creationism. The new face of cynicism is more like it. But as Nixon must’ve reminded him, there’s a sucker born every minute. And a lot of them vote.

Extremely well put.

I invite you to do a little digging on this film yourself. Read reviews, consult the literature (on the 15th of April, the National Center for Science Education’s official response will be posted – you can find it at ExpelledExposed.com), and by all means see the film if it’s playing near you! Confront the sad truth that is this film with your own eyes and wonder how anyone can believe a word of it.

Script Frenzy 2008

I’m hoping that with the numerous friends I have who are interested in writing, that someone will be participating in Script Frenzy 2008.

If you don’t know what it is, here is a short blurb:

Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants attempt the daring feat of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April. As part of a donation-funded nonprofit, Script Frenzy charges no fee to participate; there are also no valuable prizes awarded or “best” scripts singled out. Every writer who completes the goal of 100 pages is victorious and awe-inspiring and will receive a handsome Script Frenzy Winner’s Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact.

Even those who fall short of the word goal will be applauded for making a heroic attempt. Really, you have nothing to lose—except that nagging feeling that there’s a script inside you that may never get out.

The 5 Basic Rules of Script Frenzy

1) To be crowned an official Script Frenzy winner, you must write a script (or multiple scripts) of at least 100 total pages and verify this tally on ScriptFrenzy. org.

2) You may write individually or in teams of two. Writer teams will have a 100-page total goal for their co-written script or scripts.

3) Script writing may begin no earlier than 12:00:01 AM on April 1 and must cease no later than 11:59:59 PM on April 30, local time.

4) You may write screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book and graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels, or any other type of script your heart desires.

5) You must, at some point, have ridiculous amounts of fun.

Last year I wrote a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. It was an amazing and inspiring accomplishment. Since I have a lot more experience writing scripts, this will hopefully be a lot easier, but still carry the same level of satisfaction upon completion.

If you’ve ever wanted to write a script, why not try it now? Take the time you waste in front of the TV or a computer and put it towards something productive. I can’t express what a rewarding experience it is to hold something heavy and papery in your hands that came straight from your imagination.

To all those participating, best of luck!

Add me! http://www. scriptfrenzy. org/eng/user/230394

Update on ICROSS

Dr. Joe Barnes Project 2008

25 March 2008

Together with Professor Ronan Conroy, Dr. Joe Barnes has been advocating for support for those displaced and hurt in the clashes of Kenya’s post election violence. As ICROSS works closely with communities displaced in tribal violence we are extending support and help to the very young and the weak, those most hurt by the destruction.

This year’s Dr. Joe Barnes project is to support the displaced and effected by the violence. Together with the Dr. Tom Dooley fund, Dr. Joe Barnes and Dr. E. Barnes and have provided help to those most affected. All our projects remain fully operational and ICROSS Kenya continues to scale up its projects in the worst hit areas of Nakuru.

Together with Duncan O’Riordan and friends in London we are able to reach out to many who have been burnt out and left with nothing. Friends in Hillcrest, Karen Rotary, Consolata’s and Italy have come together to provide essential bedding, clothes, medicines and practical help.

This very important programme will last throughout 2008 and is integrated into our community health and public health programmes covering twelve areas across Nakuru.

Yet another reason to support Earth Hour

As if the idea behind Earth hour isn’t enough, here is yet one more reason to shut off the lights on March 29th.

Astronomers from The Australian National University are urging city dwellers to use Earth Hour to look to the stars, as the great ‘switch-off’ will help reduce the light pollution that otherwise obstructs views of space in urban areas.

This Saturday people in cities around Australia and the world will turn off their electric lights between 8pm and 9pm to raise awareness about the links between energy use and global warming. But the darker skies will also be a positive development for people interested in outer space.

“Light pollution is a real problem for optical astronomers, as it overpowers the light from distant stars and galaxies,” explains Professor Brian Schmidt from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at ANU.

“In some cities the light pollution is so bad that people never see even the brightest stars. Even in a relatively small city like Canberra, the telescopes at our Mount Stromlo observatory are no longer used for serious astronomical research in part because of the sheer amount of light leaking from the nearby city.”

Professsor Schmidt said that avoiding the light pollution problem was one of the reasons that ANU had decided to build the new SkyMapper telescope at its Siding Spring campus in outback NSW, far enough away from urban areas so that the night sky is clear and vivid.

“When it comes online in a few months, SkyMapper will be among the first of a new breed of surveying telescopes that can scan the night skies more quickly and deeper than ever before,” says Professor Schmidt, one of the lead researchers on the SkyMapper project. “The remote location and lack of light pollution near Coonabarabran will help us collect very rich information.

“This new telescope will provide a deep digital map of the southern sky – the most detailed of its kind ever – which will allow astronomers to study everything from nearby objects such as asteroids in our solar system to the most distant objects in the universe. The data taken by the SkyMapper telescope will be shared with astronomers around the world via the Virtual Observatory initiative.”

But Professor Schmidt says that you don’t need an advanced telescope to enjoy the view of space during Earth Hour. “Even a pair of simple binoculars can be enough to start exploring, and it could foster a love of astronomy for life.”

Source: Australian National University

 

A Brief Sunday Science Update

Its been a while since I’ve compiled news items for my Sunday Science Update and while my resolve stands firm to stay up to date with the world of science, my time to post news stories is severely constricted. I’ve bookmarked the following stories for your reading pleasure over the course of the weekend. My commentary will be absent this week with my struggle for time.

Rome to ‘paint’ Trajan’s Column with light
From Physorg.com

Archaeologists want to use light to recreate the brilliant colors once seen on Trajan’s Column in Rome.

The chaste white of Roman temples and monuments is a product of centuries of wear that has removed the original paint. The archaeology department in Rome is discussing the technical details of creating a light beam that would temporarily repaint the column, with the power company Acea and researchers at Rome University, the Italian news agency Ansa reported.

Under the plan, the column would be illuminated on weekends for a few minutes every hour.

”Nothing acts like light to deepen our understanding, activating our emotional brain,” said Maurizio Anastasi, head of the technical office in the city archaeology department.

The column was erected in A.D. 113 to celebrate Trajan’s two successful campaigns against the Dacians, depicted in carved relief. Trajan, who reigned from 98 to 117, pushed the boundaries of the Roman Empire to their farthest extent.

From Roman hallmarks to Gamma-rays!

Death of massive star creates brightest burst ever seen
From Physorg.com

Gamma-Ray Bursts are the most powerful explosive events in the Universe. They occur in far-off galaxies and so are usually faint. But on the morning of March 19th 2008 the Swift satellite found a burst which was so bright it could have been seen without binoculars or a telescope even though it was seven thousand times further away than the Andromeda galaxy.

And finally, news from our own solar system:

Signs of Hidden Ocean Underneath Titan’s Crust
From Sciam.com

Astronomers’ mental image of Titan, the solar system’s second-largest moon, used to be that of a vast swimming pool. But maybe they should have imagined a water bed instead.

That’s all for now!

Boomerang works in space: Japanese astronaut

From Physorg.com:

In an unprecedented experiment, a Japanese astronaut has thrown a boomerang in space and confirmed it flies back much like on Earth.

Astronaut Takao Doi “threw a boomerang and saw it come back” during his free time on March 18 at the International Space Station, a spokeswoman at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said on Friday.

Doi threw the boomerang after a request from compatriot Yasuhiro Togai, a world boomerang champion.

“I was very surprised and moved to see that it flew the same way it does on Earth,” the Mainichi Shimbun daily quoted the 53-year-old astronaut as telling his wife in a chat from space.

The space agency said a videotape of the experiment would likely be released later.

Doi travelled on US shuttle Endeavour on the March 11 blast-off and successfully delivered the first piece of a Japanese laboratory to the International Space Station.