Report on Flock Party: Raleigh

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Tonight Prof. Steve Steve and I went to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science so that we could finally see Flock of Dodos, Dr. Randy Olson’s documentary about intelligent design’s culture war with evolution. If you missed it, the museum will be showing it several more times in the coming weeks, including on Darwin Day. Many other locations will be showing the documentary on Darwin Day (2/12). Check your local museums and universities. If you can’t get to a screening, Showtime will carry Dodos in May, and stores should have DVDs next fall.

We left work early tonight, around 6:30, so we could brave the bad weather and make it downtown for the 7:00 showing. We got there fine enough, but when we arrived, we discovered that a Dodo was picketing the showing and urging us to repent. Prof. Steve Steve got into an argument with him trying to explain why cell theory and the second law of thermodynamics do not challenge modern biology, but the dodo appeared to have foam in his ears. Eventually, Dr. Olson joined us outside and told us that his movie was about to start. At Dr. Olson’s urging, Prof. Steve Steve and I hurried inside to find some seats and left the Dodo outside arguing with a lamp post.

The museum showed Flock of Dodos on its first floor, in the auditorium, which filled up with some 300 pandas and people . The museum itself is pretty cool, even when not throwing a flock party. It has exhibits demonstrating North Carolina’s natural treasures from the mountains to the sea, with plenty of stuffed animals and shiny rocks. The best part is the third floor’s replica of the Paluxy “man” tracks. Prof. Steve Steve swears that he can totally see where the fossils prove how Adam and Eve and Fred and Wilma chased dinosaurs across the ancient Texas wilderness some 6,000 years ago.

The movie started on time, which was unfortunate since Dr. Olson was trying to say a few words to the crowd beforehand but got cut off by the lights going down and the beginning playing. This was very funny since the first frame of Flock of Dodos is the phrase “Res ipsa loquitur—the thing speaks for itself.”

Throughout the movie, interviews with intelligent design activists were contrasted with interviews with evolutionary scientists, while the shenanigans in Kansas serving as the focal point. The documentary journeys among Boston, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Seattle. Flock of Dodos provides us with two important points

Dr. Olson answers questions after the talk.

First that the intelligent design movement consists of nothing but lies invented for a public relations campaign and seeks nothing less than the overthrow of the cultural legacies of the enlightenment.

And second that scientists are utterly unable to communicate their profession to normal people, which only helps the crusade of anti-intellectualism.

The later point proves especially provocative in academic settings because scientists don’t like to be told they the lack the tact and social skills needed to reach the people. Not surprisingly, most of the questions that Dr. Olson answered after the showing centered around this issue. It became rather clear that the room agreed with him that scientists need to work on their people skills and learn to actually communicate with people, who may know nothing about science.

I wish he would have gone one step forward and have pointed out that for science to flourish in a democracy, the electorate needs to have a positive understanding of the discipline. Ignorant voters elect ignorant politicians, and science and education suffer as a result. We should educate the masses, not condemn them.

After the official question and answer session, Dr. Olson hung around and took a few more questions from people that walked up to him. Prof. Steve Steve managed to make his way up to the front and took his picture with the filmmaker.—That silly Dodo was nowhere in sight.

And finally, I want to revisit Dr. Olson’s two important points with a question about framing the issue in our favor.

The documentary points out what an effective sound byte “Teach the Controversy” really is. Sure it lacks complete substance, but it is a short rallying cry that easily satisfies the modern requirements of marketing to a populace with a low attention span. We need something similar, not only similar but better, since the scientists in Flock of Dodos were unable to give us one.

So I think this is a good chance to use comments to brainstorm for sound bytes that favor our side of the issue. I’ll start by tossing out two bytes: “What Controversy?” and “Dover Trap”. Go ahead tell me what you think.

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Randy Olson's movie had a very short and limited release. Reed rallied the troops so NCSU library got a copy and there was a public viewing that I could not attend. But now, everyone can watch it, as Jennifer reports.... Read More

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About twenty years ago, Wendy’s restaurant chain had a great ad campaign featuring octagenarian Clara Peller. Responding to the mostly-bread sandwiches served by a fictional competitor, Clara exclaimed “where’s the beef?!” The phrase soon became a metaphor for demanding substance.

We should update this in response to the ID movement. We should ask, “where’s the science?”

Thinking only of the target audience: “God is smarter than that.”

Or “evolution is ‘just’ a theory, but ID is just an idea.”

Irrelevant Design

How about ID: not even a theory.

Turnaround is fair play: “God. Allah. Budda. Krishna. Preach the controversy!”

Appeal to the counterculture demographic: “We are the successful mutants!”

Dobzhansky’s quote: “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Louis Brandeis’ quote: “There are no shortcuts in evolution.”

Humour: “I.D. is to Evolution what storks and gooseberry bushes are to Reproduction.”

“There’s no such thing as gravity. God sucks!”

Be oblique: “Science has evolved!”

“Block the wedge!”

“One gets rich through the accumulation of small change!”

Turnaround is fair play: “God. Allah. Budda. Krishna. Preach the controversy!”

Appeal to the counterculture demographic: “We are the successful mutants!”

Dobzhansky’s quote: “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Louis Brandeis’ quote: “There are no shortcuts in evolution.”

Humour: “I.D. is to Evolution what storks and gooseberry bushes are to Reproduction.”

“There’s no such thing as gravity. God sucks!”

Be oblique: “Science has evolved!”

“Block the wedge!”

“One gets rich through the accumulation of small change!”

“Where’s the science?”

That’s good. I like that one. I’m not a scientist but one of my favorite pastimes is reading books on various science subjects(right now I’m in the process of reading “The Oceans of Kansas” and a book on the Permian-Triassic extincion).

Anyway, one day I was standing in line behind a father and his teenage daughter and on the back of her shirt was that famous acronym “WWJD”. I thought to myself that science could use something like this in order to get more people to start thinking not only about the evolution/ID debate but also about all the various science subjects out there.

The one I came up with was “WWET - What Would Einstein Think”. I used Einstein because he is probably the most famous scientist and if you asked a common person to name one scientist, I have a feeling that the majority of them would answer with Einstein.

I’m still trying to come up with one for the evolution/ID debate but I’m in acronym block right now.

Just my two cents from a non-scientist.

I’m sorry I missed it. Considering the weather, driving from Durham to Raleigh last night seemed like a bad idea.

Why not be direct: “Teach the science”. The implicit message being the controversy is contrived and is not science. Or how about: “Dissmiss dishonest design.” Put them together. Opens the door to debunking the dishonesty, which must occur every time it appears. Or just for fun: “Darwin on trial wins again” “Darwin delivers” “Got Darwin?” Or a really awful one - “Its not design. Its de science.” Or, with apologies to David Quammen(Song of the Dodo): “ID: the toilet of its destiny has been flushed.” Just some thoughts.

“Teach the science!”

“Know the Science!”

or “Know the Science! Expose the Liars!”

or “Argue the Science, not the BS”

“Teach the controversy” is a compelling catchphrase because it frames the discussion, albeit in a very negative fashion for those of us interested in science.

In certain games, ie. politics, the person who frames the debate first can gain an enormous advantage (cf. When did you stop beating your wife?). Ergo, never let the other person frame the debate and never argue with their framework no matter what. If a reporter asks, “what’s wrong with ‘teaching the controversy,’” you must stop the interview and explain to the reporter exactly why that formulation is wrong, where it came from, and why it was formulated.

For me the best frame-setting statement is this:

“Our Courts have repeatedly ruled that ID is the teaching of religious beliefs in the science classroom.”

Or, “Teaching ID in science class is teaching religion in science class and teaching religion in science class is unconstitutional.” Then refer specifically to the Dover decision and others.

I disagree that the “success” of ID is somehow due to the failure of scientists to present science effectively.

Instead, I would argue that the relative attractiveness of ID is that it is so simple for people to “get” as compared to biological evolution; and ID nicely conforms with and confirms, rather than conflicts with and negates, many peoples’ religious and cultural upbringing.

Or, thinking that “God did it” takes a lot less time, attention, education and concentration that understanding even the most basic rudiments of evolution, some of which are fairly counterintuitive. In this sense ID is the path of least resistance and least effort for precisely the same people who have little use or interest in science to begin with.

I offer as an analogy the intuitive sense that the sun seems to orbit the Earth and the counterintuitive fact that the opposite occurs. The counterintuitive fact requires a much greater level of effort and understanding, which tends to weed out precisely those folks uninterested in exerting any mental energy and could care less which “side” is right. The IDers go after that group of people very effectively in a purely political sense.

ID was specifically created as a way to conceal its founders’ sole purpose and motivation: to teach Biblical Creationism in the classroom. Without this motivation, ID would not exist. I think that’s the best sound byte you’re going to get – because it’s the truth.

“Teach the facts.”

Sometimes I’ve been exasperated enough to say “Teach the facts, first!” But in any case, teaching the facts is almost always a higher priority than teaching any controversy.

For example, first we teach that George Washington was the nation’s first president, commander-in-chief of the rebels who won the American Revolution, and an honest guy. No state asks us to teach the controversy, involving his cheating on his expense reports (true, sort of), or his affairs with women prior to his marriage. We don’t even get to the controversies until college, if then.

Why not? Because it’s a bad teaching method. One needs to be grounded in the facts of a matter before cogently (“intelligently”) discussing any controversy.

Gravity is “only a theory” but we don’t expect to float away!

Darwin knew about steam engines. Would you say that jet planes can’t fly because Darwin didn’t know how they worked? Then why keep coming back to what Darwin knew about evolution? He never even heard of a gene! Mendel had discovered some rules of heredity but Darwin never read his paper, which was published in an obscure journal and not really “discovered” until ninety years later. We know more now, a lot more.

Next they’ll be wanting equal time for the demonic posession theory of mental illness!

* Note to self: don’t double-click on web pages *

I really enjoyed Jim51’s “Nothing in ID makes sense except in the light of religion.”, which for me is the funniest one to date (much better than mine).

Perhaps, sound-biting evolution is too narrow. It’s not that ID is an attack on Darwinism, but that it’s an attack on science, that bugs us (well, me).

Perhaps the succinctest way to point out the difference between ID and science is just to reiterate the basis of science. Hence…

Observation. Hypothesis. Prediction. Confirmation. Repeat.

David B. Wrote:

Perhaps, sound-biting evolution is too narrow.

This leads to “Nothing in evolution makes sense if all you know are sound-bites”; “Nothing in science makes sense if all you know are sound-bites”, etc.

“stop the inanity” or “stop the breathtaking inanity”

Late to the game, but how about:

“Cherish reason” and “Demand evidence”

Both phrases encourage individuals to think for themselves. Neither is a direct challenge to religious belief and so should be more successful at getting people to think rather than follow the authoritarian line.

While neither is immune to adoption by the ID rabble they are difficult to argue against, and if used by them would undermine their worldview because of the cognitive dissonance with their ‘goddidit’ views.

Who knows, such phrases might encourage good science too!

I am Church museum guide; How can I developing our museum to do best thing ? include aim and responsibility for develop. Thank you.

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on January 18, 2007 11:59 PM.

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