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
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.