Report on Flock Party: Raleigh

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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Posted by rubble on January 19, 2007 4:47 AM

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?”

Posted by gengar on January 19, 2007 5:43 AM

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

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

Posted by Ian Wood on January 19, 2007 7:01 AM

Irrelevant Design

Posted by Bob C on January 19, 2007 7:13 AM

How about ID: not even a theory.

Posted by David B. on January 19, 2007 11:01 AM

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.”

“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!”

Posted by David B. on January 19, 2007 11:02 AM

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.”

“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!”

Posted by tomsuly on January 19, 2007 11:09 AM

“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.

Posted by Nic George on January 19, 2007 1:23 PM

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

Posted by DavidGrow on January 19, 2007 1:25 PM

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.

Posted by David Greenwood on January 19, 2007 2:09 PM

“Teach the science!”

Posted by captain howdy on January 19, 2007 2:15 PM

To the phrase–“Teach the controversy!” the reply should be “Somewhere else!”

Posted by David Greenwood on January 19, 2007 2:17 PM

“Teach the science!”

Posted by Tiffany on January 19, 2007 3:21 PM

I like “What Controversy?” and “Where’s the science?”

This is a great post.

Posted by Randy Kirk on January 19, 2007 4:05 PM

“What Contoversy” points up the real problem that the movie must have been trying to deal with. A failure on the part of science to communicate in a way that the other side will listen.

When you sell something (which I have been doing for 53 years) you want to talk about your product, and only in the rarest of circumstances even bring up the competitive product or idea. In fact, you may b able to win some converts by pointing the the benefits of the other product, but here are the three reasons why ours is what you want.

Sometimes when you do compare yourself directly, you do it with direct item-by-item comparisons. You do your best to make the chart totally honest and not skew it your way. But, of course, your ideas will appear better (at least to you)

Your tag line needs to be something that hits home with your clients heart, not his head. So, if you want to turn the hearts of ID folks, you need to understand why it is that they have such a need to believe that there is a God or alien who started stuff and controls stuff now.

As an GODDIDIT person myself, I have taken up this very approach at
I am trying to allow both sides to post, comment, and discuss these issues without fear of being screamed at, told that their ideas are warrentless, or that the debate is over.

It is my honest belief that at the end of the day, folks who come, read, and comment in such an environment will, if they can open their mind for a moment or two, become wiser about both sides of the issue. Then…let the chips fall where they may.

Posted by Taz Daughtrey on January 19, 2007 4:38 PM

Not as a battle cry – but as a serious pedagogical approach – I propose “Teach the Contexts,” as described in “Why Evolution Should Be Taught As An Argument and How it Might be Done” at…

Posted by Mike Rogers on January 19, 2007 5:19 PM

“Teach the science” is pretty good. (Appologies in advance for the long post but there were some points that I thought needed to be made explicit in guiding the search for sound bites.)

I know we’re looking for a slogan that evokes a strong and clear Lakoff-style “frame” here and I haven’t quite got that yet. But I think the underlying frame that deal with what’s really at stake here has to do with the authoritarian model for controlling society. (Lakoff would say this derives from the “strict father” frame but I’m not so sure there isn’t a little more to it than that.) In the pre-enlightenment tradition, certain religious leaders were responsible for maintaining the social order by controlling the culture based on popularly acceptance of their claims to general epistemological authority. This did not just pertain to religious matters or ethics, but to philosphy, politics and science as well - an overall epistemological authoritarian system.

By both underming a literal interpretation of the Bible and making naturalism seem quite plausible (or highly probably or nearly certain - take your pick), the theory of evolution undermines the authority claims of fundamentalists who seek to re-establish that old cultural role. This is particularly acute among certain conservative protestants who have staked their religious authority claims on the prima facia democratic idea that the Bible can be consistently, believably and literally interpreted by anyone (with some guidance from their pastor, of course). As thr parenthetic expression suggests, and a little careful reading the Bible confirms, this idea is utter nonsense.

Nevertheless, I think this authoritarianism is mainly what motivates the ID and creationistist movements. And it comes through in the strategy behind the “teach the controversy” slogan. They are appealing to American popular anti-authoritarianism but at the same time to people who they know feel excluded from science and disenfranchised by the economic and social order of the modern world. So “teach the controversy” appeals to many people’s sense of alienation from the intellectual side of modern culture and, at the same time, to an innate authoritarian social tendency in their target audience and the resulting tendency to project those authoritarian longings, onto those who they feel are surpressing the re-emergence of that kind of social order (since they have also absorbed the popular anti-authoritarian sensibilities of our culuture).

This element of projection is also evident in Phillip Johnson’s suggested debate tactic of asking evolution supporters if there is any evidence that would convice us of the falsity of evoltution or what such evidence would be. (I don’t recall the exact wording - it’s snappier than that - but that’s the gist of it.) The scientific answer is, of course there might someday concievably be evidence against evolution but so far the evidence for it is overwhelming and, if one really takes evidence seriously, one should be sufficiently convinced at this point. But this framing suggests that scientists have something to hide while misdirecting attention from the shadow fact that there is almost certainly no evidence which would convince them that evolution or common descent might be true because they ultimately base their belief on a dogmatic (in the sense of fundamentally unquestionable) adherance to scriptural or eclisiastical authority and simply discount empericism when it conflicts with that.

That was a lot to say but it set up my suggestion for how we go about looking for sound bytes. In short, we need to figure out how to play the anti-authoritarianism card. They have deberately and specifically framed the debate to invert the real relationships and to make it difficult to point out that this debate is ultimately about empericism vs epistemological authoritarianism and that the creationists are the real authoritarians here.

So whatever slogans we come up with must do two things (I thnk we’ll need a few sound bites, not just one): 1) They must unmask the creationists hidden agenda of re-establishing the legitimacy of giving religious authorities epistemological primacy over emperical science and 2) in Lakoff’s terms they must “activate” existing frames supporting respect for emperical evidence, reason and science, without alienating people by seeming preachy or haughty. And they should should do this in a way that will ultimately turn the tables back to reality so that it becomes clear that we’re the ones who are open to evidence and they aren’t. I’m not sure what sound bites to use for that, but those are the ideas that I think they should suggest in people’s minds.

Posted by Jim51 on January 19, 2007 6:21 PM

How about

Nothing in ID makes sense except in the light of religion.

My apologies to T.D.

I’ll go sit in the corner now.


Posted by Wesley R. Elsberry on January 19, 2007 8:19 PM

“What controversy?” adopts their frame. Whatever we use needs to bring things into our frame.

“Dover trap” requires that people have the referent of the Kitzmiller case already in mind. This is not anywhere near the proportion of the populace who are ready to attach their own personal meaning to “Teach the controversy”.

“Education is expensive, but ignorance is cheap” might be of some use. It leads into discussion of accountability, something the SciCre/ID forces are vulnerable upon.

Posted by David B. Benson on January 19, 2007 9:07 PM

Sound bytes strike me as anti-Enlightment. (I do find several of the proposed ones amusing.)

Science has a notion of the Rules of the Evidence. Maybe ‘normal people’ do not know what these are?
Maybe what is needed is a brief, but ‘complete’, explanation of the scientific method?

You carry on from there…

Posted by Reed A. Cartwright on January 20, 2007 1:56 AM

Wesley is right that we shouldn’t be adopting their frame. If only there was a national equivalent for the amazing successful, “Don’t Mess with Textbooks” campaign that our allies in Texas came up with a few years ago. Let’s try some more.

“Don’t Tread on Science.”

“Politicians, Leave Science to the Science Teachers.”

Posted by Danny Stevens on January 20, 2007 6:24 AM

“Know the Science!”

or “Know the Science! Expose the Liars!”

or “Argue the Science, not the BS”

Posted by Douglas Watts on January 20, 2007 6:40 AM

“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.

Posted by Douglas Watts on January 20, 2007 7:10 AM

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.

Posted by Ed Darrell on January 20, 2007 1:08 PM

“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.

Posted by Monado on January 22, 2007 12:12 AM

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!

Posted by David B. on January 22, 2007 5:37 AM

* 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.

Posted by minusRusty on January 23, 2007 3:46 PM

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.

Posted by Fross on January 30, 2007 5:11 PM

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

Posted by Bunjo on February 8, 2007 4:57 AM

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!