Archive of previous NTS Skeptical News listings
A state senator watered down her own bill that might have led to teaching intelligent design in science classrooms.
Posted on Thu, Mar. 27, 2008Digg
BY MARC CAPUTO mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com
TALLAHASSEE -- A bill to ensure teachers can scientifically criticize evolution was made less controversial Wednesday when it was rewritten to all but bar the controversial theory of intelligent design in science classrooms.
Originally, the bill encouraged teachers to present the ''full range'' of ''scientific information'' about evolution, but didn't define that information.
That led to the possibility of teaching intelligent design, which a 2005 federal court banned from Pennsylvania science classrooms. The court said intelligent design is a religious theory because it posits that an intelligent cause -- God, to most adherents -- designed biological organisms.
To quell critics who thought she was trying to sneak religion into the classroom, Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican, decided to define scientific information as ``germane current facts, data, and peer-reviewed research specific to the topic of chemical and biological evolution as prescribed in Florida's Science Standards.''
Storms said the standards are too ''dogmatic'' and could unfairly lead to penalties of teachers and students who question evolution.
Storm's changes pleased scientists such as Paul Cottle, a Florida State University physics professor, and Gerry Meisels, a chemistry professor at the University of South Florida.
Both men helped form the new state science standards, approved last month by the state Board of Education, which say evolution will be taught clearly and consistently for the first time in Florida public schools.
Both men noted that the standards already call for critical thinking, so they questioned the motives of the religiously minded groups pushing for the bill.
''The standards are not broken. Please don't try to fix them,'' Meisels said.
Hear Dr. Don R. Patton Present Creation Evidence Update
Exciting things have been developing in the continuing effort to document the discovery of Noah?s Ark.
The group of devout believers in Christ who invited Dr. Patton to a press conference in Dogubayazit, Turkey, announced to the world that they had found wood from Noah?s ark far up on Mt. Ararat. A report from the University of Hong Kong affirmed that the specimen was petrified wood. Other experts expressed doubts and urged additional testing.
Just weeks ago Dr. Patton together with ark explorer Don Shockey traveled to Hong Kong and visited the amazing life size replica of Noah?s ark being built by the Hong Kong group. An agreement was forged to combine our efforts to reach the Ark on Mt. Ararat. Details are still being worked out but three from the US (including Dr. Patton) and three from Hong Kong with Turkish guides should be on the mountain this summer.
Come hear the details, see the pictures and ask questions.
(MIOS members are urged to arrive at 7:00 for a MIOS business meeting to report our present status and elect officers.)
Dr. Pepper Starcenter
12700 N. Stemmons Frwy
Farmers Branch, TX
Tuesday, April 1, 7:30 PM
03/23/2008 (6:45 pm)
For those who've never heard of the "The Profit" well, you aren't missing much. I have seen half of it and it's pretty much sucktacular, but if you are interesting in annoying Scientology, which these days, a lot of people are then by all means, have at it.
Here's a brief synopsis of the movie and its history:
The Profit is a feature film written and directed by Peter N. Alexander. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France in 2001. Distribution of the film was prohibited by an American court order which was a result of a lawsuit brought by the Church of Scientology, although the filmmaker says that the film is not about Scientology. The Disinformation Book Of Lists and The Times have characterized The Profit as a banned film in the United States.
The film was described by its producers as a work of fiction, meant to educate the public about cults and con men. It was widely seen, however, as a parody of the Church of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The main character L. Conrad Powers leads an organization called the "Church of Scientific Spiritualism", and many elements about both the Church portrayed in the film, and Powers' life have been compared to Scientology and Hubbard. The film was mainly produced and shot in Tampa Bay, Florida, and the cast included actors from the area and cameos from a few Scientology critics.
Mark Bunker of XenuTV.net, Scientology critic and apparently occasional movie critic, gives it two thumbs down for quality, but is happy it's released if for no other reason than to satiate the public's interest. The added bonus of making David Miscavige blow steam out his ears, and perhaps slap some body around (hopefully not one of the aging Scientologist, that's just mean) is a real gift too!
March 21, 2008 By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
SAN DIEGO In a highly unusual outbreak of measles here last month, 12 children fell ill; nine of them had not been inoculated against the virus because their parents objected, and the other three were too young to receive vaccines.
The parents who objected to their children being inoculated are among a small but growing number of vaccine skeptics in California and other states who take advantage of exemptions to laws requiring vaccinations for school-age children.
The exemptions have been growing since the early 1990s at a rate that many epidemiologists, public health officials and physicians find disturbing.
Children who are not vaccinated are unnecessarily susceptible to serious illnesses, they say, but also present a danger to children who have had their shots the measles vaccine, for instance, is only 95 percent effective and to those children too young to receive certain vaccines.
Measles, almost wholly eradicated in the United States through vaccines, can cause pneumonia and brain swelling, which in rare cases can lead to death. The measles outbreak here alarmed public health officials, sickened babies and sent one child to the hospital.
Every state allows medical exemptions, and most permit exemptions based on religious practices. But an increasing number of the vaccine skeptics belong to a different group those who object to the inoculations because of their personal beliefs, often related to an unproven notion that vaccines are linked to autism and other disorders.
Twenty states, including California, Ohio and Texas, allow some kind of personal exemption, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University.
"I refuse to sacrifice my children for the greater good," said Sybil Carlson, whose 6-year-old son goes to school with several of the children hit by the measles outbreak here. The boy is immunized against some diseases but not measles, Ms. Carlson said, while his 3-year-old brother has had just one shot, protecting him against meningitis.
"When I began to read about vaccines and how they work," she said, "I saw medical studies, not given to use by the mainstream media, connecting them with neurological disorders, asthma and immunology."
Ms. Carlson said she understood what was at stake. "I cannot deny that my child can put someone else at risk," she said.
In 1991, less than 1 percent of children in the states with personal-belief exemptions went without vaccines based on the exemption; by 2004, the most recent year for which data are available, the percentage had increased to 2.54 percent, said Saad B. Omer, an assistant scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
While nationwide over 90 percent of children old enough to receive vaccines get them, the number of exemptions worries many health officials and experts. They say that vaccines have saved countless lives, and that personal-belief exemptions are potentially dangerous and bad public policy because they are not based on sound science.
"If you have clusters of exemptions, you increase the risk of exposing everyone in the community," said Dr. Omer, who has extensively studied disease outbreaks and vaccines.
It is the absence, or close to it, of some illnesses in the United States that keep some parents from opting for the shots. Worldwide, 242,000 children a year die from measles, but it used to be near one million. The deaths have dropped because of vaccination, a 68 percent decrease from 2000 to 2006.
"The very success of immunizations has turned out to be an Achilles' heel," said Dr. Mark Sawyer, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. "Most of these parents have never seen measles, and don't realize it could be a bad disease so they turn their concerns to unfounded risks. They do not perceive risk of the disease but perceive risk of the vaccine."
Dr. Sawyer and the vast majority of pediatricians believe strongly that vaccinations are the cornerstone of sound public health. Many doctors view the so-called exempters as parasites, of a sort, benefiting from the otherwise inoculated majority.
Most children get immunized to measles from a combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, a live virus.
While the picture of an unvaccinated child was once that of the offspring of poor and uneducated parents, "exempters" are often well educated and financially stable, and hold a host of like-minded child-rearing beliefs.
Vaccine skeptics provide differing explanations for their belief that vaccines may cause various illnesses and disorders, including autism.
Recent news that a federal vaccine court agreed to pay the family of an autistic child in Georgia who had an underlying mitochondrial disorder has led some skeptics to speculate that vaccines may worsen such conditions. Again, researchers say there is no evidence to support this thesis.
Alexandra Stewart, director of the Epidemiology of U.S. Immunization Law project at George Washington University, said many of these parents are influenced by misinformation obtained from Web sites that oppose vaccination.
"The autism debate has convinced these parents to refuse vaccines to the detriment of their own children as well as the community," Ms. Stewart said.
While many parents meet deep resistance and even hostility from pediatricians when they choose to delay, space or reject vaccines, they are often able to find doctors who support their choice.
"I do think vaccines help with the public health and helping prevent the occasional fatality," said Dr. Bob Sears, the son of the well-known child-care author by the same name, who practices pediatrics in San Clemente. Roughly 20 percent of his patients do not vaccinate, Dr. Sears said, and another 20 percent partially vaccinate.
"I don't think it is such a critical public health issue that we should force parents into it," Dr. Sears said. "I don't lecture the parents or try to change their mind; if they flat out tell me they understand the risks I feel that I should be very respectful of their decision."
Some parents of unvaccinated children go to great lengths to expose their children to childhood diseases to help them build natural immunities.
In the wake of last month's outbreak, Linda Palmer considered sending her son to a measles party to contract the virus. Several years ago, the boy, now 12, contracted chicken pox when Ms. Palmer had him attend a gathering of children with that virus.
"It is a very common thing in the natural-health oriented world," Ms. Palmer said of the parties.
She ultimately decided against the measles party for fear of having her son ostracized if he became ill.
In the late 1960s and 1970s, measles outbreaks in Alaska and California triggered strong enforcement of vaccine mandates by states, and exemption laws followed.
While the laws vary from state to state, most allow children to attend school if their parents agree to keep them home during any outbreak of illnesses prevented by vaccines. The easier it is to get an exemption some states require barely any paperwork the more people opt for them, according to Dr. Omer's research, supported by other vaccine experts.
There are differences within states, too. There tend to be geographic clusters of "exempters" in certain counties or even neighborhoods or schools. According to a 2006 article in The Journal of The American Medical Association, exemption rates of 15 percent to 18 percent have been found in Ashland, Ore., and Vashon, Wash. In California, where the statewide rate is about 1.5 percent, some counties were as high as 10 percent to 19 percent of kindergartners.
In the San Diego measles outbreak, four of the cases, including the first one, came from a single charter school, and 17 children stayed home during the outbreak to avoid contracting the illness.
There is substantial evidence that communities with pools of unvaccinated clusters risk infecting a broad community that includes people who have been inoculated.
For instance, in a 2006 mumps outbreak in Iowa that infected 219 people, the majority of those sickened had been vaccinated. In a 2005 measles outbreak in Indiana, there were 34 cases, including six people who had been vaccinated.
Here in California, six pertussis outbreaks infected 24 people in 2007; only 2 of 24 were documented as having been appropriately immunized.
A surveillance program in the mid '90s in Canada of infants and preschoolers found that cases of Hib fell to between 8 and 10 cases a year from 550 a year after a vaccine program was begun, and roughly half of those cases were among children whose vaccine failed.
Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington.
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
Alarmist condemnation of all alternative therapies ignores the crucial role some could play in the human healing process
Madeleine Bunting The Guardian, Monday March 24 2008 Article history
About this articleClose This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday March 24 2008 on p31 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 00:02 on March 24 2008. Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All; Snake Oil Science; and next month sees another, Trick or Treatment: what these new books have in common is varying degrees of frustration at the seemingly inexorable rise of complementary medicine. It seems the aim of some of these authors is to finish off a burgeoning health industry that they believe is based on charlatans and quacks preying on the gullible and desperate.
The books reflect the growing exasperation in some quarters that public opinion is not as amenable to persuasion and scientific evidence as they would hope. The language gets lurid; the mood music to pronouncements on complementary medicine is increasingly alarmist - we are living in dangerous times, an unEnlightenment looms as tides of irrationality threaten to overwhelm the palisades erected by science. "Reason is a precious but fragile thing," declared Richard Dawkins in his series, The Enemies of Reason, last autumn. "Reason has liberated us from superstition and given us centuries of progress. We abandon it at our peril."
What so troubles these science warriors is that it is estimated a third of people in the UK now use complementary medicine, at a cost of £1.5bn a year. In the US, the figures are substantially higher; it has been calculated that more visits are made to healing therapists than to doctors. There is an extraordinary paradox here: a half-century of astonishing conventional medical advances has not succeeded in eliminating complementary medicine. Quite the reverse: the breakthroughs in conventional medicine have been accompanied by the proliferation of other forms of healing - many of which have little or no evidence base to prove their efficacy. Indeed, it only takes a short surf on the web to discover that the wilder shores of this burgeoning industry are, well, pretty wild.
To the science warriors, this bizarre state of affairs can only be explained by irrationality. They bemoan the state of science education and lament how, contrary to expectation, literacy and access to information have failed to eradicate superstition. Meanwhile, in this increasingly sharply polarised debate, complementary medicine practitioners are equally exasperated by what they see as blinkered scientific reductionism.
So it takes a brave scientist to launch into this territory and risk getting attacked from both camps by daring to ask a simple question: is there anything science can learn from complementary medicine? That is precisely what Kathy Sykes is doing in her current television series, Alternative Therapies (the second programme is on BBC2 tonight). As Bristol University's professor of public engagement in science and the director of the Cheltenham Festival of Science, no one can challenge her credentials as a scientist, yet her scrutiny of particular therapies throws up serious challenges to conventional medicine.
Sykes is too good a scientist to give complementary medicine an easy run. Tonight she examines reflexology, and gives it pretty short shrift. There are 30,000 reflexologists working on a million British feet a year. They base their work on a theory that parts of the sole of the foot correlate to organs in the body. The only problem is that Sykes could find no one, reflexologist or scientist, who could explain how these correlations might work. Furthermore, it turned out that this "ancient" healing system seems to have originated with an imaginative American woman in the 1930s. But patients swear by it. One reflexologist points Sykes to her annual garden party full of babies and children as evidence of the success she has had with infertility problems. This is the point where most scientists snort with derision at the use of personal anecdote as evidence, but Sykes presses on and it takes her into two areas of scientific research. First, she digs up new research on the importance of touch, which can have a profound impact on the brain. Even the hand of a stranger reduces anxiety and that of someone with whom one has a close relationship is even more significant. In fact, Sykes finds some scientific underpinning which goes beyond placebo in many of the therapies she looks at. But it is placebo which emerges as a recurrent and crucially important thread in her quest, and it leads her to the work of several American scientists who are trying to identify what placebo is, who it works for, and why it works.
This is one of the most common charges made against complementary medicine - that most of it is no better than placebo. But there is a way of turning that accusation around: perhaps complementary medicine is an effective way to harness placebo as one of the most powerful - and cheapest - of healing processes. Rather than being derogatory about the phenomenon as "just" placebo, perhaps we should see it as one of the most remarkable and little understood aspects of the human body.
That line of inquiry has taken Sykes to the US several times over the course of the two series she has made. There placebo has become a new frontier in medicine. In a range of studies with startling results - even sham knee surgery can be as effective as the real thing - many factors contribute to placebo: the confidence of the doctor; the social, cultural expectations around the procedure; the empathy and warmth of the patient-doctor relationship; the patient's degree of faith. Get all these right, and the outcome can be remarkable. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk is publishing a study this week which shows that placebo is as good as any conventional treatment available for irritable bowel syndrome. Given that the eight most industrialised nations spend $40bn a year on medication for this condition, that's revolutionary stuff.
This kind of research into placebo gives some insight into why complementary medicine has boomed and why there are so many people who cite their own experience to passionately defend it. The average consultation with a GP is 4.6 minutes, while the complementary therapist can devote an hour to taking detailed personal histories. That time and relationship provide a context and an opportunity for the ritual and recasting of personal experience which Kaptchuk believes are the crucial elements of placebo.
Complementary medicine is most popular where conventional medicine fails, such as with musculoskeletal conditions and mental health - stress, depression, anxiety (the recent revelations about the inefficacy of Prozac were another reminder of how shaky the science is in a large area of conventional medicine). Several complementary therapies are particularly effective at pain relief - you had to see Sykes's footage of hypnotism helping a woman to have teeth extracted without anaesthetic to believe it. Kaptchuk argues that pain is not a static given but can be experienced dramatically differently.
Conventional medicine prolongs life but is less successful in prolonging good health - we can expect to spend more years of our life in poor health, as a government report showed last week - and in producing wellbeing. So people are voting with their feet, trying to find other ways to fill the gaps left by conventional medicine. We need scientists to help to identify what they are looking for and why, rather than pouring scorn indiscriminately on the whole field and on the relations between belief, mind and body, of which science still has such a fragmentary understanding.
Dowd preaches 'sacred, inspirational' story of how universe was created
By Rebecca Rosen Lum STAFF WRITER
Article Launched: 03/24/2008 03:11:04 AM PDT
Long, lanky and athletic, the Rev. Michael Dowd paces the stage, gesticulating, his voice moving from a whisper to a gleeful roar.
"The atoms of our bodies are literally stardust," he tells the rapt crowd. "The carbon and the oxygen and the nitrogen were formed inside red giant stars. The gold and silver and other heavy metals were formed in supernova stars that then explode" -- his voice reaches a crescendo -- "with this tremendous metal-rich stardust."
He is an itinerant preacher with a cosmological message to spread. Evolution is God's work, he tells his audiences.
A passionate preacher with a Pentecostal style, Dowd has undergone his own evolution.
So serious is he about his "responsibility to find more sacred, meaningful holy ways of promoting evolution" that Dowd has taken to criss-crossing the country in a van with his wife, science writer Connie Barlow.
Raised as a Catholic, Dowd underwent a born-again experience after wrestling with drug, alcohol and other problems. Newly convinced the world began 6,000 years ago, he showed up to evolution talks to argue.
While a student at Evangel University in Springfield, Mo., Dowd stormed out of his biology class, saying Satan had a foothold at the Christian academy.
Then he was born yet again.
For starters, his professors at Evangel believed in evolution yet were devout.
He was introduced to a Buddhist-Christian Monk whom he describes as the most Christ-like man he had ever met.
"My head said, 'Get him saved,' but my heart said, 'Get him to mentor you.' " He discovered the works of Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, whose "The Universe Story" offers a view of the cosmos that embraces science and faith.
When he heard a talk on "The Universe Story" his reaction was immediate and visceral.
"I had goose bumps up and down my arms and legs and I started to cry," he said. "From then on, I became very passionate about evolution."
He met Barlow at a New York City talk by mathematical cosmologist Swimme.
"She was in the sciences, communicating evolutionary sciences in the most soul-nurturing ways possible," he said. In their travels, Barlow puts on workshops for children at zoos, arboretums, Unitarian Universalist congregations.
Today, he and Barlow have garnered plenty of media attention touring the country in an oversized 2003 white Dodge Sprinter with "Jesus hearts Darwin" emblazoned on the side and a license plate that says "Ecozoic."
They stay in the homes of supporters, and he speaks to groups of Unitarians, Mennonites, Buddhists, Quakers and humanists. He has not been invited to address fundamentalist congregations, but he did meet with 125 moderate to liberal evangelicals at a conference in the Bahamas.
"We're going to see this evolution theology movement come into the mainstream," he said, chatting over a Formica table in a McDonald's -- the only place in San Francisco's Mission District with parking spaces large enough to accommodate his 20-foot-long van.
"We see the sciences as revelatory," he said. Fundamentalists believe "all the really important revelation happened in Biblical times, and we are saying no."
Superagent Jillian Manus is handling his latest book, "Thank God for Evolution." She sent copies to 10 friends. He cut a planned stop in Sausalito to fly to New York to meet with publishers.
Through the use of mythic, poetic language, Dowd believes he can inspire believers and non-believers to grasp evolution -- and the universe -- as a continuous revelation.
"Any God that can be believed in or not believed in is precisely not what I'm talking about," he tells a congregation in a video clip. "Do you get that? I'm talking about something that is undeniably real. whether you call it God or not is up to you."
Dowd said 10 to 15 percent of people on either end of the belief spectrum will never embrace his message, no matter how hospitable the messenger.
He doesn't blame fundamentalists for tuning out evolution.
"They've only been exposed to (it as) a mechanistic, uninspiring, soulless process," he said. "Until they've been exposed to a sacred, inspiring version they should reject it."
Evolution is not the savage process the term "survival of the fittest" would imply, he said.
Rather, "All of nature is in an act of holy communion," he said. "It's always saying 'take, eat, this is my body.'
"It's not survival of the most ruthless, it's survival of the most cooperative. Mutual benefit is all throughout nature."
Rebecca Rosen Lum covers religion. Reach her at 925-977-8506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ROM's usual sponsors wary of controversy
Mar 15, 2008 04:30 AM
Faith and ethics reporter
For 150 years, Charles Darwin has driven devout Christians and secularists apart. But at the Royal Ontario Museum this week, his theories are bringing them together.
An exhibit celebrating Darwin, the English naturalist whose theories of evolution and natural selection ("survival of the fittest") revolutionized science and presented religion with its greatest challenge, is being sponsored by the United Church Observer and the Humanist Association of Canada after corporate Canada failed to help out.
"We've never seen a need that was so clear," Observer editor and publisher David Wilson said.
His magazine, which operates independently from the United Church, is providing $40,000 in cash and advertising, while the Humanists are pitching in $50,000. For both, the hastily arranged donations are their largest ever.
Before they stepped forward, Todd Hogan, ROM's associate director of corporate relations, said between 40 and 50 companies and patrons who comprise the museum's regular sponsors were approached.
None disputed Darwin's theories, but none wanted to back the show.
"The individuals we spoke with said, `Personally I believe it, I love the show, but as a conservative company we are not comfortable putting ourselves in a potentially controversial position,'" he said.
Humanist president Pat O'Brien is pleased to be sharing the sponsorship with a faith-based group.
"They've really shown some leadership in the religious community. There are a lot of religious people who are happy with evolution."
After publishing dozens of stories on evolution and creationism, Wilson said the faithful have nothing to fear from evolution.
"There is an inherent beauty in the theory of natural selection that illuminates the inherent beauty and wonder of creation," he said.
He said shy corporations have nothing to fear about being associated with Darwin. "The politics of creationism and intelligent design are more bark than bite," he said.
The ROM exhibit features artifacts, manuscripts and memorabilia from the life and work of Darwin, who died in 1882. It closes Aug. 4.
Jennifer L. Berghom March 18, 2008 - 7:15PM
BROWNSVILLE - Mary Helen Berlanga expects to clash with other Texas education board members this year as they work on updating the state's classroom lesson guidelines.
She anticipates debating with conservative members on issues like whether to include intelligent design in science textbooks and whether history books include enough information about minorities.
Berlanga, the state board's senior member, spoke to students and faculty at the University of Texas-Brownsville and Texas Southmost College on Tuesday.
She asked her constituents to travel to Austin next week to speak out against proposed amendments outside consultants are pushing for that she says exclude Hispanics and other minorities from classroom instruction.
Intelligent design is the school of thought that says there are parts of nature too complex to be dismissed as random chance and that evolution must have been guided by a higher power. In previous interviews, Berlanga said schools should stick to teaching evolution because intelligent design too close to teaching religion in school.
The guidelines are laid out in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills curriculum- which establishes what students need to know at every grade level from kindergarten through 12th grade - earlier this year.
It is the first time the board has sought to update the TEKS since 1997.
What concerns Berlanga, in particular, is a list of books that private education consultants are touting as suggested reading for children.
She says no books written by or about minority groups are included on the list.
Though the consultants say the books listed are just examples, Berlanga said she fears they would become the required reading.
"I've been on the state board long enough to know what happens when you give examples. It becomes the law, it becomes the bible," said Berlanga, who has served on the board since 1983.
By listing specific books it would deprive teachers of their ability to choose books to which their students would better relate. Not offering books written by or about Hispanics and Latinos, she says, would alienate the state's largest student population.
There are more than 2.1 million Hispanic students in the state, making them the largest ethnic group the public education system serves.
"Folks, we're going back in time instead of forward," Berlanga said. "I don't think anybody should be put on the back burner."
Professors and students said they were glad Berlanga came down to talk to them about the TEKS proposed updates and were disappointed to learn that Hispanics and Latinos don't appear to have a say in the updates.
"It's clear (that this is) a deliberate attempt to exclude us from History, ELA and all areas of teaching," said Julio Noboa, a professor of curriculum and instruction at UTB who specializes in history and social studies.
He said he and other Hispanic educators have had to fight to ensure minorities are represented in school subjects.
The board of education plans to hold a public hearing about the amendments on March 26.
Berlanga said she is working with UTB faculty and others to charter a bus to take people to that hearing.
The final vote is expected in May.
Jennifer L. Berghom covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4462.
Michael Mayo | News Columnist
March 20, 2008 Just when Florida's science classrooms seemed safe for evolution, along come some legislators with a thinly veiled attempt to inject religion under the guise of "academic freedom."
The proposed Academic Freedom Act would protect public school teachers who "present scientific information relevant to the full range of views on biological and chemical origins." The bill also would prohibit students from "being penalized for subscribing to a particular position on evolution."
The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are.
"The bill does not allow or authorize the teaching of creationism or intelligent design," insisted Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who filed the House version of the bill.
Hays said the bill would allow discussions about "competing theories," along with "weaknesses" in Darwin's theory of evolution.
"This protects the freedom of speech for teachers in the classroom," Hays said. "I want teachers to be able to show those holes in Darwin's theory of evolution without fear of chastisement."
Great. Then why not have provisions covering teachers in all subjects, such as health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion.
"That's more of a parental responsibility than a school responsibility," Hays said.
What kind of academic freedom is that?
The bill (HB1483/SB2692) is a reaction to last month's decision by the state Board of Education to formally include the word "evolution" in science curriculum standards for the first time. Broward and Palm Beach County public schools have long used the e-word, but districts in other parts of the state have chafed at the mention of evolution.
The old state standards, deemed inadequate by various science education groups, euphemistically mentioned "biological changes over time."
The proposed legislation, still in the early stages in the House, was pushed at a news conference in Tallahassee last week. On hand were religious conservatives, an attorney for a think tank, and Ben Stein, the eclectic economist, essayist, game-show host and actor who has produced a documentary on intelligent design, which posits that life is too complex to be explained by evolution.
Hays is a retired dentist who said he spent "hours and hours in classrooms learning biochemistry, zoology and organic chemistry."
He's also a Baptist who believes that God created the world and all its creatures. "I'd rather have our teachers teach kids how to think than what to think," Hays said.
Hey, I'm all for that, too.
So in that context, I'm not uncomfortable with having critical and wide-ranging classroom discussions that use facts to explore different views. I'm not even opposed to bringing up "competing theories" that touch on religion in science classes, so long as those religious explanations aren't endorsed.
But if Hays and other legislators want to go there in the name of "academic freedom," then they should be consistent.
If it's OK for science teachers to discuss the holes in Darwin's theory of evolution, it should be OK for health teachers to discuss shortcomings with the "abstinence only" dogma that has been deemed the only acceptable talking point when it comes to preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
If it's OK for science teachers to talk about controversial alternatives to Darwin, it should be OK for health teachers to talk about birth control and abortion.
"At this point we don't need to introduce any more controversy," Hays said. "It's already controversial enough."
With intellectual inconsistency such as this, it's hard to see this effort as anything other than a ham-handed attempt to keep the flames of religion vs. evolution in public schools burning.
Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Read him online weekdays at sun-sentinel.com/mayoblog. Reach him at email@example.com or 954-356-4508.
more in /news/local/broward
Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 20, 2008 11:42PM
Noted Darwinist shows up at screening of Intelligent Design documentary.
Expelled, a new documentary that argues the case for Intelligent Design from a Judeo-Christian perspective, has been in the headlines lately, prior to its April 18 theatrical release.
The film, hosted and narrated by Ben Stein, has been screened to invitation-only audiences at churches and for various Christian groups. But several critics have worked their way in to some of the screenings, most notably Roger Moore of The Orlando Sentinel, who recently trashed the movie in his blog.
A critic of another kind "crashed" a screening in Minnesota on Thursday night--Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and arguably the most outspoken critic of Intelligent Design and Creationism. Dawkins himself appears in the documentary--but claims he was duped into believing it was going to be an objective account of Darwinism vs. ID.
Jeffrey Overstreet, a film critic for CT Movies, broke the news on his own blog Thursday night after receiving an e-mail from a college student who was at the screening.
Stuart Blessman, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities student, told Overstreet in the e-mail that Dawkins' appearance "was quite a surprise" to both the audience and associate producer Mark Mathis, who fielded questions afterward.
Blessman reported that Dawkins asked several questions, and complained that "any statement he made in the film was in fact under the assumption that he was being interviewed . . . for a film that was to take an even-handed look at the Intelligent Design/Evolution controversy."
It's not the first time Dawkins and other Darwinian experts say they were duped by the filmmakers. The Guardian reported last fall that Dawkins said, "At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front," he said. And The New York Times quotes Dawkins and other atheists who appeared in the film under a "deceptive invitation."
Blessman also wrote that "the Q&A then proceeded pretty uneventfully, with several of the questions addressed to Dawkins himself. Mathis and Dawkins also clearly had spoken on numerous occasions and appeared to continue an argument that they had started previously."
Blessman also reported that Dawkins complained that a colleague of his was turned away even though he (Dawkins) was admitted to the screening. That colleague, PZ Myers, a biologist and prof at the University of Minnesota-Morris, is actually featured in the film. Myers later blogged his own account of what happened here and here.
Myers wrote that he caught up with Dawkins and friends after the film, "which I hear is not only boring and poorly made, but is ludicrous in its dishonesty. Apparently, a standard tactic is to do lots of fast cuts between biologists like me or Dawkins or Eugenie Scott and shots of Nazi atrocities. It's all very ham-handed. The audience apparently ate it up, though. Figures. Christians have a growing reputation for their appreciation of dishonesty."
Read more about Expelled in earlier editions of Reel News at CT Movies.
OPPOSITION TO THE ANTIEVOLUTION BILLS IN FLORIDA
The antievolution bills recently introduced in the Florida legislature continue to elicit opposition. The bills closely resemble a string of similar bills in Alabama -- HB 391 and SB 336 in 2004; HB 352, SB 240, and HB 716 in 2005; HB 106 and SB 45 in 2006 -- as well as a model bill that the Discovery Institute's Center for Science and Culture, the institutional home of "intelligent design" creationism, recently began to promote. Asked by the Miami Herald (March 13, 2008) whether "intelligent design" constituted "scientific information" in the sense of the bill, a representative of the Discovery Institute equivocated, saying, "In my personal opinion, I think it does. But the intent of this bill is not to settle that question," and adding, unhelpfully, "The intent of this bill is ... it protects the 'teaching of scientific information.'"
In a press release issued on March 17, 2008, a majority of the writers and framers of the Florida state science standards denounced the bills, House Bill 1483 and Senate Bill 2692, which purport to protect the right of teachers to "objectively present scientific information relevant to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution." Describing the bills as "a subterfuge for injecting the religious beliefs held by some into the science classroom," the writers and framers emphasized their support of "the discussion of scientific questions -- including those in evolution -- in the science classroom," but added, "these discussions should be conducted in an evidence-based manner that conforms to the Nature of Science benchmarks in the science standards recently approved by the Florida Board of Education."
The writers and framers were not alone. In a press release issued on March 12, 2008, the ACLU of Florida's executive director Howard Simon commented, "The presumption of this bill is that all you have to do to teach something in a science class is to call it science." Although "intelligent design" is not explicitly mentioned in the bills as within "the full range of scientific views," it is not explicitly excluded, either, and Simon added, "Simply saying something is science does not make it so and calling Intelligent Design science, does not make it science. ... Allowing schools to masquerade Intelligent Design as science would be a blunder and an embarrassment for the Florida Legislature. The courts have spoken on this issue and the message was clear: Intelligent Design, because it relies on a supernatural power, is a religious view not a scientific view."
Newspapers in Florida also continue to decry the bills. The Tampa Tribune's columnist Daniel Ruth complained (March 8, 2008), "Of course Storms and her legislative Taliban are attempting to undermine the Board of Education's established science standards to finagle religious concepts like creationism and/or the Wizard In The Sky theology into the teaching of biology." More sedately, the editorial page editor of the Tallahassee Democrat (March 15, 2008) observed, "If the full Legislature goes along with this galling intervention into daily classroom instruction, teachers will be able to teach whatever they want regardless of state standards, and teenagers will be endlessly debating the specifics of things they cannot possibly understand because they've never been taught solid, well-considered and agreed-upon instructional materials."
Writing in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (March 20, 2008), columnist Michael Mayo commented, "Just when Florida's science classrooms seemed safe for evolution, along come some legislators with a thinly veiled attempt to inject religion under the guise of 'academic freedom.' ... The bill is written with so much mumbo jumbo and wiggle room, you wonder what the true motives are." Noting that the sponsor of HB 1483, Alan Hays, wasn't willing similarly to promote the "academic freedom" of "health teachers who want to discuss a full range of information in sex education classes, like birth control and abortion," Mayo concluded, "With intellectual inconsistency such as this, it's hard to see this effort as anything other than a ham-handed attempt to keep the flames of religion vs. evolution in public schools burning."
The fate of the bills is uncertain. The education blog of the St. Petersburg Times (March 17, 2008) comments, "It's anyone's guess how much traction the bills will get, but it's not hard to envision a scenario where they end up on Gov. Crist's desk. On the House side, the bill has the support of House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, who is widely considered to be a future candidate for governor and could use the bill to shore up support from religious conservatives. On the Senate side, the education committee headed by Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, is shaping up to be the key hurdle." HB 1483 was sent to the Schools & Learning Council on March 7, 2008, but was not considered at its March 18, 2008, meeting; SB 2692 was sent to the Senate Education Pre-K-12 and Judiciary committees on March 20, 2008. Florida Citizens for Science is providing background information about, and a critique of, the bills via its blog.
For information about the Alabama bills, visit:
For the Miami Herald's story, visit:
For the statement from the writers and framers (document), visit:
For the ACLU of Florida's press release, visit:
For the columns in the Tampa Tribune, the Tallahassee Democrat, and the
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, visit:
For the story in the St. Petersburg Times's education blog, visit:
For Florida Citizens for Science, its blog, and its information about the
bills (PDF), visit:
And for NCSE's previous coverage of events in Florida, visit:
NEWEST TEMPLETON PRIZE WINNER REJECTS "INTELLIGENT DESIGN"
The recipient of the 2008 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities was Michael Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest, currently Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. John M. Templeton Jr., the chair of the John Templeton Foundation and the son of Sir John Templeton, who established the prize in 1973, told the Times of London (March 13, 2008), "Michael Heller's quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science." Heller will receive the prize from Prince Philip at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 7, 2008; it brings with it 1.6 million dollars, which Heller plans to use to establish a center for the study of science and theology in Krakow.
In a March 12, 2008, statement prepared for a press conference about the award, Heller addressed "intelligent design," writing, "Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave theological error. They claim that scientific theories, that ascribe the great role to chance and random events in the evolutionary processes, should be replaced, or supplemented, by theories acknowledging the thread of intelligent design in the universe. Such views are theologically erroneous. They implicitly revive the old manicheistic error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design. There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation."
In 2005, responding to a piece in the Wall Street Journal that described the Templeton Foundation as a patron of the "intelligent design" movement, the foundation's senior vice president Charles L. Harper Jr. wrote, "Quite the opposite is true. ... Templeton support has gone to intelligent design proponents in rare situations, representing roughly 0.1% of our activity. In two of the cases cited, these involved grants won in judged competitions involving non-intelligent-design-related topics. The others involved two professors who we think have become public intelligent design advocates only after getting grants from us." A section of the foundation's website discusses its position on "intelligent design" further, stressing that "we do not believe the science underpinning the 'Intelligent Design' movement is sound [and] we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge."
For the story in the Times of London, visit:
For Heller's statement (PDF), visit:
For Harper's letter to the Wall Street Journal (PDF), visit:
For the Templeton Foundation's position on "intelligent design," visit:
FIRST FREEDOM FIRST SIMULCAST: MARCH 26
"Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Separation of Church and State ... but Were Afraid to Ask!" -- a national simulcast sponsored by First Freedom First, a joint project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation -- is coming to theaters around the country on March 26, 2008. According to a First Freedom First press release, "interested citizens will gather to learn about the threats to church-state separation and to demand that presidential hopefuls and candidates for other offices answer questions about key issues dealing with individual freedom. A list of 10 great questions to ask candidates will be featured."
In addition to a host of celebrities -- including emcee Peter Coyote, Kevin Bacon, Michael J. Fox, and Jack Klugman -- and Americans United's executive director the Reverend Barry W. Lynn and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation's president the Reverend Welton Gaddy, the program will also feature Americans who have fought for individual freedom, including Bryan and Christy Rehm, two of the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case in which the teaching of "intelligent design" creationism in the public schools was found to be unconstitutional. Information about the event, including locations, ways to promote it, and videos with sneak peeks, is available from the First Freedom First website.
For the press release, visit:
For more about the event and First Freedom First, visit:
NCSE'S SCOTT TO BE HONORED BY THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO
NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott is to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from the University of New Mexico on May 17, 2008. In a letter to Scott, the university's president David J. Schmidly wrote, "This degree is a reflection of the high regard in which you are held and acknowledgement of the vast accomplishments you have made in your career."
According to a press release posted at The Panda's Thumb blog on March 13, 2008, "The nomination, spearheaded by Professor John Geissman, now Chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences, was enthusiastically endorsed by the faculty from Earth and Planetary Sciences, Biology, and Anthropology." The letter nominating Scott for the honor said of Scott, "She works tirelessly and travels endlessly, to eloquently and patiently inform the citizens of the United States about issues centering on how science should be taught in the classroom and how science, which tells us how the natural world works, can be distinguished from other ways of knowing."
The honorary degree will be Scott's sixth; she received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from McGill University in 2003, the Ohio State University in 2005, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, in 2006, and Rutgers University in 2007.
For the press release at The Panda's Thumb, visit:
Thanks for reading! And as always, be sure to consult NCSE's web site: http://www.ncseweb.org where you can always find the latest news on evolution education and threats to it.
National Center for Science Education, Inc.
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Not in Our Classrooms: Why Intelligent Design Is Wrong for Our Schools
Eugenie C. Scott's Evolution vs. Creationism
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March 21, 2008 By CORNELIA DEAN
Two evolutionary biologists P. Z. Myers of the University of Minnesota, Morris, and Richard Dawkins of Oxford tried to go to the movies at the Mall of America in Minneapolis Thursday evening. Dr. Dawkins got in. Dr. Myers did not.
On those facts, everybody agrees. After that, things break down.
The movie the two scientists wanted to see was "Expelled," whose online trailer asserts that people in academia who see evidence of supernatural intelligence in biological processes an idea called "intelligent design" have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation's laboratories and classrooms.
Dr. Myers asserts that he was unfairly barred from the film, in which both he and Dr. Dawkins appear, and that Dr. Dawkins would have been, too, if people running the screening had realized who he was a world leader in the field of evolutionary biology.
But Walt Ruloff, a partner in Premise Media, the film's producer, said the screening was one of a series the producers have organized for the film, which opens April 18, in hopes of building favorable word-of-mouth among people likely to be sympathetic to its message. People like Dr. Myers and Dr. Dawkins would not have been invited, he said.
Mark Mathis, a producer of the film who attended the screening, said that "of course" he had recognized Dr. Dawkins, but allowed him to attend because "he has handled himself fairly honorably, he is a guest in our country and I had to presume he had flown a long way to see the film."
Actually, Dr. Myers and Dr. Dawkins said in interviews that they had long planned to be in Minneapolis this week to attend a convention of atheists. Dr. Dawkins, an vocal critic of religion, is on the convention program.
And both had earlier complained that they originally agreed to appear in the movie then called "Crossroads" because producers told them it would be an examination of religion and science, not a defense of intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. People who have seen the movie say it also suggests that there is a link between the theory of evolution and ideas like Nazism, something Dr. Dawkins called "a major outrage."
In an interview, Dr. Myers said he registered himself and "guests" on a Web site for the film's screening. A security guard pulled him out of the line but admitted his wife, daughter and guests including Dr. Dawkins, who, Dr. Myers said, no one seemed to recognize. Dr. Dawkins, who like everyone was asked to present identification, said he offered his British passport, which lists him as Clinton Richard Dawkins.
Mr. Mathis said in an interview that he had confronted Dr. Dawkins in the question and answer period after the screening and that Dr. Dawkins withered. "These people who own the academic establishment and who have great friends in the media they are not accustomed to having a level, open playing field," Mr. Mathis said. "I watched a man who has been a large figure, an imposing figure, I watched this man shrink in front of my eyes."
That is not how Dr. Dawkins recalls it. He said Mr. Mathis said "enemies" were attempting to interfere with the film.
"It is impossible to imagine what Mathis is afraid of," Dr. Dawkins said. "It is impossible to credit such bungling and inept public relations."
Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, a group that opposes the teaching of creationist ideas in public school classrooms, said in an interview that her organization was setting up a Web site to counter the arguments made in the film.
Dr. Scott said she and other supporters of the teaching of evolution have been having "a horselaugh" over the events as Dr. Myers recounted them, immediately, on his blog, Pharyngula.
She said it was "just tacky" that the producers barred Dr. Myers from the screening, but added, "I don't think it's inappropriate for us to have a good laugh at the creationists' expense."
Dr. Dawkins said the hoopla has been "a gift" to those who oppose creationism. "We could not ask for anything better," he said.
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By Aaron Elias
Every so often, a group will try to promote its cause and give itself the proverbial rake in the face. The pointy end of the rake came up when the makers of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" started bribing fundamentalist schools to organize mandatory field trips forcing students to watch the film. Bribery? Great publicity move! That garners about as much credibility as a Republican politician in a bathroom stall.
"Expelled" is a controversial documentary-parentheses-propaganda film promoting intelligent design and slated for big-screen release in April. Intelligent design is the belief that an intelligent being created the universe. This belief is promoted mainly by the Discovery Institute, not to be confused with the Discovery Channel, Superior-Intelligent-Creator-Being forbid. The Institute argues that intelligent design is a scientific view and should therefore be taught in schools. Fortunately, the judge in Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District thought otherwise.
Gosh, this intelligent design thing is starting to sound an awful lot like, oh, I don't know, creationism. Creationism is the belief that God is the best explanation for the miracle of life. If you've seen the guys toting signs listing about three dozen reasons why we're all going to Hell, including not being Christian and being "slothful sports watchers," then you've seen creationists.
So intelligent design and creationism sound just a bit similar, don't they? While upholders of intelligent design claim that the two views are separate, intelligent design is continuously criticized for being suspiciously similar to creationism and having very little credibility within the scientific community. The fact that countless creationist organizations support intelligent design does nothing to help their argument.
"Expelled's" host, Ben Stein, explores the alleged suppression of intelligent design in schools and scientific laboratories. The film blames the theory of evolution for a wide array of "problems," from communism to Planned Parenthood. Apparently, sex education, STD-prevention and pregnancy protection are evils concocted by some of the brightest minds to grace this earth.
As for publicity, the filmmakers are apparently relying on bribery to promote their propaganda. Gotta spend money to make money, right? Schools will be "paid" according to the number of ticket stubs they collect. You'd think that a creationist propaganda movie would have other publicity options at Christian fundamentalist schools. But apparently, nothing is a sin when you're doing the work of God. Bribery, brainwashing, crusading it's all for the greater good.
Maybe I'm only bashing the movie because I'm a left-wing, liberal hippie who drives the Mystery Machine with my stoned talking dog. I wish that were 100 percent true, but the fact of the matter is that the film has gathered support from the creationist end of the spectrum.
Christian media and fundamentalist organizations related to the Discovery Institute are also promoting the film. One such organization is Answers in Genesis, a young-Earth creationist organization that is positive that God created the Earth somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. If Answers is right, then most dinosaurs never existed. And the scientific community has tons of evidence to suggest that they did.
Not only are the filmmakers throwing money at Christian schools to wash out the insides of students' heads, but they have also been "misleading their interviewees"in other words, flat-out lying. Biologist P.Z. Myers, National Center for Science Education head Eugenie Scott and Richard-freaking-Dawkins said that they were misled into participating in "Expelled" by being interviewed for a film called "Crossroads," which explored the interaction between science and religion. Dawkins stated that "at no time was [he] given the slightest clue that these people were a Creationist front."
"I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren't," Scott said. Intelligent designers and creationists see Dawkins as a long-time idealistic enemy. That explains why the filmmakers lied in order to get his commentary, right?
"I think going after impressionable youth with movies is a smarter and more subversive way to garner attention for their cause," stated an anonymous second-year English major. An anonymous second-year sociology major said that "it's wrong but typical of these kinds of idealists. Intelligent design is more a politically correct way to spread the idea of creationism than anything else. The method they're using to promote the movie is very manipulative and gives credence to the idea that this film is just more propaganda. It makes the movie seem like an advertisement."
Between the lying, bribery and lack of objectivity, the only way this movie will become a blockbuster is if the Discovery Institute starts bribing public schools to see its movie-length infomercial. Then again, I wouldn't put it past them.
Aaron Elias is a second-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An upcoming documentary raises controversy in the blogosphere over its anti-evolution stance
By Matt Ransford Posted 02.27.2008 at 12:24 pm
Everybody's favorite dead-pan teacher and game show host, Ben Stein, is the face of a new documentary to be released this April called "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed". It's ostensibly a movie about attacks on freedom of speech in today's hostile climate among scientists in academia, but on closer inspection it really seems to be a thinly veiled screed for Intelligent Design.
A quick search of the web provides the background: the production company for the film is the same that produced The Passion of the Christ; its CEO and one of the film's producers recently questioned the Godliness of the administration at Baylor University over an ID-related incident; and the producers used Stein as the narrator specifically because he wasn't "overtly religious."
What's perhaps most dangerous about the film is not that it works to present Intelligent Design as a legitimate scientific theory, but that it tries to tear down Darwinism by equating it with Social Darwinism and therefore eugenics and racism (and Nazis; see Godwin's law).
Professor Paul Zachary Myers at the University of Minnesota is one of the scientists interviewed for the film. He's recently been caught up in a blog exchange with the film's producers regarding this and other topics to do with the movie. Read the arguments and decide for yourself whether you'll see the film. You can find the producer's first post here followed by Myer's response, followed by the producer's response. So, what do you think? Will you watch "Expelled" when it hits theaters?
Posted on Feb 1, 2008 9:21:24 AM
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.
by: Dan Whipple Sun Dec 16, 2007 at 06:00 AM MST
Filmmakers try to insert "intelligent design" back into the scientific debate -- without much success.
According to Of Pandas and People, a textbook outlining the essentials of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolutionary biology:
"Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency with their distinctive features already intact: Fish with fins and scales; birds with feathers, beaks and wings; etc. Some scientists have arrived at this view since fossil forms first appeared in the record with their distinctive features intact and apparently fully functional rather than gradual development."
But you'll stay awake through the one-hour-and-forty-five-minute film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" - if you can manage it -- without ever hearing this or any other definition of intelligent design. This seems a curious omission in a movie seeking to poke holes in evolutionary theory and by doing so establish some scientific credentials for ID.
"Expelled" stars Ben Stein. It was produced by Premise Media. The film will be released to general audiences in April. ColoradoConfidential was invited to a preliminary screening of "Expelled" - probably by mistake - that was held last week in a meeting room at the Archdiocese of Denver. They were kind enough to invite us, so I feel guilty about hating the thing so much.
Ben Stein is one of those people whom I recognize, but I'm not sure why. He seems to be mostly famous for being famous. His online bio says that he was a speechwriter for Richard Nixon. The bio adds, "He did NOT write the line, `I am not a crook.'" This is a shame because as far as I can tell that's the only memorable thing Richard Nixon ever said. Stein played the boring teacher in the film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." His style is the definition of "deadpan." Stein is apparently aiming for a religious right niche similar to the one held by Michael Moore on the left. Judging from this effort, he has a ways to go.
You won't hear a coherent definition of evolution in the "Expelled," either, even though it bashes this scientific theory incessantly. So we'll offer this one as a public service:
Evolution is descent with modification. Random changes in the genetic makeup of an organism result in changes in the phenotype. The organism interacts with its environment. If the changes to the phenotype give it an advantage over others - the vast majority of genetic changes are deleterious -- it leaves more offspring, who are also endowed with this advantageous genetic makeup for dealing with their environment. This latter is known as "natural selection." This simple but powerful process leads to new species through separation of organisms in time and place.
The above is the ten cent course in evolution, but it's more than you'll get from "Expelled." In fact I've even already told you more about both intelligent design and evolutionary theory than you'll get from "Expelled."
I can hear you saying, "Okay, so what is it about?" A fair question. But the film is so intellectually garbled it's hard to summarize. "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is Summa Theologica compared to "Expelled."
The film starts off as a stirring defense of academic inquiry, charging that Darwinists are squashing debate by depriving researchers in intelligent design of positions in academia. I suppose I should mention that Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is the founding intellectual giant behind evolutionary theory. Were he alive today, however, I can't guarantee that he would ascribe to my ten cent version of evolutionary theory above. Genes, for instance, had not been discovered as agents of heredity when Darwin did his work.
"Expelled" trots out several martyrs to the Darwinist inquisition. The poster boy is Richard Sternberg, whom the movie says was ousted from his position at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and from his editorship of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington when he published in that publication a peer-reviewed article of scientific evidence that supports intelligent design. There is some dramatic if unfocused footage of Ben Stein being denied admission to the upper floors of the Smithsonian by a security guard when he tries to grill muckety-mucks at the museum about these injustices.
This repression of scientific thought, we can all agree, is horrible if true. But it isn't true.
This is a dispute among academics. Faults on both sides, I'm sure. Perhaps because there is so little at stake in these fights, they are among the most vicious known to political man. A lot of cyber-ink was spilled over the Steinberg tussle long before Ben Stein got around to it. You can read Sternberg's version of his persecution here and a non-ID rebuttal here. It's even made Wikipedia, which has got to be the high water mark for a bureaucratic pissing match.
The allegations made in "Expelled" are wrong. Sternberg never worked for the Smithsonian, so the Smithsonian couldn't threaten his job there. He was a visiting scholar with research privileges, assigned an office. He still has both the office and the research privileges. He wasn't deprived of his editorship. His term as editor had expired so he was stepping down anyway in favor of another editor when the controversial ID article was published.
In short, contrary to the assertions in "Expelled," Sternberg suffered no harm whatever from the dustup. Which is not to say that he wasn't criticized. He was. Harshly, rudely and sometimes childishly by fellow scientists. But rough and tumble argument is part of the world of science, whether you're studying intelligent design, string theory or evolutionary biology.
There are three or four other cases explored in "Expelled," all of which are presented in black-and-white terms as anti-ID intellectual repression by a Darwinist cabal. Closer examination of the specifics of each reveals pretty ordinary academic backbiting. There isn't space enough on the internet to go into them here. I'll leave it as an independent exercise for the morbidly curious.
After a half hour or so, "Expelled" wanders off to blame the theory of evolution for Communism, the Berlin Wall, Fascism, the Holocaust, atheism and Planned Parenthood. One of the few funny parts of the film, though, is Stein's interview with British philosopher of science Richard Dawkins. Dawkins' best-selling book The God Delusion is a clarion call for atheism, making him a bete-noire of the religious right. Ben Stein, marshalling the intellectual resources of Ferris Bueller's boring teacher, gets the better of him. Dawkins comes out of it looking pretty silly.
There are so many topics picked up, misrepresented and abandoned unresolved by "Expelled" that it is impossible to deal with them all. But they are typical of the intellectual dishonesty of the creationist-Intelligent Design cabal that wants to have this bankrupt hypothesis taught in the public schools.
For instance, the assumption by IDers is that if neo-Darwinian evolution can be shown to be largely incorrect, ID and creationism triumph. But this isn't so. There are other hypotheses besides design or God or Darwin that could replace it, if they were supported by the evidence. The trouble is that only evolution is so supported. "Expelled" doesn't try to build up a coherent alternative theory. It simply bashes evolution.
The confusion about the definition of ID is apparent throughout the movie. "Expelled" ridicules a hypothesis proposed some years ago called "panspermia." This conjecture - for which, I hasten to add, there is zero direct evidence (just like ID) -- is that life on earth was originated elsewhere in the galaxy and was planted here, either delivered by alien visitors or remotely somehow. "Expelled," and the audience I saw it with, found this idea laugh-out-loud funny. But think about it. This is exactly ID's hypothesis: Some superintelligence planted life on earth. IDers prefer that the "intelligence" be the God of Abraham, but there's nothing in the hypothesis to rule out visitors from another galaxy.
The visually most compelling scenes in "Expelled" were graphic representations of DNA replication. This is truly a remarkable process. I've taken a couple of classes in genetics. It's one of those things that is so cool right down to the details that it is hard not to stand back in awe of whoever thought it up, whether it was God or evolution. The ID take on it is: It's so beautiful and complex, a designer must have been behind it. My take on it is: It's so beautiful and complex, why would any designer bother with it? Something like 80 percent of the genetic material in a strand of DNA is not used for anything. It's junk DNA. Surely an intelligent designer could have come up with something simpler.
But this is a matter of interpretation. Other presentations of "Expelled" display intellectual dishonesty. For instance, most evolutionary biologists do not deal with the origins of life. Evolution acts on organisms that already exist. The question of how life came about is not something that Darwinian evolution deals with. "Expelled" acknowledges this, then proceeds to ignore this acknowledgement and fault evolutionary theory for misinterpreting the origins of life. Sigh.
There are scientists who are trying to learn how life originated on earth. They have ideas, some silly sounding - you can hear about these in "Expelled" - and some profound. But nobody knows. Apparently for the creators of "Expelled," saying that you don't know something is unacceptable.
One likely reason that "Expelled" ignored the definition of ID from Of Pandas and People is that the book was thoroughly discredited in the 2005 trial of ID curriculum in Dover, Pennsylvania. They probably want to distance themselves from this devastating defeat of creationism and ID in the courts.
"Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" may be the first volley in the next battle by creationists to give their movement intellectual weight. But its cartoon version of evolutionary theory, Its remarkable lack of evidence for its case, its unbalanced and hysterical portrayal of the "martyrs," its dismal and depressing musical score, and its lack of genuine humor will persuade only the already persuaded.
NEW: Read Dan Whipple's account of a telephone press conference with Ben Stein and the film's producers at The Search for Truth, God and Braver Scientists in 'Expelled'.
UPDATE: Read all of Colorado Confidential's coverage on Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed here.
By JOHN METCALFE Published: March 10, 2008
Shortly before he was to attend a screening in January of the documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," which is about alternatives to the theory of evolution, Roger Moore, a film critic for The Orlando Sentinel, learned that his invitation had been revoked by the film's marketers.
In a film, Ben Stein interviews believers in intelligent design.
"Well, you already invited me," he recalled thinking at the time. "I'm going to go."
So Mr. Moore traveled to a local megachurch and planted himself among a large group of pastors to watch the movie. In it, Ben Stein, the actor and economist (and regular contributor to The New York Times) interviews scientists and teachers who say that Darwinism gets too much emphasis in the classroom and that proponents of the theory of intelligent design are treated unfairly.
There were nondisclosure agreements to sign that day, but Mr. Moore did not, and proceeded to write perhaps the harshest review "Expelled" has received thus far. The film will open April 18, but has been screened several times privately for religious audiences. Mr. Moore deplored what he perceived as "loaded images, loaded rhetoric, few if any facts" and accused Mr. Stein of using a "Holocaust denier's" tactics.
Which, of course, was exactly the reaction the moviemakers were hoping to avoid by keeping mainstream critics out.
Mr. Stein said in a telephone interview that he had not read Mr. Moore's review, but that "being compared with a Holocaust denier is nonsense," adding, "This guy is extremely confused." He said he decided to participate in the project because "there's just a lot of people who don't believe that big science and Darwinism should have a stranglehold on academic life, and they have been waiting for a voice."
Paul Lauer, head of Motive Marketing, which is handling publicity for the film, said that critics were not invited mostly because the film was not polished enough for professional scrutiny. He said that his company, which also marketed the 2004 film, "The Passion of the Christ," is reaching out to conservative leaders.
For example, Mr. Lauer said, Mr. Stein personally showed "Expelled" to James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, which has a big following among right-wing Christians. (Mr. Dobson gave the film a thumbs-up.)
The film, which takes a position on intelligent design shared by President Bush, has also been shown at California Baptist University and the Dallas Theological Seminary. Glowing reviews have popped up on AnswersInGenesis.org, whose co-chief executive, Ken Ham, founded the Creation Museum, and in The American Spectator, whose senior editor, Tom Bethell, said that the movie evoked "tears of joy."
Mr. Lauer said the marketing strategy was "about finding and serving people with deep-seated motivations" and then hoping those people would talk up the movie to their friends. The general media will be invited to screenings in early April, he said.
Logan Craft, executive producer of "Expelled" and chief of Premise Media, said he thought Mr. Moore had been wrong to attend the screening after being disinvited, but both he and Mr. Lauer denied any involvement in an online "media alert" that purported to be from a backer of the film. The alert accused Mr. Moore of posing as a minister to gain admission, calling his actions a "security breach." Mr. Moore said he never represented himself as other than a reporter.
After Mr. Moore's review, Mr. Stein commented, "Oh well. This will probably happen a lot more times."
By CORNELIA DEAN
Published: September 27, 2007
A few months ago, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins received an e-mail message from a producer at Rampant Films inviting him to be interviewed for a documentary called "Crossroads."
The film, with Ben Stein, the actor, economist and freelance columnist, as its host, is described on Rampant's Web site as an examination of the intersection of science and religion. Dr. Dawkins was an obvious choice. An eminent scientist who teaches at Oxford University in England, he is also an outspoken atheist who has repeatedly likened religious faith to a mental defect.
But now, Dr. Dawkins and other scientists who agreed to be interviewed say they are surprised and in some cases, angered to find themselves not in "Crossroads" but in a film with a new name and one that makes the case for intelligent design, an ideological cousin of creationism. The film, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," also has a different producer, Premise Media.
The film is described in its online trailer as "a startling revelation that freedom of thought and freedom of inquiry have been expelled from publicly-funded high schools, universities and research institutions." According to its Web site, the film asserts that people in academia who see evidence of a supernatural intelligence in biological processes have unfairly lost their jobs, been denied tenure or suffered other penalties as part of a scientific conspiracy to keep God out of the nation's laboratories and classrooms.
Mr. Stein appears in the film's trailer, backed by the rock anthem "Bad to the Bone," declaring that he wants to unmask "people out there who want to keep science in a little box where it can't possibly touch God."
If he had known the film's premise, Dr. Dawkins said in an e-mail message, he would never have appeared in it. "At no time was I given the slightest clue that these people were a creationist front," he said.
Eugenie C. Scott, a physical anthropologist who heads the National Center for Science Education, said she agreed to be filmed after receiving what she described as a deceptive invitation.
"I have certainly been taped by people and appeared in productions where people's views are different than mine, and that's fine," Dr. Scott said, adding that she would have appeared in the film anyway. "I just expect people to be honest with me, and they weren't."
The growing furor over the movie, visible in blogs, on Web sites and in conversations among scientists, is the latest episode in the long-running conflict between science and advocates of intelligent design, who assert that the theory of evolution has obvious scientific flaws and that students should learn that intelligent design, a creationist idea, is an alternative approach.
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. And while individual scientists may embrace religious faith, the scientific enterprise looks to nature to answer questions about nature. As scientists at Iowa State University put it last year, supernatural explanations are "not within the scope or abilities of science."
Mr. Stein, a freelance columnist who writes Everybody's Business for The New York Times, conducts the film's on-camera interviews. The interviews were lined up for him by others, and he denied misleading anyone. "I don't remember a single person asking me what the movie was about," he said in a telephone interview.
Walt Ruloff, a producer and partner in Premise Media, also denied that there was any deception. Mr. Ruloff said in a telephone interview that Rampant Films was a Premise subsidiary, and that the movie's title was changed on the advice of marketing experts, something he said was routine in filmmaking. He said the film would open in February and would not be available for previews until January.
Judging from material posted online and interviews with people who appear in the film, it cites several people as victims of persecution, including Richard Sternberg, a biologist and an unpaid research associate at the National Museum of Natural History, and Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist denied tenure at Iowa State University this year.
Dr. Sternberg was at the center of a controversy over a paper published in 2004 in Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a peer-reviewed publication he edited at the time. The paper contended that an intelligent agent was a better explanation than evolution for the so-called Cambrian explosion, a great diversification of life forms that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago.
The paper's appearance in a peer-reviewed journal was a coup for intelligent design advocates, but the Council of the Biological Society of Washington, which publishes the journal, almost immediately repudiated it, saying it had appeared without adequate review.
Dr. Gonzalez is an astrophysicist and co-author of "The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery" (Regnery, 2004). The book asserts that earth's ability to support complex life is a result of supernatural intervention.
Dr. Gonzalez's supporters say his views cost him tenure at Iowa State. University officials said their decision was based, among other things, on his record of scientific publications while he was at the university.
Mr. Stein, a prolific author who has acted in movies like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and appeared on television programs including "Win Ben Stein's Money" on Comedy Central, said in a telephone interview that he accepted the producers' invitation to participate in the film not because he disavows the theory of evolution he said there was a "very high likelihood" that Darwin was on to something but because he does not accept that evolution alone can explain life on earth.
He said he also believed the theory of evolution leads to racism and ultimately genocide, an idea common among creationist thinkers. If it were up to him, he said, the film would be called "From Darwin to Hitler."
On a blog on the "Expelled" Web site, one writer praised Mr. Stein as "a public-intellectual-freedom-fighter" who was taking on "a tough topic with a bit of humor." Others rejected the film's arguments as "stupid," "fallacious" or "moronic," or described intelligent design as the equivalent of suggesting that the markets moved "at the whim of a monetary fairy."
Mr. Ruloff, a Canadian who lives in British Columbia, said he turned to filmmaking after selling his software company in the 1990s. He said he decided to make "Expelled," his first project, after he became interested in genomics and biotechnology but discovered "there are certain questions you are just not allowed to ask and certain approaches you are just not allowed to take."
He said he knew researchers, whom he would not name, who had studied cellular mechanisms and made findings "riddled with metaphysical implications" and suggestive of an intelligent designer. But they are afraid to report them, he said.
Mr. Ruloff also cited Dr. Francis S. Collins, a geneticist who directs the National Human Genome Research Institute and whose book, "The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" (Simon & Schuster, 2006), explains how he came to embrace his Christian faith. Dr. Collins separates his religious beliefs from his scientific work only because "he is toeing the party line," Mr. Ruloff said.
That's "just ludicrous," Dr. Collins said in a telephone interview. While many of his scientific colleagues are not religious and some are "a bit puzzled" by his faith, he said, "they are generally very respectful." He said that if the problem Mr. Ruloff describes existed, he is certain he would know about it.
Dr. Collins was not asked to participate in the film.
Another scientist who was, P. Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, said the film's producers had misrepresented its purpose, but said he would have agreed to an interview anyway. But, he said in a posting on The Panda's Thumb Web site, he would have made a "more aggressive" attack on the claims of the movie.
Dr. Scott, whose organization advocates for the teaching of evolution and against what it calls the intrusion of creationism and other religious doctrines in science classes, said the filmmakers were exploiting Americans' sense of fairness as a way to sell their religious views. She said she feared the film would depict "the scientific community as intolerant, as close-minded, and as persecuting those who disagree with them. And this is simply wrong."
Correction: September 29, 2007
A picture caption with the continuation of a front-page article on Thursday about the coming documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" misidentified the scientist shown. He is Peter Atkins, a chemistry professor at Oxford University not Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford. (Both men were interviewed for the film.)
By GEORGE WILKENS
THE TAMPA TRIBUNE
PLANT CITY The story of what has happened in the year since the Church of Scientology opened in Plant City is best framed by what did not happen.
Residents strolling the sidewalks of this city of 34,000 have not been accosted by overzealous Scientologists.
Unlike in Pinellas County, there have been no significant anti-Scientology demonstrations here.
Nor has Plant City's Church of Scientology Life Improvement Center been the target of vandalism or threats of violence, as have some of the church's worldwide facilities.
The church, started in Los Angeles in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has made hardly a ripple in this community, despite residents' initial concerns.
The Rev. Ron Churchill of First Baptist Church of Plant City, one of the earliest and most vocal critics, said there is little visible evidence Scientologists are in town. He remains puzzled why the church, with its nontraditional beliefs and celebrity membership, targeted Plant City in the first place.
"I was really surprised when they came here," he said. "This is a pretty strong Christian community."
Scientologists' local success -- or lack of it -- is hard to gauge, he said. The center is open seven days a week, and visitors and followers "come throughout the day," said Yamila Sene, director of public affairs for the Church of Scientology of Tampa.
"It's not like everyone has to be here at 2 o'clock," she said. "And you have to understand, this is not a church itself."
The open, well-lighted center includes two state-of-the-art theaters which can screen any of 7 Scientology titles in one of 16 languages. The mezzanine includes classrooms. The top floor of the 15,000-square-foot building is used for storage.
"We didn't know what it was going to be like," and there's still uncertainty, Churchill said. "They don't really say they're a Christian organization. They talk about nebulous things; it's not really spelled out. It's very strange."
Their goal, Churchill said, seems to be to get everyone tested on the E-meter. Scientologists say the device measures the stress levels of the user.
A functioning electropsychometer -- or E-meter -- is displayed at the Plant City Life Improvement Center, which has 42 informational exhibits and 12 interactive video stations.
From Wikinews, the free news source you can write!
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Copies of The Profit, a 2001 film blocked from distribution in the United States due to a court injunction won by the Church of Scientology, appeared on the Internet Friday on peer-to-peer file-sharing websites and on the video sharing site YouTube.
Directed by former film executive Peter N. Alexander, movie critics have characterized The Profit as a parody of Scientology and of its founder L. Ron Hubbard. Alexander was a Scientologist for twenty years, and left the organization in 1997. The film was funded by Bob Minton, a former critic of Scientology who later signed an agreement with the Church of Scientology and has attempted to stop distribution of the film. Alexander has stated that the movie is based on his research into cults, and when asked by the St. Petersburg Times about parallels to Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard said: "I'll let you draw that conclusion ... I say it's entirely fictional."
The film was released in August 2001, and was shown at a movie theatre in Clearwater, Florida and at a premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France. A Scientology spokesman gave a statement at the time saying "the movie is fiction and has nothing to do with Scientology". The Church of Scientology later took legal action in an attempt to stop further distribution of the film. The Church of Scientology claimed that the film was intended to influence the jury pool in the wrongful death case of Scientologist Lisa McPherson, who died under Scientology care in Clearwater, Florida.
In April 2002, a Pinellas County, Florida judge issued a court order enjoining The Profit from worldwide distribution for an indefinite period. According to the original court injunction received by Wikinews, the movie was originally banned because the court found that it could be seen as a parody of Scientology. In his April 20, 2002 ruling on the injunction, Judge Robert E. Beach of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Pinellas County, Florida wrote: "...an average person viewing the film entitled The Profit could perceive that it is a parody of the Church of Scientology".
"To the extent that any person considered as a potential juror in evaluating any issues involving the Church of Scientology, the process of voir dire provides a fair and complete remedy to eliminate any potential juror that may possibly have been influenced to be less than fair and impartial," added Beach.
Luke Lirot, the attorney for the film's production company, announced on the film's website on April 7, 2007 that "We have absolutely no exposure for any repercussions from the court order," but that the film was still blocked from distribution due to an ongoing legal battle. Lirot wrote: "all that's stopping the release of the movie is the legal battle with the partner who was compromised by Scientology (Robert Minton) and is currently using his power as partner to stop the release of the film."
In an October 2007 article, The Times described the film as "banned in the US because of a lawsuit taken out against it by The Church of Scientology," and Russ Kick's The Disinformation Book of Lists included the film in his "List of 16 Movies Banned in the U.S.". An 8-minute teaser segment from The Profit appeared on the film's website and on the video sharing site YouTube in February 2008, and an attorney representing Bob Minton sent a letter to Luke Lirot requesting that the film clip be taken down. In a response letter, Lirot wrote that "Rather than damage any asset of the LLC, the short clip merely keeps the film in the public eye, and in a positive way."
On Friday, copies of the film began to circulate on peer-to-peer file-sharing websites and on YouTube. A link related to the film's appearance on the Internet on the community-based link aggregator website Digg.com had 3,566 "Diggs" - and hit the front page of the site's Entertainment section on Saturday.
... I had nothing to do with this release at all. But I'm happy it's out there. ... Mark Bunker
On Saturday, Scientology critic and Emmy award-winning journalist Mark Bunker put a streaming version of the film on his website, www.xenutv.com, and encouraged others to watch and discuss the film on a real-time chat channel. In a video posting to YouTube Saturday, Bunker said "I did not do it. I had nothing to do with it ... I had nothing to do with this release at all. But I'm happy it's out there ... people are finally having a chance to see it. A lot of people have been curious over the years and there's been a lot of interest in seeing the film, so finally you can."
... We have all wanted to see this movie that scientology kept hidden away from us. We have all wondered just how damning could this story be that we were banned from watching it. ... Blogsreel
On the newsgroup alt.religion.scientology, a poster by the username "Alexia Death" commented on the film's appearance on the Internet in the context of censorship: "It is out! And so it is a WIN if many people review it even if they say it SUCKS! ... Being bad is no cause to allow censorship ... And being censored is no cause to assume its good". A post to the blog Blogsreel commented: "We have all wanted to see this movie that scientology kept hidden away from us. We have all wondered just how damning could this story be that we were banned from watching it."
In a post on Sunday to the message board attached to the official website for the film, attorney Luke Lirot asked that individuals stop distributing copies of The Profit over the Internet. Lirot wrote: "It has been brought to my attention that several unauthorized transmissions and downloads of this protected work have taken place over the last 72 hours. Such actions are copyright violations and are unlawful. I request that any further distribution and/or dissemination of this important work cease immediately and any copies of the work that have been downloaded please be deleted." In his statement, Lirot recognized the rights of individuals under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, but also said that unauthorized distribution of the film "will only serve to harm the goal of vast distribution".
Blog postings have attributed the film's appearance on the Internet as part of the anti-Scientology movement Project Chanology organized by the Internet-based group Anonymous, but this has not been confirmed. Wikinews previously reported on international protests against Scientology which took place as part of Project Chanology on February 10 and March 15. A third international protest by Anonymous is scheduled for April 12. Titled "Operation Reconnect", the third international protest will focus on highlighting Scientology's practice of disconnection.