First posted at AITSE.
With the release of Obama’s America, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is again attracting media attention. Both movies are conservative documentaries–Obama’s America has now displaced Expelled as the top conservative documentary. The difference between the two? You can see Expelled for free by clicking on the link above; you have to pay for Obama’s America. The similarity? Both movies elicit strong reactions–either people love them or they hate them.
Politics is outside the purview of AITSE’s mission, except in so far as it infringes on integrity in science, so one may ask why a review of a film was addressed in our newsletter. Simply because, the main premise of Expelled is that scientists are being penalized for having scientific questions about the theory of evolution–and addressing politically, financially, or ideologically-motivated censoring of science is definitely of concern to AITSE.
For this reason, I decided to review a 2008 review of Expelled by Jeffrey P. Schloss, PhD (ecology/evolution). This essay is hailed by many as being reasonable, and indeed it makes some good points: for example, the complaint that intelligent design theory was not adequately explained in the movie is a valid one. Having said this, Expelled, the movie was just that–a movie–and, as such, needed to appeal to the general public and make money, something that might not be achieved by extended explanations of science.
So, the movie did not do all it may have done. But, did the essay accomplish what Dr. Schloss meant it to accomplish? As Dr. Schloss writes, “What I want to do in this review essay is carefully assess the claims of the film, plus those made in the recent firestorm of criticisms and defenses,” and “The need here, as always, is to ‘examine everything carefully and hold on to the good’ (I Thes 5:21).”
And the essay contains much of a thoughtful nature. Dr. Schloss appears to agree with the AITSE bunk-detecting principles in that he points out that in assessing claims, it is vital to carefully consider what is being said–rational argument trumps ad hominem attacks. It was indeed illogical for Expelled to first criticize Richard Dawkins for being philosophically incompetent and then take his word for the philosophical implications of Darwinism. Schloss also rightly asserts that, whereas atheism does require Darwinism, all aspects of evolutionary theory do not necessarily rule out the existence of a god. The conversation between science and faith does need continuation.
Unfortunately, in the next section of his essay, where Dr. Schloss evaluates the evidence the film presents for the expulsion of those who have scientific questions about aspects of consensus science from the academy, he falls into the trap of doing exactly what he instructs his students not to do. He parrots what he has read elsewhere instead of carefully assessing and examining the evidence for himself.
With regard to me, at no time did Dr. Schloss contact me, even though he quotes, “He who gives an answer without first hearing of the matter, it is his folly and shame.” For example, according to Schloss’ review, I did not just mention ID, but lectured on and advocated views that advanced ID. Actually, the truth is that ID was referenced in 2 or 3 slides of a 25 slide presentation that was in turn part of a 25 lecture course. That makes it <0.5% of the course material. Since students wrote letters attesting that they did not know what I personally believed, I could hardly have been advocating anything! The full evidence is presented in Free to Think: Why Scientific Integrity Matters; the student letters can be accessed from the AITSE website.
Dr. Schloss goes on to point out that I was guilty of starting the lecture with a cartoon–to wit of a monkey with an arrow pointing to a man and a question mark over the arrow. One wonders at the outrage expressed over this slide. Could it be that just hinting at questioning this particular science is highly offensive to some? And, if so, why? But that is a topic for others to address. Regardless, those of us who are seasoned educators will realize that the use of humor is a standard technique for gaining students’ attention. Interestingly, in on-line interviews I said that she did not even give the offending lecture during the semester before she was dismissed–the student letters confirm this fact.
Dr. Schloss ends the paragraph by commenting on alleged student complaints against me. Again, he would have benefited from speaking to me directly or perhaps even requesting me to provide him with copies of the university’s own documents about my performance. With regard to the “rate my professor” comments he references, a little careful research will reveal that many of these were posted after the case became public. Students who were disgruntled after failing a class had been given another reason to attack. Indeed, when an educator insists that students are on time, do their own work, and actually master the material there are always going to be some who are angry and post negative comments about the teacher. Otherwise, the students loved my class, as can be seen in the on-line comments copied in Free to Think. A full explanation can also be found in Free to Think, and would have been available from me even before the book was published.
Interestingly, after Free to Think was published, a former student contacted me and told me that the student who complained about me (resulting in the job loss) did not put it in writing because she was the same one who was described on p. 80 of the book. At the time of the oral complaint about me she was no longer a student at the university–she had been kicked out of the university for cheating and subsequently stalking and threatening another student. To be fair, however, Dr. Schloss was not to know about this particular incident because I did not know the details until after my book came out.
In the next paragraph Dr. Schloss points out that Stein misspoke (and he did): I was not fired. But, what Dr. Schloss does not mention (because he didn’t ask) is that my three year contract was changed to a one year and that one ended. The details and the evidence is in the book, with some of the supporting documents available on-line. That GMU knew they had done something wrong is shown by the fact that they more or less bought off the legal firm representing me. After this, I taught at NVCC for a semester and gave two lectures on criticisms of evolution there. In one of these talks I included what Schloss calls “standard creationist criticisms of the fossil record,” some of which I would not use again. However, further research would have revealed that many of the quotes and arguments that I used for these criticisms were from evolutionists! Note as well that calling something ‘creationist’ does not address whether it is valid scientifically: see the bunk-detecting principles.
Dr. Schloss ends the section on Dr. Crocker by saying that “nobody who uses the biology classroom to advance views that reject evolutionary common descent, is going to be in the classroom for long at a major university.” But, if he had contacted me and read what my students actually said in their letters, he would see that I did not do this. Rather, I just pointed out scientific problems with the interpretation of some of the evidence presented in the book. Actually, I also presented evidence in favor of common descent (mitochondrial structure, DNA commonalities, etc.). I did what educators should do: try to give students access to the scientific facts and encourage them to think about whether the evidence merits the conclusions being drawn, rather than just memorize and regurgitate the text.
A quick skim through the paragraphs on Sternberg and Gonzalez show that perhaps Schloss researched them a little further, but there are still mistakes, presumably caused by drawing conclusions without actually speaking to the people involved. Further details about these stories can be found at Discovery Institute’s in depth analysis, NCSE Exposed.
Under the umbrella of AITSE, I will not be commenting on Schloss’ next section on the possible connection between Darwinism and the Holocaust, leaving that to the historians and philosophers.
In the final section of his review Dr. Schloss suggests Expelled‘s statement that “Our movie is about freedom – the freedom to discuss alternative views of how life began on our planet, the freedom to ask reasonable questions about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory, and the freedom to challenge an entrenched establishment,” may be unreasonable because some walls protect freedom. He suggests that those who question aspects of common descent and evolution may be something like illegal aliens in biology departments–similar to geocentrists in an astronomy department.
Of course, Dr. Schloss has a point. One needs to distinguish between those who would promote bunk science and those who are raising genuine scientifically-based questions. But, since science advances both by building on accepted knowledge and by challenging that knowledge or the interpretation thereof, to cut short the careers of scientists who challenge the consensus seems very short-sighted. Such an action would, and does, stifle innovation and may cause us as a nation to fall behind in our technological and scientific advances. These do involve thinking outside the box. For a complete treatment of this question, see the answer to Q6 in the interview linked here.
Dr. Schloss ends with a discussion of the idea that Expelled did the science/faith discussion a disservice by increasing the polarization in views so that discussions are cut short. Again a reasonable point. But what also tends to stifle conversation is parroting inaccuracies put out by those with a definite prior agenda (NCSE).
AITSE has the goal of promoting good science, based on impartial evaluation of evidence, not mere consensus. To advance this mission, it features articles from scientists on both sides of various issues. But, to do this we need your help. If you are a scientist or physician with expertise in a current scientific topic or debate, contact me. AITSE needs and values your input.