Dracil’s BlogJournal

May 22, 2008

Injunction against Expelled continues

Wikinews and AP

Key points:

EMI filed its own separate lawsuit against Premise in a New York state court alleging that Premise’s usage of the song is harming EMI’s ability to license “Imagine,” which has only been licensed in one film (The Killing Fields).

In court, Judge Richard Lowe, according to the Wall Street Journal, “seemed skeptical” about Falzone’s arguments. Lowe asked Falzone why the film’s producers did not read the lyrics to the song or flash the lyrics on the screen. Lawyers also pointed out that Premise Media licensed all other music in the film except for Lennon’s song.

So, they’ll probably just make them remove that segment of the movie and/or make them pay a bunch of money.  I don’t think they’ll really prevent the film from being shown in Canada or distributed on DVD.

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May 13, 2008

West Virginia, Education, Clinton, and Creationists

Here’s an interesting tidbit.

Census Bureau and other government data show nearly 18 percent of West Virginians live below the poverty line and roughly 74 percent of the state’s population makes less than $50,000 a year. Put another way, West Virginia ranked 50th among the states in household income and 48th in the percentage of adults with a high school diploma.

In addition to that, West Virginia ranks last for people with college degrees at 15.9%, a full 3.1% below the next lowest (Arkansas).

Also, someone on the Penny Arcade forums looked up some county statistics.

Starr County, Texas- highest % with no high school diploma- voted for Clinton 83-16.
Douglas County, Colorado- lowest %, same stat- voted Obama 63-37

I don’t think I can really say anything else without basically insulting the general Clinton demographic. :P

Though I will add that Clinton’s demographic also tends to be Creationists.

May 9, 2008

Ken Miller criticizes Expelled

Ken Miller, a Catholic biology professor at Brown University, has actually written an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe.

Much of this has already been said before, but it certainly helps to have one of the most prominent people in this debate (he was a witness for the evolution side at the Dover Trial) come out and speak out against Expelled.  Naturally, the producers of Expelled don’t like him, even before this piece:

The movie also uses interviews with avowed atheists like Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” to argue that scientific establishment is vehemently anti-God. Never mind that 40 percent of the members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science profess belief in a personal God. Stein, avoiding these 50,000 people, tells viewers that “Darwinists” don’t allow scientists to even think of God.

Puzzled, the editors of Scientific American asked Mark Mathis, the film’s co-producer, why he and Stein didn’t interview such people, like Francis Collins (head of the Human Genome Project), Francisco Ayala, or myself. Mathis cited me by name, saying “Ken Miller would have confused the film unnecessarily.” In other words, showing a scientist who accepts both God and evolution would have confused their story line.

Fascinating how Creationist’s idea of “teaching the controversy” means not showing things that would break their entire argument, isn’t it?

Since every paragraph of the piece brings up a good point against Expelled, it would be rather pointless to try quoting them or I’d end up just pasting the entire article here, so I’ll just leave it with the last paragraph.

“Expelled” is a shoddy piece of propaganda that props up the failures of Intelligent Design by playing the victim card. It deceives its audiences, slanders the scientific community, and contributes mightily to a climate of hostility to science itself. Stein is doing nothing less than helping turn a generation of American youth away from science. If we actually come to believe that science leads to murder, then we deserve to lose world leadership in science. In that sense, the word “expelled” may have a different and more tragic connotation for our country than Stein intended.

May 2, 2008

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus, by Randy Olson, came out 2 years ago.  As the title states, it explores the debate between evolution and intelligent design.  However, unlike a certain other film in theaters right now, this film is actually rather balanced and funny. It treats the people it interviews with respect, even if they’re on the other side, which again, is quite unlike that other film.  I think the following quote given by John Cashill, one of the ID supporters in his film, states it perfectly:

The good thing was that Randy did not hide his biases.  You know it wasn’t like one of these fake, neutral observers.  You know, he was part of it, and we knew where he was coming from.  But he did not, what I liked, is that he did not betray anyone’s trust. I mean, he made everyone look like they thought they looked, rather than what you could do in an editing room, and turn anyone into a monster if you wanted to.

Olson even invited the ID people to panel discussions after some film showings.  Again, something in direct contrast by what Mark Mathis of the other film did. Not only did Mathis not invite the interviewees from the other side, but he kicked PZ Meyers out just so he could generate some additional attention for his film.

Of course, the Discovery Institute hated Flock of Dodos (no surprise) and even set up a website to attack Olson and the film.  Their misunderstood (which is putting it nicely, it was quote mined) complaint about Haeckels Drawing was addressed in both the Pulled Punches: Outtakes in the DVD and by PZ Meyers.  As for their complaint about misrepresenting DI’s funding?  Someone found some of their tax returns.

Anyway, this film was not hyped up and was limited to mostly single screenings at film festivals and academic settings, which is certainly a shame.  The DVD came out the same year and contains a lot of goodies, like the Pulled Punches: Outtakes mentioned above, as well as a Top Ten Questions segment, which is probably the most educational part and lasts almost an hour.

Like Cashill said, Olson laid his bias straight out, and even wore an “Evolutionist” hat in the film.  But he was fair and treated people with respect.  He didn’t try to paint the ID supporters unfairly and he didn’t hold back on his portrayal of the scientists either.  In fact, he showed that for the most part, these ID supporters were nice, likable people you could sit with and play a game of poker.  In contrast, the scientists, while they certainly knew their stuff better, were shown to be rowdy and bad at communicating their knowledge, which is one of the main points of the film.  Scientists may have the knowledge and better evidence, but if they cannot get it out to the public, they will lose to the public relations firms and sound bites employed by places like the Discovery Institute and eventually go the way of the dodos.  It’s a good film, and I’d certainly recommend watching it.

As a bonus for the curious, the top ten questions addressed in the DVD are:

1. Why is this controversy so uniquely American?
2. Can a Christian accept biological evolution?
3. Why do people fear evolution?
4. Should the bible be taught as literally true?
5. Isn’t it only fair to “Teach the Controversy?”
6. What is the difference between creationism and intelligent design?
7. Do intelligent designers practice good science?
8. What is “irreducible complexity?”
9. What is the difference between a “law of nature” and a theory?
10. Has the media done a good job with this issues?

May 1, 2008

Finding Darwin’s God

A good way to stir up some random conversation at the office is to leave a book lying around on your desk.  Sooner or later, someone’s bound to comment on it.  :)

Anyway, I finished Ken Miller‘s book Finding Darwin’s God several days ago.  Generally speaking, I’d split the book into two sections.  The first half talks more about the science of evolution.  In particular he goes through several Creationist positions, describes what sort of God such a position would entail (Charlatan, Magician, and Mechanic) and then explains why their positions are faulty.  Along the way, he even gives several examples of how evolution could have been disproven, but instead the evidence showed the theory of evolution was indeed correct.  This part of the book is excellent, with many great examples such as radioactive isotopes as evidence of an old earth, or the experiment where the genes that allows bacteria to break down lactose is removed, and then not only did the bacteria evolve to handle lactose again, it handled it even better!

In the second half, he goes into his theological reasons for believing.  This part is definitely the weaker of the two parts.  His argument pretty much relies on the uncertainty principle.  While it is true that this presents a barrier we’re unlikely to overcome through science, and it helps answer some theological problems, it has the eerie shadow of a God of the Gaps.

Still, matters of Faith are a matter of faith after all, so it’s expected that it’s not going to be fully grounded in solid evidence.  Despite that, the rest of the book is cleverly argued and definitely worth a read.

April 30, 2008

Florida’s anti-evolution bill

Update: The bill has died

The NCSE has some news on Florida’s anti-evolution bill. It’s clear to anyone who’s looking at this that the proponents of the bill have ulterior motives. This isn’t about academic freedom at all. They claim that the bill will not allow the teaching of intelligent design, but their words betray them.

To begin with, their wording is rather suspicious:

“As passed by the council, the bill would require teachers to provide a ‘critical analysis’ of evolution, a phrase that the Associated Press (April 28, 2008) recognized as ‘one used by intelligent design advocates,’ although noting that its sponsor claimed that it would neither require nor allow teaching ‘intelligent design.'”

Also, as the Florida Citizens for Science put it:

“What are some examples of critical analysis of evolution that have no religious connotations and are based on legitimate, up-to-date scientific ideas?”

I would certainly love to see the answers to that. But continuing with the original discussion, Representative Alan Hays also said this:

“Too many people are afraid to even mention the theory of intelligent design.”

Wait. What? Didn’t you guys just say this bill wouldn’t allow teaching intelligent design? Then why does that even matter? Also, intelligent design is not even a scientific theory. Finally, their silence to some questions is simply deafening:

“Opponents have voiced concerns that Storms’ bill will open the door to teaching religious-based theories, like intelligent design, in public school classrooms. But Storms, one of the Senate’s most conservative members, repeatedly refused to answer questions on whether that could happen.”

This whole thing stinks of “cdesign proponentsists“. But kudos to Senators Ted Deutch and Nan Rich for speaking out against the bill, in particular Deutch for the following:

“We’re talking about academic freedom … In an abstinence-only sex education program, a teacher may wish to answer a student’s question and provide additional information that may protect a life or stop an unwanted pregnancy.”

Not surprisingly, Senator Ronda Storms slippery sloped the argument:

“I’m concerned about prematurely deflowering kindergartners and first and second graders.”

Interesting, I had no idea Storms was interested in educating kindergartners, first, and second graders about sex! That certainly says a lot about her. ;)

But I think Deutch’s argument is a good one, and I’ll start employing it against the conservatives who still naively think this issue is really about “academic freedom”.

That said, all this may end up being a non-issue since they only have two more days to pass this (Senate and House versions of the bill must agree).

Anti-Defamation League denounces Expelled

It’s about time! I think it’s saying a lot when Ben Stein (who’s Jewish) has basically been called out by the Anti-Defamation League for defaming Jews.

Anyway, they issued the following statement in their press release:

The film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed misappropriates the Holocaust and its imagery as a part of its political effort to discredit the scientific community which rejects so-called intelligent design theory.

Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people and Darwin and evolutionary theory cannot explain Hitler’s genocidal madness.

Using the Holocaust in order to tarnish those who promote the theory of evolution is outrageous and trivializes the complex factors that led to the mass extermination of European Jewry.

Note that this isn’t the first time they’ve spoken out against those who’ve tried to Godwin Darwin for their own agendas. They blasted Coral Ridge Ministries two years ago for doing pretty much the same thing that Expelled‘s doing now.

April 29, 2008

Even Creationists think Expelled is bad

First read about this over at The Dawn Treader.  Apparently, Hugh Ross‘s Reasons to Believe has the following to say about Expelled.

In Reasons To Believe’s interaction with professional scientists, scientific institutions, universities, and publishers of scientific journals we have encountered no significant evidence of censorship, blackballing, or disrespect. As we have persisted in publicly presenting our testable creation model in the context of the scientific method, we have witnessed an increasing openness on the part of unbelieving scientists to offer their honest and respectful critique.

Our main concern about EXPELLED is that it paints a distorted picture. It certainly doesn’t match our experience. Sadly, it may do more to alienate than to engage the scientific community, and that can only harm our mission.

Even though my own crevo position differs from RTB (they believe in progressive creationism), I must say my respect for Hugh Ross and RTB has greatly increased.

April 28, 2008

Expelled’s performance: Weekend 2

If you read my entry on Friday’s numbers, not too much has changed since then, but we now have the numbers to properly compare weekends.

Looks like Expelled‘s fallen into a more regular movie trend. Unlike its embarrassing revenue drop on Saturday last week, it managed to perform like other movies this Saturday and show an increase in revenue though it didn’t buck the trend to drop on Sunday.

In light of that, a possibly better explanation is that it didn’t underperform last Saturday. Rather, it performed better than it should have on its opening day, which is probably a result of all the hype that was built up over the film. Put another way, the positive hype was not warranted and people got suckered into watching a critically abysmal film. That would also explain the drop in ratings by users after one week.

But enough talk, on to the weekend-to-weekend numbers!

Number of theaters: 1041 (-11)
Weekend gross revenue: $1,394,940 (-$1,575,908)
Weekend rank: #13 (-3)
Weekend revenue/screen: $1340 (-$1484)
Rotten Tomatoes Critical Rating: 9% (3/33) (-3%)
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating: 0% (0/13) (3 more rotten tomatoes)
Rotten Tomatoes Community Rating: 50% (321 votes) (-3%)
IMDB rating: 3.7/10 (2933 votes) (-0.4)
Boxofficemojo rating: B- (316 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo movies community rating: B- (3488 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo critics rating: N/A (None!)

It’s extremely odd that Yahoo still has no ratings by critics. Last weekend, I remarked that perhaps this was because critics did not want to be associated with this film or didn’t feel like it was worth their time. But the 33 reviews by critics on Rotten Tomatoes shows that this is not the case. Instead, I now wonder if the film’s producers or someone at Yahoo asked that the critics reviews not be put up because of the incredible discrepancy between the critics’ ratings and the users’ ratings.

Speaking of ratings, looks like they removed the poll on their Myspace page asking if Intelligent Design should be taught. I guess the 98% No and <1% Yes was too much for them.

April 26, 2008

Expelled’s Performance: Week 2, Friday

I must confess, I woke up this morning with a nightmare. I dreamed that Expelled had somehow made $178m yesterday, taking the #2 spot (first spot was $180m).

Thankfully, it was just a dream, and Expelled has actually been dropping like a large one. But what exactly’s dropped? Pretty much everything. Since last weekend, we have the following changes:

Number of theaters: 1041 (-11)
Friday estimated revenue: $450,000 (-$758,748 )
Friday daily rank: #13 (-5)
Friday estimated revenue/screen: $432 (-$717)
Rotten Tomatoes Critical Rating: 9% (3/32) (-3%)
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics Rating: 0% (0/13) (3 more rotten tomatoes)
Rotten Tomatoes Community Rating: 53% (286 votes) (0%)
IMDB rating: 3.8/10 (2630 votes) (-0.3)
Boxofficemojo rating: B- (284 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo movies community rating: B- (2971 votes) (down from B)
Yahoo critics rating: N/A (None!)

I think it’s safe to say that Expelled’s a flop.

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