Friday, February 03, 2006


Flock of Dodos

RSR was at the Glenwood Theater in Overland Park last night to see the first public screening of "Flock of Dodos: The Evolution -- Intelligent Design Circus." We were also able to speak to filmmaker Randy Olson -- as he was enthusiastically greeted by a long line of theater-goers -- following the screening.

The publicity for Flock of Dodos poses the question, Who is the flock of Dodos? Is it the people who are so certain they see the hand of a designer in nature they're willing to defy the Constitution? Or is it the evolutionists, allowing their profession to be turned into a debate they feel doesn't exist.

Olson, an evolutionary ecologist turned filmmaker, says he's always viewed evolution as an obvious fact. A Harvard trained PhD who grew up in Kansas, Olson was surprised when the state board of education attempted to teach creationism in science classes in 1999. Last year, when he learned that John Calvert, perhaps the leading advocate for ID in the state, lived in the same neighborhood as his mother he decided to write and direct the film.

In the film, Olson is quite clear about the fact that intelligent design is not science.

In a sequence early on in the film, Olson takes a highly amusing, and revealing, look at the notion that all living organisms are a product of intelligent design. If this is so, the film suggests, then God, the designer, has a rather cruel sense of humor. Training his camera on a pet rabbit, we watch as it eats the pellets -- caecotrophs -- it has excreted through its anus. It must do this, we learn, because the rabbit's small intestine, where nutrients are absorbed, is located upstream from the fermentation chamber where digestion takes place.

Rather than intelligent design, perhaps we should call this bass ackwards design.

In another sequence, shot at John Calvert's Lake Quivira home, we watch as Calvert, echoing an assertion in Jonathan Wells ID book, Icons of Evolution, claims that scientists lie to students about the evidence for evolution by continuing to publish Ernst Haeckel's 19th century embryo drawings in biology textbooks even though they've been proven to be inaccurate, and, perhaps, faked.

Olson and Calvert then search for Haeckel's embryo drawings in the biology textbooks in Calvert's library, only to find that they aren't there -- except in one published way back in 1915. Calvert then admits that he's never bothered to confirm that what Wells' writes in Icons of Evolution is correct.

Olson notes that where the embryo drawings do appear in textbooks, they do so, not as evidence for evolution, but as a recounting of the theory's history.

Scientists also come in for their share of criticism in "Flock of Dodos." Not, however, because they have the facts wrong, as ID advocates suggest, but because they have been ineffective at communicating science to the public.

Olson's film points out that intelligent design has a well thought out marketing strategy that frames the debate through the use, and ceaseless repetition, of a small number of easily graspable marketing slogans:

Now ask yourself, what short, one sentence explanation of evolution has been put forward in this debate. The scientists in Olson's film can't name one.

In the information age, Olson suggests, facts may not matter so much anymore. Victory may go not to the side that has the facts on its side, but to those who are better able to communicate their message.

Who is the "Flock of Dodos?" We don't know yet, but if scientists and supporters of reason do not begin to engage the public and learn to more effectively communicate their message, Olson makes a strong case that it could be us.

Some may doubt that a marketing strategy will be enough to do the job. RSR is not so sure. In our lifetime, straight-talking newsmen like Edward R. Murrow have been completely replaced by talking heads with strong facial features and great hair. Genuine war heroes -- not just John Kerry, but John McCain, and triple-amputee Max Cleland -- were all swift-boated by men who avoided service in Vietnam.

Note: In an earlier post about the screening of "Flock of Dodos" at the Glenwood Theater last night, we said the theater was full. Some comments on that post have challenged that statement.

The screening was reported as sold out in the Kansas City Star and other media outlets, and the theater set out folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. At the start of the film, those seated in the folding chairs were allowed to take empty seats in the theater. Even so, a handful of empty seats remained.

The theater where the film was screened holds 330 seats, according to the owner of the Glenwood Arts. All of those seats were sold ten days in advance of the showing.

We'll allow our readers to decide for themselves whether our description was inaccurate or not. In any case, we believe that attendance at the film indicates a great deal of interest in the subject matter.

In our opinion, "Flock of Dodos" is provocative, highly entertaining, and very educational -- it deserves to be widely seen. Future screenings are scheduled in February for Harvard, Stonybrook, Cornell, and Yale. Readers in those areas who would like to see the film, and participate in the scheduled panel discussions following those showings, should visit the "Flock of Dodos" website for more details.


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