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Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Myers Gets Some Airtime
Follow-Up To the Crashed Telecon

In the wake of last week’s controversial telecon, coordinated by marketing Motive Entertainment, I took up P.Z. Myers’ invitation to email him. I requested an interview with him over the phone, which he very graciously agreed to. We talked about Expelled and its marketing for a little under fifteen minutes. Below is the full transcript of the interview, which Mr. Myers and I have both reviewed for accuracy. (A separate interview segment recorded for Past the Popcorn will run at that site later this month.)

Greg Wright: I’ve got three specific questions that I’d like to ask you about Expelled, (plus, of course, anything else that comes up along the way) about the film and the marketing of the film. It seems to me that the way that Motive Entertainment and the producers of Expelled have gone about marketing the film is reasonable enough; what they’re trying to do is to spin as positive a light as they can on the film, building buzz through word-of-mouth screenings, and then follow on later with general screenings for press. Now, that may or may not happen; I’m not privy to those plans. But from where I sit as an editor and a critic, it doesn’t seem that the publicity for the film is being conducted on an outrageous basis. What’s your perspective on that?

P.Z. Myers: Well, I don’t know what you mean by “not on an outrageous basis.” From a purely money perspective, sure, I can understand. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get some good word out there about their bad movie, and let’s ignore the content. Let’s just pretend it’s a good movie; all we want is to get people in the seats. And in that sense, sure. That’s what they’re doing. I’m more interested in the content.

GW: Right.

PZM: And I disagree strongly with their subject, so what I see happening here is that I’m actually helping them a little bit; I’m fueling the controversy, and I kind of expect that what’s going to happen as the end result of all this stuff is that there are going to be more people in the seats watching their movie. But you see, from my perspective, I don’t care how much money they make. They can get as filthy rich as they want. I don’t care. What I want is for people to go to that movie and see how bad it is; I want them to come in prepared to be critically-minded and skeptical, and look at it and see some of the awful things that they’re doing with that particular movie.

GW: And that leads me to my next question, which is about the content of the film. You mentioned in you blog post at Pharyngula yesterday that, from your perspective, the “premise at the heart of the movie is that the Holocaust was a consequence of evolutionary theory.” Now, I saw the movie, and it didn’t seem to me that that was the central premise of the film at all, but that the central premise of the film is that people are losing their jobs over disputes about Intelligent Design. So—

PZM: And that’s actually the proximate issue that they’re discussing. But I saw the clips, and I talked to people who have seen it, and the interviews of me and of Dawkins are all larded with this nonsense about Hitler. And they have actually promoted it using footage of goose-stepping Nazis marching down the street and so forth. So that does become a rather central issue. I can also criticize— I can criticize both parts. I agree that there are both parts there. So the one bad part is the Nazi business, which is total nonsense: Darwin is not a necessary prerequisite for Nazism because we’ve got a long history of persecution of minority ethnic groups in cultures everywhere; it doesn’t take Darwin to fuel that. But then when you say that it’s mainly about being people getting fired for this argument, I would say that there have actually been very few incidents like that; I know Carolyn Crocker was mentioned, and Guillermo Gonzales, and that’s about it. But you see, the thing is, they weren’t fired for disagreeing with someone. They were fired, if they were fired at all, for incompetence. And I see no problem with maintaining standards in academia, and only allowing people with expertise and with some perspective on the actual issues to be in that particular elite group.

GW: Right, right. I agree with that. But my question with regard to that: it seemed to me—and, of course, the question of how well they make the argument is another issue entirely—that the central premise of the film is this core issue. The Nazi imagery and the sequence in which Ben Stein goes to Germany to visit those places are, I think, very bad choices; but that didn’t strike me as being the central premise of the film at all.

PZM: But it quickly becomes the central premise of the film.

GW: Because of the baggage, you mean?

PZM: Well, you can’t sit there and accuse someone of being like Hitler and then say, “Well, that’s not really my complaint.” That’s kind of going over the top.

GW: Okay, so that’s a good question, though. So you felt that [because of that connection] the movie was saying you were actually like Hitler, then.

PZM: Oh, it’s accusing evolutionary biologists of being like Hitler.

3 Responses to “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”

  1. John  

    Greg, you quoted PZ as stating:
    “But you see, the thing is, they weren’t fired for disagreeing with someone. They were fired, if they were fired at all, for incompetence.”

    That point needs to be clarified. Neither one was fired. Crocker was hired as a contract instructor, not as a tenure-track faculty member. Her contract was not renewed. That’s very, very common.

    Gonzalez was denied tenure primarily because he had pathetically low levels of grant funding. One can argue whether external funding should be so important, but plenty of assistant professors are denied tenure for exactly that reason, and they have been denied tenure when they bring in 5x more than Gonzalez did. Many go on to have successful careers at other universities, too.

  2. Bad  

    Those are good points John, which raises the question: is that the impression viewers not previously aware of these topics will get from the movie?

    As far as I can tell, it’s not. Those things are not mentioned, or even grossly misrepresented (for instance, the claim that Crocker just mentioned ID once, when in fact she gave a whole lecture full of bizarre creationist claims that belied gross misunderstanding of biology taxonomy). Or Gonzalez’s supposedly stellar publication record (which WAS good… before he got onto the track he was being considered for…)

    And so on. From the various positive reviews I’ve seen, it seems the film succeeded at given people all sorts of factually mistaken or grossly incomplete impressions about all of these controversies, since they repeat these claims in their reviews, apparently unaware that, for instance, Sternberg was never fired from anything at all.

    The Sternberg segment I have seen is a good example of how this works: the film fully implies that he lost his position over the controversy, but without literally saying so. It uses phrases like “until such and such a date, he was” followed up by describing the criticism of him (though not elaborating on what the content of that criticism was so that we can judge at that point whether it had merit, and instead just claiming it was pure outrage at the idea of Creation, rather than the specific criticisms of proceedure and merit that were leveled) which imply a causation that does not (and in this case cannot) exist (since he had left his editorship before the article was even published).

  3. Greg Wright  

    Just to be clear, John, that was Myers’ phrasing, not mine.

    Bad, you couldn’t be more right when you remark, “From the various positive reviews I’ve seen, it seems the film succeeded at given people all sorts of factually mistaken or grossly incomplete impressions about all of these controversies.” I consider Brett McCracken’s to be about the only accurate review of the film I’ve read.

    The same is true for those who have a natural predisposition against the film, too. Roger Moore is a highly notable example. As far as I’m concerned, he’s completely blown his credibility as a critic.

    Your analysis of the Sternberg segment is deadly accurate.

    Anyone who goes to see this type of film needs to be very clear about what it actually says, what it doesn’t say, and how open-endedness and suggestion are very much the point.

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