One of my favorite books on science and skepticism is Carl Sagan’s A Demon-Haunted World. I know it is a favorite of others, as I’ve seen it quoted and admired extensively throughout the Atheosphere. I was reminded of it recently, in particular this passage:
Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science. Science thrives on errors, cutting them away one by one. False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so that they are capable of being disproved. A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers toward improved understanding. Proprietary feelings are of course offended when a scientific hypothesis is disproved, but such disproofs are recognized as central to the scientific enterprise.
Pseudoscience is just the opposite. Hypotheses are often framed precisely so they are invulnerable to any experiment that offers a prospect of disproof, so even in principle they cannot be invalidated. Practitioners are defensive and wary. Skeptical scrutiny is opposed. When the pseudoscientific hypothesis fails to catch fire with scientists, conspiracies to suppress it are deduced. (p. 20-21)(emphasis added)
Does that last sentence seem to describe anything familiar?
Recently the movie Expelled (ironically subtitled: No Intelligence Allowed) has been screened at theaters around the country in anticipation of its release next month, in an attempt to create a “buzz” about it. The movie is billed as an exposé of the scientific community, which has allegedly conspired to suppress the teachings of Intelligent Design, so as to eliminate all scientists who appear to be proponents of this so called pseudoscientific theory that was last heard from in a little town in York County, Pennsylvania. You remember that? The theory was exposed for what it actually is (or more precisely, isn’t) in a Federal Courthouse a few miles away, and ended in the decisive opinion of Judge John E. Jones III in the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision.
The operative word here is “conspired’. According to the press kit for the movie
What Is Intelligent Design?
The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations.
“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” rejects the notion that “the case is closed,” and exposes the widespread persecution of scientists and educators who are pursuing legitimate, opposing scientific views to the reigning orthodoxy
According to the trailer for the movie, everybody seems to be involved in this conspiracy. Not just all the nasty mainstream scientists picking on a few mavericks, but the media, the courts and the educational system are all “in on it”. The “system” is persecuting the few scientists who have the temerity to assert that there is evidence for intelligent design.
Can you spell paranoid? Here’s how.
PZ Myers was recently “expelled‘ from a screening at the Mall of America where he had legitimately reserved free tickets to view the movie with his family and some guests. In line to get his seats, security had him removed from the theater upon direct orders of the producer. He is actually in the movie, as an interviewee, and he was not allowed to see it. However his family and friends were allowed in, including Richard Dawkins, who apparently wasn’t recognized. No legitimate reason was given for excluding Myers from the theater, although with the beard and wire-rimmed glasses, he does appear somewhat anarchic.
Conspiracy theories are the step-child of failed science and pseudoscience. Intelligent Design is not science, and only scientists with axes to grind, or with non-evidentiary beliefs, such as those of a religion that they cling to like security blankets, actually find any science in the “theory”. The IDiots who believe in ID (yes, I know it’s a disparaging term, but if the shoe fits…) often will have no problem lying for their beliefs in some mad, cockamamie notion that doing so will somehow convince listeners to believe their nonsense also. They have fabricated a “controversy” that doesn’t exist in the scientific community, then when real scientists pooh-pooh their controversy, claim that they are part of the conspiracy to cover it up. Again, from the press kit for the movie:
The American public’s awareness and beliefs vis-à-vis our government’s expanding role in defining the curriculum in America’s schools, universities and institutions of science.
Neo-Darwinian theory contends that life is the result of a random, purposeless process.
Neo – Darwinian theory is taught in schools as if it is the only plausible scientific explanation of how life originated and developed. Yet Intelligent Design theory has recently emerged to challenge neo-Darwinian theory.
Both are scientific theories, and the debate is therefore legitimate. Why is the debate being suppressed?
See the lie? “Both are scientific theories”, thereby making the debate legitimate. And any attempt to suppress a legitimate debate must be bad, probably a result of some conspiracy. If you assume that, then there IS a controversy. But calling ID a scientific theory doesn’t make it one, any more than calling the stork theory a scientific theory about human reproduction makes it one that should be given equal time in sex-ed class. Someone has to present actual scientific evidence for it first, before they can claim the status of a scientific theory. Evolution has been doing it now for 150 years, or more. ID, on the other hand, assumes its conclusion, then calls itself a scientific theory. No wonder scientists don’t give it the time of day.
So ID is not a scientific theory, and its proponents have no right to be upset if it is not taken seriously. Conduct repeatable, falsifiable, consistent experiments, write the results up in a peer reviewed publication, then come back and demand equal time. Until then, stop crying about conspiracies of suppression, and making movies about them. It’s almost as if the producers of Expelled had read the Sagan quote, and attempted to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I actually feel honored to be a full fledged member of the conspiracy.