I really don’t think Randy Olson is a fan of the Discovery Institute

Carl Zimmer tells us that there are going to be showings of Randy Olson’s Flock of Dodos all across the country next week—do you know where your nearest exhibition will be going on? Here it is for us Minnesota people, along with a little rebuttal of a Discovery Institute hissy fit:

Bell Museum Auditorium
Thursdays at 7 p.m.
$7; $5 students, seniors and Bell Museum members
Each Thursday, the Bell Museum’s Science on Screen program presents topical films focusing on scientific research and related issues, personalities, and controversies.

Thursday, February 15, 2007
Flock of Dodos **Twin Cities Premiere**
Filmmaker and evolutionary ecologist Randy Olson pokes fun at the battle between evolution and intelligent design. He travels to his home state of Kansas to consult his mother, Muffy Moose, and confronts her neighbor, a lawyer backing intelligent design.

I’ll be there! I’m joining in the discussion of the film (which I reviewed here)—let’s get lots of people there. Half the fun will be the conversation, I hope.

Carl points out something amusing, too. The Discovery Institute is feeling a bit cranky about Olson’s film, and they’re planning to try some counterprogramming, with some cheesy documentary starring John West and Jonathan Wells to be released on Darwin Day. I’m pre-emptively unimpressed. As we’ve been accustomed, they can’t help but lie, lie, lie in their announcement. Here’s an example.

According to the P-I article the films maker, oceanographer Randy Olson, started out really liking the work of Discovery, but only after we didn’t want to appear in his film did he resort to motive mongering and distorting our position on evolution. That’s one approach to getting interviews. If you don’t do this, I’ll make you look bad. And he tried to do just that.

Whoa…Randy Olson liked the work of the Discovery Institute? I’ve talked with Olson, and that certainly is a surprise. Like pretty much any credible, reasonably well-trained biologist, he thinks the DI is a collection of creationist phonies.

Hmmm…the DI says this interpretation is according to the Seattle PI. What does the article actually say? Would you be surprised to learn that the DI is making it up?

Evolutionary biologist turned filmmaker Randy Olson wishes his former colleagues were more like intelligent design proponents at the Discovery Institute in Seattle.

“I admire them for their communication skills,” Olson said recently. “It’s frustrating that the science world is so deeply stuck in the mud.”

Randy Olson thinks the creationists have done a better job of promoting their nonsense than the scientists have done promoting the real work; that is not the same as liking the DI. One of the themes of the movie is that the creationists have been effective in spreading their beliefs, and that skill is what he admires; their agenda, their honesty, their scientific rigor…not so much.

There’s more! The DI can’t help but flog a dead horse some more.

The main thing that Olson got wrong in his film Flock of Dodos is that he charges biologist Jonathan Wells with being a fraud for claiming that modern biology textbooks still include Ernst Haeckel’s faked drawings of embryos as evidence for Darwinian evolution. It’s been well-known for a century that Haeckel’s drawings are bogus. Olson doesn’t contest this. What he does contest is Wells’ claim that they are still in use in modern textbooks. It’s a silly assertion on Olson’s part since it is so easily proven to be wrong. We have shelves full of modern textbooks using the drawings, the sad fact being that the some are still in use in biology classes today. Olson knew this, but persists in making the claim, turning his flock of dodos into a hoax of dodos.

In my review, I mentioned that one of the more effective scenes in the movie was when John Calvert made exactly this same accusation, and Olson turned it around and asked him to show him an example from his library…and he couldn’t. The Discovery Institute can’t back up that assertion, either—I’ve got those textbooks, and I’ve looked. Most do not have Haeckel’s drawings, and those that do are using them as historical context, not as examples of contemporary science.

Poor, desperate, sad little creationists. Kick ’em while they’re down: go see Flock of Dodos next week.


  1. Kristjan Wager says

    I also noticed the DI’s comments on the Seattle PI article, and even tried to make some comments on it at my brand new blog (here). Basicly, what I found amusing was the complains about the bad definition of Intelligent Design, without their own article giving any definitions of what it is, except in terms of how it differs from their faulty definition of evolution.

  2. Niles Donegan says

    My fiancee has been desperately trying to get Dodos at the science museum where she works (Montshire Museum of Science, near Dartmouth) for about six months, but the price tag for showing would cripple their very modest budget, unfortunately. So no Dodos in Northern New England for us. Here’s what Randy said:

    Date: January 24, 2007 1:30:07 PM EST
    Subject: Re: no dodos in northern new england!

    Well, having been a professor at UNH, I feel pretty certain that when I
    tell you about the $2500 screening fee we ask for you will say, “Whaaaat?
    We don’t have that kind of money.” But do you think you have any funds
    for a screening? Most of the museums are either paying $10K for me to
    attend the screening, or $2500 without me. And its not to get rich off
    the film — it was financed with no grants or foundation involvement which
    means we have huge debt to pay off, which is where the bucks go.

    Any thoughts on this?

    – Randy Olson

  3. says

    Oh well, nothing down South for me, except for a sermon on evolution and religion in a real church and all. I’m afraid my heathen body will start burning the moment I set one foot inside.
    People here in Louisiana are often a bit afraid to speak out about their atheism, agnosticism, deism, secular humanism, whatever is not Christian and does not involve a severe case of cognitive dissonance… unfortunately, this also includes that “belief” called science.

  4. quork says

    Word from Kenya that the Worldwide Atheist Scientific Conspiracy is working:

    “I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it,” says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya’s 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. “These sorts of silly views are killing our faith.”

  5. George says

    Not coming to my town. I just asked NetFlix to stock this when it becomes avaialble on DVD.

  6. Paul says

    Ah, Todd, but you’re not really breaking the commandments when it’s in the cause of defeating materialist thinking.

    Nothing so defines a conservative as flouting the rules you preach in order to impose them on everyone else.

  7. Molly, NYC says

    Randy Olson thinks the creationists have done a better job of promoting their nonsense than the scientists have done promoting the real work . . .

    Well, yeah. Scientists are just scientists. The IDists are in the PR business. They’re the Buddy Jesus campaign of creationism.

  8. makita says

    But the screening is on Monday night and hubby works till 10 pm. I need to find me a babysitter, because I have to go and see Flock of Dodos. Any volunteers?? I have 3 cute kids who would fill your evening with joy.

  9. George says

    From the Wells letter to Yale Daily Snooze:

    If Darwinism were scientifically sound or religiously neutral, we wouldn’t need Evolution Sunday to promote it. That’s why we don’t celebrate Gravitation Sunday or Immunization Sunday. The truth is that Evolution Sunday is promoting an anti-religious philosophy disguised as empirical science.

    Oh, I get it now. If God were scientifically sound, we wouldn’t need Christmas and Easter and all those weekly services to promote him. Since God and creationism are a load of crap, all those weekly services and those special holiday brainwashing sessions like Christmas and Easter are a necessary and legitimate form of promotion.

    Thanks for the insight, Jonathan!

  10. Molly, NYC says

    George – Or in other words, Creationists “own” Christianity and if any pastor doesn’t knuckle under . . . the Creationists will what? Write an angry letter to the Yale Daily News?

  11. says

    Randy Olson, started out really liking the work of Discovery, but only after we didn’t want to appear in his film did he resort to motive mongering and distorting our position on evolution.

    So the Discomfited Institute is admitting that their “scientific” arguments are not at all persuasive, and the chances for acceptance of ID depend upon them being liked? Maybe if they gave away free beer and popsicles they could get an article published in Nature.

  12. JM says

    Is anyone qualified intending to write a letter to the paper with a straightfoward rebuttal of Wells’ letter? It would surely be rather embarrassing for him.

  13. says

    This is the one event that I can actually attend and I’m looking forward to it!

    BTW-it’s surprising that my presentation for library reference class last night about research strategies and user psychology touched upon a lot of things re the evo-ID debate. Hoo boy, is it applicable. I could write a book (and maybe I will!). Shhhh… *finger to lips*

  14. says


    …turning his flock of dodos into a hoax of dodos.

    I’d just like to point out that, without capitalizing or italicizing “flock of dodos”, it refers to the DI and their ilk. So the DI is saying that Olson is turning the IDists “into a hoax of dodos.” Well, duhh. I’m pretty sure that was their point.

  15. Sophist says

    “Hoax of dodos?” What does that even mean? “Flock of hoaxes” would have at least made some sense.

  16. says

    According to the P-I article the films maker, oceanographer Randy Olson, started out really liking the work of Discovery

    My take on it was that at some point he started hearing about ID, and thought “Hm, if everyone’s talking about this, there must be something to it”. But as the rest of the film documents, once he took a closer look, he learned otherwise.