Friday, April 18, 2008

Ben Stein Channels Michael Moore

Ben Stein, as we have said before, is our favorite Nixon staffer.  Or at least he was, before we learned about his new movie, Expelled:  No Intelligence Allowed.  From the ads that run on Comedy Central, we had concluded that it was some sort of academic romp, on the order of Animal House or Stein's own star-making turn in Ferris Bueller.

It is not.  Expelled is a documentary, which intends to show that exponents of creationism, or its deracinated clone intelligent design, are being treated unfairly by the academic establishment. And in a display of paranoid camp worthy of Michael Moore at his most excessive, Stein argues that the schools that deny creationists tenure and the journals that reject their articles are tools of a totalitarianism on par with those of Stalin or Hitler. 

This is nonsense.  ID is a philosophical position, not a scientific one -- and whatever consideration it deserves belongs in classrooms dedicated to philosophy, not science.  Moreover, and despite the film's various misstatements of fact (or "lies," as they used to be called) it appears that no otherwise qualified scientist has lost either a post or tenure specifically because he or she supported ID.  Note the "otherwise qualified" there.  A scientist with poor teaching skills, a weak publication record, or limited ability to bring in grant money -- in other words, a marginal performer -- is always in danger.  And if two such marginal cases are in competition for the same job, support for an hypothesis which is not taken seriously by most of your professional cohort surely cannot help.

Worse yet (and more like Moore), Stein has apparently filled his movie with fakery -- a "lecture at Pepperdine University," for example, was delivered to a room full of movie extras, in space rented for the occasion.  No wonder they run their ads on Comedy Central; this is the sort of "journalism" we expect from correspondents to the Daily Show.  (Which, as its host takes great pains to remind us, is fake news.)

We at the Egg are surprised and confused by all this.  Surprised, because Stein has always seemed like a pretty sharp cookie, with strong commitments to the reality-based community.  And confused because ... well, golly, Ben, what do you hope to gain from lining up with the crazies, particularly as their star begins to set?

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