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Silencing the Dissenters

While the makers of Expelled have been busily organizing private screenings for legislatures and friendly audiences, they simultaneously have been snubbing those who would be critical of the film. All of this is, of course, quite ironic, considering that the premise for Expelled centers on the supposed silencing of evolution critics. There have been several examples of how the makers of Expelled are, in fact, expelling their own critics:

  1. Expelled from Expelled

    Biologist and science blogger P. Z. Myers signed up for an invitation to one of Expelled’s pre-release screenings across the country via the Expelled website. In his RSVP he reported he would be bringing guests, as permitted by the invitation. His guests included family members and famed biologist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins was in town for a conference, and Myers invited him along to the screening. After all, both had been filmed for the documentary, and wanted to see what footage of theirs had been used.

    Myers signed up for the screening using his own name, and was told through the website-generated reservation-confirming e-mail to bring personal identification to the theater. Upon arrival, Myers and his guests presented their identification as instructed, and he and his guests went to wait in line to enter the theater. (Dawkins’s British passport, which he presented, lists his full legal name: Clinton Richard Dawkins.)

    However, while waiting in line, Myers was approached and told that the producer said he was not welcome at the theater, and must leave. His guests, however, were permitted to stay, including Dawkins. Of course, the blogosphere rolled on the floor laughing at the specter of the relatively obscure college professor from a Minnesota state college being expelled from Expelled while one of the world’s most famous evolutionary biologists – and creationism critic – entered unrecognized.

    The producers of the film, including Mark Mathis, tried to explain away the multitudes of gaffes, although they never quite got their story straight. First they claimed that the reason Myers was denied entry was that he had not received an invitation. Evidence that he had signed up online and RSVPed like every other attendee required the abandonment of that approach, and the substitution of the claim that they feared that the mild-mannered Myers would be disruptive. And the embarrassment that Dawkins had not been recognized and therefore allowed to attend was quickly brushed off by the producers. Perhaps most amusing was an effort to spin the story as a big public relations success by proudly noting that the Myers/Dawkins “expelling” had been the top story in the blogosphere that weekend. But if doing something foolish and then getting laughed at is their idea of a PR success, they might join ranks with Gov. Spitzer, whose sordid tale and resignation was the previous big story of the week.

    No matter how they spun the story in their favor, the truth was clear. Participants in a movie about alleged suppression of dissent were themselves suppressed for fear of their dissent. Richard Dawkins also has a detailed account of Myers’s “expulsion”, as well as a review of the film.

  2. Selective Screenings

    Others also have been expelled from Expelled’s pre-release screenings, which are intended to build up enthusiasm for the movie. Motive Marketing scheduled close to one hundred of these early screenings across the country like the one in Minneapolis attended by Myers and Dawkins. Signing up for these screenings was straightforward: a potential viewer would enter a name and email address on a web site, and await a confirmation of the reservation. Depending on the screening, this confirmation would be followed by a second email listing the time and location of the screening. However, after the Myers/Dawkins incident in mid-March, a different procedure was instituted at many subsequent screenings. People who had received confirmation of the screening began receiving emails notifying them that the screening for which they had registered was canceled. Yet these individuals later found out that the screening happened anyway – they were just disinvited.

    One incident involved an April 3, 2008, showing of Expelled in Tempe, AZ. Evolutionary biologist and science blogger John Lynch had heard about the Tempe screening and followed all the protocol in RSVPing for the event. At the end of March he received an email stating that the time of the screening had been changed from 7:00 to 6:00. Then, on April 2, Lynch received an email, stating simply:

    The Tempe, AZ Screening has been canceled.

    Lynch was curious about this sudden cancellation, and wondered whether it was due to poor response, or if the cancellation email had only gone out to those who were less sympathetic to the movie’s message.

    The next day he found out from a fellow Tempe resident that the show had, indeed, gone on. Lynch’s fear that he had been pre-expelled appeared to be correct. Additional digging by Lynch revealed that on April 2, some people received the cancellation email, while others received an email stating that the show would still go on, but the time had been changed to 6:00. When someone arrived at the theater they were asked if they registered for 6:00 or 7:00 - in order to “weed out” the undesirables.

    On the other hand, NCSE’s Eugenie C. Scott, who registered in March for a screening in Danville, California under her own name, using her NCSE email address, received a computer-generated acknowledgment of registering – but never any promised announcement of what movie theater would show Ben Stein’s film. Apparently, she was pre-pre-Expelled!

Now, of course, it is perfectly legal for Premise Media to decide that it doesn’t want to have critics attend its pre-release screenings, but it isn’t exactly in the spirit of the movie, which bleats in dismay at the Big Science “Darwinist” bullies stifling debate on intelligent design and evolution. One might have expected more from the makers of a documentary on an important social issue. But this is just another example of how Expelled is not so much an evenhanded treatment of a controversial topic as it is a heavy-handed exercise in propaganda.

Read More

Complete list of news and blog coverage of P.Z. Myers’ expulsion on Greg Laden’s Blog