When Media Aren't Ignoring Controversial Evolution Movie, Expelled, They're Hostile

Did you know that a movie documenting ideologically based persecution of scientists who dare question Darwin's Theory of Evolution  – by fellow “scientists” – opens in 1,000 theaters on Friday, April 18?

Not if the media can help it.  Despite the controversial subject matter and widespread Internet buzz, almost nobody in the liberal media is talking about Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, and much of what has been written has been hostile and inaccurate.    

Expelled has already created a sensation in the scientific community and the blogosphere, is opening on more screens than Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, and relates to a subject— the origin of life—that has profound implications for human society at every level.  Expelled ought to be a major news story, comparable in recent years only to Al Gore's global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. 

Gore's documentary opened in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles on May 24, 2006.  In the weeks leading up to the opening,  An Inconvenient Truth appeared a dozen times in the Washington Post, 15 times in the New York Times, and 16 times in the Los Angeles Times.  In contrast, since the beginning of January these three newspapers collectively have mentioned Expelled only twice, according to a Nexis search.   Except for one entry by a blogger, The Washington Post has ignored Expelled, even though at least two of the documentary's victimized professors are, or were, associated with academic institutions located in or near Washington D.C.

Rotten Tomatoes, a Web site that tracks movie reviews, lists only nine reviews of Expelled as of 11 AM April 17.  Every review but one pans the movie. Only four of these reviews come from prominent publications: TIME, the Orlando Sentinel, the Village Voice, and Variety. 

TIME reviewer Jeffrey Kluger acknowledges that the problem of scientists being muzzled for criticizing evolution is “well worth exposing,” but he makes a hash of the technical side of the debate. Demonstrating that he must have taken a high school biology class, Kluger condescendingly dismisses the movie:

“[Stein] quickly wades into waters far too deep for him. He makes all the usual mistakes nonscientists make whenever they try to take down evolution, asking, for example, how something as complex as a living cell could possibly have arisen whole from the earth's primordial soup. The answer is it couldn't—and it didn't.  Organic chemicals needed eons of stirring and slow cooking before they could produce compounds that could begin to lead to a living thing.”

Kluger misunderstands the science.  The argument of the theory challenging evolution, “intelligent design,” is that living organisms could not possibly have been produced gradually through eons of “slow cooking.”  Even the simplest cell is stunningly complex, comprising hundreds or thousands of sophisticated components, all of which must be present from the get-go for the cell to function. 

More to the point, Stein isn't trying to “take down” evolution, nor is he trying to prove intelligent design.  What he's trying to do is to alert viewers about the denial of academic freedom by the academic community itself, and creatively employing an entertaining, humorous style to address a very serious topic. 

Justin Chang of Variety does a better job, acknowledging that the film “effectively argues that the debate is often shut down before it can even begin, rattling off a laundry list of scientists who have lost grants, teaching posts and academic standing for expressing their views that life did not originate by random chance.”  But Chang describes the film as “a flimsy attempt to discredit Darwinian theory,” which is manifestly not Stein's primary message.

To their credit, Kluger and Chang are far more reasonable in tone than their colleagues.  Vadim Rizov of the Village Voice calls Stein a “propagandist,” and derides the movie as “bizarre and hysterical.” 

Roger Moore of the Orlando Sentinel calls Expelled “disingenuous and dishonest” and, “a cynical attempt to sucker Christian conservatives into thinking they're losing the 'intelligent design' debate because of academic 'prejudice.'”  Moore misses the point of the movie completely, dismissing the persecution of scientists and asserting that, “Stein and friends use … classic propaganda techniques to undercut 150 years of peer-tested research.  Their goal? Create just a sliver of doubt about evolution.”

Of course, Stein's point is that the scientific community is no longer allowing peers to test the theory.  Moore ludicrously defends evolution as, “a scientific theorem that withstands test after test, from Darwin to the Scopes Monkey Trial.” What tests is he referring to?  The Scopes Monkey trial, a pro-evolution propaganda stunt, took place in 1925.

Major publications often print reviews of movies on the day they're released, so more reviews of Expelled ought to show up. Or not.


Brian Fitzpatrick is senior editor at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.