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Dodos Keep On Hoaxing

Thursday night Villanova University became the latest victim of Randy Olson's hoax of dodos.

Either sponsors don't know about the fabrications in Olson's film, or they don't care. Since it's 2006 release, A Flock of Dodos has been consistently peddling something that doesn't even amount to snake oil. So much for improving science communication.

After a screening of the movie there was a panel discussion with Randy Olson, Philly Inquirer columnists Faye Flam, Villanova biologist Aaron Bauer and biologist and CSC senior fellow, Michael Behe. Each of the panelists summed up his thoughts briefly and then the 100 or so people in attendance got to ask questions. Not surprisingly, most of them were focused on Behe, who handled their questions and challenges deftly.

Flam started out, and the only memorable thing she said was along the lines that she was glad the film exposed those ID falsehoods concerning Haeckel's embryos.

Behe commented that the film was amusing, but jumbled up distinctions between ID, evolution, and creationism. Most important, he pointed out that the film is misleading --exactly in the area where Flam was impressed-- and produced some photocopies of embryo drawings from recent textbooks (see how closely current textbooks follow Haeckel's drawing). He emphasized that the film badly misinformed in this area, as well as others.

Flam gave no reaction, and never mentioned it again in her comments throughout the evening, which were few. The question is will she show the professional reponsibility to admit that she made a mistake in endorsing a film that is factually and intentionally wrong?

Immediately after Behe discredited the film, Randy Olson got the microphone and asserted that his major problem with the controversy surrounding Haeckel's embryos is that no working embryologist refers to them because they are so old. But of course the purpose of the drawings is not to educate students in embryology, Rather, it is to convey a worldview that students are supposed to imbibe unquestioningly.

The rest of the evening was rounded out with discussion that lasted for nearly an hour and a half. By far Behe got the lion's share of the discussion time, because much of the audience wanted a piece of him. He was able to explain ID, make distinctions, correct misimpressions, counter common anti-ID arguments, and in general represent the intelligent design side to an audience that was generally not predisposed to it.

Earlier this week, reacting to Flam's endorsement of the film, Discovery's Bruce Chapman sent the following letter to the Inquirer.

Dear Editor:

Faye Flam would have readers believe that a new law in Tennessee to allow teachers to present scientific arguments over Darwinian evolution is only a public relations project of Discovery Institute. That is the theme, indeed, of the film she recommends, �Flock of Dodos�.

After all, Flam contends, there is no scientific controversy about Darwinian theory. Indeed, in �Dodos� a proponent of teaching the flaws in Darwinism is shown fumbling when challenged by filmmaker Randy Olson to produce examples of the long-discredited Haeckel�s embryos in contemporary textbooks.
(Haeckel, a 19th Century German, made up drawings of different animals at the earliest embryonic stage that supposedly showed a common ancestry.)

The truth is that the filmmaker knew his �gotcha� moment was a fake before the film went public. My staff and I met with him to show him example after example of current textbooks that still display the bogus Haeckel drawings.
He said it was too late to fix the film. Besides, this phony theme was central to his movie.

Discovery Institute published our evidence at a website called Hoaxofdodos.com, where it can still be examined. In fact, two new textbooks have come out in the past two years with the same errors.

No controversies over Darwinian evolution? Hardly. And students deserve to know about them.

Bruce Chapman, Chairman of the Board
Discovery Institute