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More Fakery, and Donald Prothero

As Casey pointed out yesterday, geologist Donald Prothero is very indignant about "fakery" committed by "creationists." As evidence, writing at SkepticBlog, Dr. Prothero cites videos featuring Ann Gauger and Stephen Meyer, both filmed in front of a green screen ("Creationist Flim-Flam"). He observes:

And the Discovery Institute, despite its huge budget, must resort to shooting the video in a green screen background, not actually filming Gauger working in her "lab" (as Nova or some other documentary filmmaker would). In a nutshell, the episode reveals how their whole operation is all for show, a scam, a flim flam, a PR exercise designed to impress those who can't tell if a lab background is appropriate or not, and bears no resemblance to real science.
He also lodges the old complaint about peer-reviewed science, that I thought Darwinists had pretty much abandoned by now:
They never do any real research that would pass the scrutiny of peer review in real journals, only phony "research" that mimics the conventions of science but doesn't understand the fundamentals (as in "baraminology"), which they then publish in their own journals.
Never mind the absurd comparison with NOVA -- produced by PBS with its enormous budget ($445 million yearly from the Federal Government alone, which is just 12 percent of the "public" giant's total funding), a fortune compared to which Discovery Institute operates on less than a shoestring. Never mind that Prothero seems to have missed our ample coverage of pro-intelligent design peer-reviewed literature in a variety of journals. And never mind that neither Gauger nor Meyer is a "creationist."

So much for Prothero's own "flim-flam." When it comes "fakery," what is the more egregious violation of trust: An obvious green-screen effect like the one in Ann's video, closely resembling her own lab and employed by an organization on a tight budget, merely to save time, trouble and money, or...well, look at this other blog post by Dr. Prothero where he talks about a documentary for the BBC that he participated in ("A Surreal Journey Among the Creationists"). The documentary, Conspiracy Road Trip: Creationism, was an ambush job on actual creationists, a group of hapless Brits who seem to have been picked up from the Internet.

Prothero recalls receiving his invitation from the program's producer, who made it clear what was afoot (emphasis added):

The producer explained that he wanted me and a number of other scientists to meet at important locations (I was to film on the rim of the Grand Canyon) and show these creationists the actual scientific evidence, and let them squirm in front of the cameras.
The point was to humiliate and turn the creationists into laughingstocks -- "let them squirm" -- for the entertainment of BBC viewers. But in recruiting victims, it wouldn't do to tell them that. Instead, the producers at Renegade Pictures went on Christian websites and sent around emails with this less than candid invitation:

I was hoping you might be able to help me. I am contacting you from a TV company called Renegade Pictures, about a documentary that we are currently producing for BBC3, which focuses on people who doubt the theory of evolution.

We are looking for people to take part who have thought through their beliefs and are willing to explore them further, and put the theory of evolution to the test. We are offering five people the opportunity to go to the American Deep South for two weeks at the end of April, with the programme's presenter Andrew Maxwell. Whilst there they will be able to put forward their beliefs about evolution and the existence of the universe, and engage in a genuine debate with Maxwell at various sites in America where they will meet a wide range of individuals and take part in various experiments which will aim to elucidate and in some places test their beliefs. The experiments and individuals they meet in the US may well challenge their beliefs, but they will have a space to defend them and critique these experiments/individuals. BBC3 is a channel aimed at a young demographic, so we are looking for people to take part who are aged between 18 and 35.

If this sounds like something you or any of your members would potentially be interested in participating in, it would be great to get a contact number for yourself so that we could have a chat? Thanks,


Mar 14, 2012 at 12:13 pm

A young friend of ours, a British evolution skeptic, was forwarded the same invitation by an acquaintance but shied away, noting that he "smelled a rat." Indeed.

A "genuine" debate with comedian Andrew Maxwell? Meet "a wide range of individuals"? Not exactly. The goal in fact was to be carted around by Maxwell from place to place and then showed up as ignoramuses by scientists waiting to pounce on British young people who obviously had never given evolution much serious thought or study before in their lives, other than to decide that it violated their literalist religious beliefs. In Prothero's segment, they try to maintain that the Grand Canyon is the product of Noah's flood.

The folks at Renegade could not state honestly what they intended to do. Instead, they resorted to genuine fakery, for the purpose of mocking and embarrassing the na�ve and guileless. If the strategy were to employ subterfuge in order to gain access to big shots with the intention of knocking them down a notch, that would be ethically problematic. Here, the aim was to skewer little guys for the fun of it, to laugh as you watch them "squirm," which is utterly contemptible. Yet Donald Prothero appears to find nothing wrong in that.

Incidentally, I thought Prothero was a geology professor at Occidental College, as he is identified on his website. But I see he's currently not listed on the Occidental faculty index, nor does a search for his name produce a single hit on the college's website. What's up with that?

UPDATE: A reader points out that Prothero's recent publication, "Size and shape stasis in late Pleistocene mammals and birds from Rancho La Brea during the Last Glacial-Interglacial cycle," gives him as being associated with the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology, Natural History Museum, in Los Angeles. So it does, but he's not on their staff page either. I only bring this up because in writing about someone and responding to his slurs, it's nice to be able to state his institutional affiliation. No doubt he has one, I'm just not sure what it is. Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego Donald Prothero?