Unfortunately, Hayward seems to have bought into the central message of the film without any evident reservation: the idea that scientists are indeed rushing to create blacklists and persecute intelligent design proponents merely for daring to ask questions. And while Derbyshire is giving his usual unabashed best on the subject, he seems to be mostly leaving this belief alone.
There are two important responses to this claim, both worth repeating.
The first is simply that Mr. Hayward needs to better acknowledge (which the film certainly will not) the fact that these alleged cases have other sides to them: many people in the science community feel that these allegations are based on misrepresentations, exaggerations, and even some downright deliberate theater. If you narrate a boxing match by carefully neglecting to mention the blows of one of the athletes, it’s very easy to make a well-regulated sporting match sound like a felonious assault. Mr. Hayward says that he’s going to have to wait to see the film to judge its agenda, but the allegations it makes are already quite clear, and I and countless other science-bloggers have documented in exhaustive detail exactly how it misrepresents these cases, leaves out crucial details, and so on.
The second point is that scientists judge the quality of scientific evidence and argument all the time. They have to. That’s what peer review is, in the end. And yes, the reality is that you aren’t going to be appointed head of the physics department if you insist that the laws of thermodynamics are wrong, but can’t provide any convincing evidence to support your contention. If, of course, you really can support that contention with convincing evidence, then you will not only become head of the department, but they’ll mint you your own Nobel prize.
That’s how science works. You bring evidence to the table, or else you don’t get taken seriously. If Intelligent Design theorists want their ideas treated as science, then they have to prepare themselves for the same sort of critical rejection on the merits, that faces any scientist. Instead, they’ve decided to portray this rejection as de facto discrimination, no further consideration of the details necessary.
And unlike adherents to countless other failed theories advanced by nameless scientists (most of whom went back to the drawing board to try and come up with better arguments, sometimes to come back with great success) creationists and intelligent design proponents have deep pockets and huge favorable constituencies with which to keep their movements alive regardless of how they fare on the merits. This film, for instance, dwarfs in scope, marketing, and budget any pro-science documentary in recent memory. People who are absurdly ignorant of science can pen a bestseller any time they want, simply by claiming to refute all of modern biology. For all the talk about free speech, it seems like Intelligent Design has a pretty big megaphone with which to complain far and wide about being silenced.
What’s especially strange to me is to see Mr. Hayward buy into the idea that scientists are “threatened” by intelligent design. Given Mr. Hayward’s politics, you’d think he’d be far more skeptical of the idea that strong disagreements are not the same as phobias or feeling threatened. The left has often accused conservatives of racial phobia for African Americans simply because they oppose affirmative action, or homophobia if they oppose gay marriage. It’s never been that simple, and conservatives have always vigorously rejected these often lazy and slanderous allegations. Yet somehow this skepticism doesn’t seem to apply when scientists are accused of feeling “threatened” by intelligent design.
Not to mention how obvious it should be why scientists would be justifiably angry with a film that alleges vast conspiracy, religious bigotry (even from devoutly religious scientists no less), and professional vacuity. It’s not like scientists have kept their reasons for criticizing the film a mystery: they feel that it’s just plain nasty and dishonest on every level. I mean, here is a movie in which Ben Stein literally travels to Auschwitz and essentially lays that horror at the feet of every evolutionary biologist from Darwin to Dobzhansky, and yet Mr. Hayward is then baffled as to why biologists would strongly object to it?
I’m baffled back.