Sunday, May 29, 2005

Smithsonian Institution Screens Anti-evolution Film for Money

In a shocking development, the "Discovery Institute" has teamed up with the Smithsonian Institute to offer a national premier screening of the anti-evolution film, The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe.

The Seattle-based Discovery Institute promotes the religious belief, "intelligent design", that supposedly explains how life came to be. In contrast, the Smithsonian Institution houses many fossils that support the scientific Theory of Evolution.

Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, said his organization approached the Smithsonian's public relations company and the museum staff asked to see the film. After watching the film, Chapman claims that "they liked it very much - and not only would they have the event at the museum, but they said they would co-sponsor it," he recalled. "That was their suggestion. Of course we're delighted."

In his zeal, Chapman obviously hasn't read the Smithonian's Special Events Policy carefully, which clearly states that the museum co-sponsors all events that result in "an unrestricted contribution to the National Museum of Natural History" (the Smithsonian Institution). The Policy also states that these gifts "help support the scientific and educational work of the Museum."

Randall Kremer, a museum spokesman seemed to confirm this policy when he said, "We're happy to receive this contribution from the Discovery Institute to further our scientific research."

This will undoubtedly be the first time that the Discovery Institute has ever supported any sort of evolutionary research.

The museum, Chapman acknowledged, offers rental of its Baird Auditorium to many organizations and corporations in return for contributions. The Discovery Institute paid $16,000 to the Smithsonian for use of the auditorium. In view of this, it is obvious that the Smithsonian accepted an "unrestricted contribution" from the Discovery Institute to fund museum research in exchange for co-sponsoring the screening of this film. So basically, the nation's premier museum was bought. For a mere $16,000.

But even more appalling, this film screening is a blatant disregard of the Smithonian's Special Events Policy, which goes on to state that "Personal events (i.e. weddings, etc.), fund raising events, and events of a religious or partisan political nature [italics mine] are not permitted."

It is obvious that the Smithsonian really screwed up.

But Chapman attempts to be cautious. "We are not implying in any sense that they endorsed the content, but they are co-sponsoring it, and we are delighted. We're not claiming anything more than that. They certainly didn't say, 'We're really warming up to intelligent design, and therefore we're going to sponsor this.' "

So it appears that this event will take place. Already, the Discovery Institute's director is announcing on their web site that they and the director of the Smithsonian "are happy to announce the national premiere and private evening reception" on June 23. But so far, this screening is not listed on the Smithsonian's online Calendar of Events. I wonder why? Because it's private? Or ... ?

All this leads me to ask what are the Smithsonian's Board of Trustees thinking? Is the nation's premier museum broke again? Or are they making yet another ethical miscalculation on behalf of the nation's troubled museum as they seek to protect their special funding status and restore their prestige?

This story has every appearance of being true, despite the source (the Discovery Institute) so we need to voice our opinion as loudly as possible regarding this event. At the very least, think carefully before renewing your annual membership!


© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

9 Peer Reviews:

Blogger James said...

Good post, and I'm glad for the reminder, which engaged me as you'll see at my blog as of about sixty seconds ago. I'm now sitting here trying to figure out who else to send the email I wrote to ...

8:47 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

I don't now if this breaks any policy. I have driven down to Washington, D.C. to attend lectures by Dr. Thurman--Uma's dad on Buddhist philosophy and have seen lectures about the Catholic Church history listed. I do think they are walking a thin line if it is being presented to the public as 'Science" though.

6:34 AM  
Blogger James said...

My problem with this is what the Discovery Institute and its proponents are doing with it. It's gotten press, which means what the uninformed, which I'm convinced is the vast majority, make of this is that it's a film that goes contrary to evolution being shown in the nation's premier science education venue. The Smithsonian may not be in anyway supporting the content, but again that's a distinction that will be unappreciated by the masses, and will not stop those behind ID from crowing, "Our film was shown at the Smithsonian."

With this happening here, and the recent press regarding James Cameron's "Aliens of the Deep" being rejected by IMAX theater managers because of its references to the age of the Earth and evolution, I strongly feel that letting this film show at the Smithsonian would set a very bad precedent and open the floodgates for a lot more.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

Thanks for posting this. I'll write a terse note to the Smithsonian. I don't mind if the Smithsonian hosts this event under the banner of Religious Imaginings of the 21st Century: a backward look at the future. But if it is permitting it to be represented as a film of legitimate scientific inquiry, that is unacceptable in our nation's premier science museum.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

I'm with Tabor on this one. Public instiututions really need the most content-neutral policies possible on scheduling their spaces. I'm not seeing the part of this which matches the definition of "religious or partisan political nature", defined as tightly as a public institution should define it.

Put another way, the First Amendment defends your right to be wrong.

The part about automatically co-sponsoring anything which is backed by enough money, though... that's kind of dumb. They'd have a lot more cover if the policy was "they rented our hall and that's all."

11:57 AM  
Blogger James said...

Joe misses the boat --- this isn't about being right or wrong, and it's not about restricting anyone's access to anything that merits its access. It's about resisting how the Discovery Institute manages to get an endorsement of its views on ID, even if, as in this case, it's merely be association.

Here's the deal Joe: It's clear that the DI could have found a plethora of venues at which to show their movie, heck they can come here to Providence and show it at the Avon theater, on the Brown campus, and there plenty of places like that in DC, too. The fact is the Smithsonian was deliberately chosen for the simple fact that anything shown there that has publicity associated with it, and this is in that category now, is indirectly given the imprimatur of the Smithsonian. Maybe people such as those engaging this discussion here and at the Panda's thumb want to give the DI the benefit of the doubt, but that's a mistake. The Smithsonian was deliberately selected as a publicly respected forum that would lead people who don't follow discussions such as these, which is MOST of the people out there, to believe that there is some legitimacy to the ID perspective taken in the film. That's against science, and it misuses the respected cachet of a national institution, which is bad for the Smithsonian and the nation as a whole as it's commonly perceived, by virtue of where it's located, that the Smithsonian represents not just an organizational perspective, but a national one.

This merits being fought to the utmost by anyone who truly believes in science. The mere impression of validating the DI and anything to do with it has to be fought, especially on the scale of the Smithsonian Institute.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Tabor said...

You know what I think I will try to do in between my moving chores(?) check with some people there. I have a few contacts. I would like to see if they know what is going on with this. Are they preparing for a defense? Ignoring their mistake? (Years ago, I actually applied for a high level job with the Smithsonian which would have involved oversight on the programs and while I got the interview, I didn't get the job, probably just as well.

4:53 PM  
Blogger GrrlScientist said...

Please do so, Tabor! I'd love to know what you find out!

5:05 PM  

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