Randi asks the Smithsonian: You want $16K or $20K?

Hey, Smithsonian! You want money? I got your money right here!

James Randi is fighting back. The Smithsonian announced recently that it received $16,000 from Discovery Institute, a creationist organization, to show an intelligent design movie. The Smithsonian stopped short of endorsing it, but Randi is upset that they would even accept such funds from the devil, so to speak, and has countered with an offer of $20,000 if they will return the money and NOT show it.

Bravo, Randi! Sort of. It’s good that JREF has funds available to make this kind of offer, and it will certainly put the Smithsonian on the spot, but it will also open up the charge of censorship. Personally, I wish the offer had been made to show a movie from the scientific point of view. Surely the public deserves to see all points of views, no matter how wrong some are. And the chance would be there to show how stupid the creationist viewpoint is. Bring the discussion into the light, don’t cover it up.

It should be interesting how this plays out.

BTW, I know of good web sites (bad astronomy, talkorigins, etc.) with good counter-arguments, but is there a good video or film that would refute the Discovery Institute’s propaganda?

Why doesn’t the JREF use the 20K to create its own movie, and get that shown to counter the intelligent design movie?

Presenting an opposing point of view is one thing. Trying to shut down anyone else is quite another. It would be roughly equivalent to me offering the moderators $1000 to delete a creationist’s posts from the SDMB, instead of posting to the thread and countering the creationist arguments.

Of course, the JREF is at an advantage here. They haven’t incurred the cost of creating a movie. So they have more money available to try to outbid the Discovery Institute, who have incurred that expense. (I presume.)

Doesn’t seem quite kosher to me. If Randi doesn’t agree with intelligent design, he is perfectly free to try to present his point of view. Trying to get someone else’s point of view silenced? Hmmm…


Perhaps he realizes that the legitimacy conferred upon I.D. by a film shown in the Smithsonian would not be countered simply by making a competing film. And that much of the audience catered to by that film would not be interested in debate.

Except, by having his own movie shown to counter the intelligent design movie, isn’t that saying, “Well, here are two valid theories”? By simply showing an intelligent design movie at the Smithsonian, it legitimizes the theory. It’s not simply a matter of two points of view…it’s one that’s a valid scientific theory and one that isn’t.

Not as far as I can tell. It seems to me to be saying, “Here are two theories. Which fits the known evidence better?”

I thought part of the goal of the JREF was scientific education. How scientific is it to say, “Some theories are too dangerous to present, and you are not smart enough to evaluate the evidence. But take our word for it, it’s wrong.”

This is science?

Why is Randi’s theory such a hot house flower that the mere presentation of a movie endangers it? If intelligent design is so self-evidently wrong, it would seem a simple matter to refute it.

What is he scared of?


If it’s not a valid theory, then it should be that much simpler to debunk it. Trying to censor it would, in some people’s eyes, legitimize it even more (“See, they’re trying to cover up the real truth!”). What is Randi so afraid of, if he has the facts on his side? Trying to stop them from showing the film is not going to help his side, in the long run.

And of course, immediately after posting, I see that **Shodan ** has just said the same thing, only much better than I did.

Oh, well, carry on! :rolleyes:


Look, the Smithsonian is a respected institution of science. Showing a movie that presents intelligent design in a positive light will indeed legitimize it as a valid theory, regardless of whether another better movie comes along debunking it. They shouldn’t present something based on complete bullshit simply because they’ve received a lot of money, while trusting that the truth will come through eventually on its own due to better arguments or a better movie.

The truth shouldn’t be defined along the same principles as a free market economy. The Smithsonian is respected for its integrity. If anyone with a crackpot theory could get their ideas presented there simply because they had enough money to pay for it how can anyone ever trust anything they see there?

Showing an ID movie in the Smithsonian at all implies a degree of scientific legitimacy that it doesn’t deserve. ID is neither a scientific theory nor a genuine “opposing view” to Evolution. Scientifically speaking, there is no opposing view to evolution. There are no alternate theories. Evolution is a fact, and that’s the end of it, and it’s irresponsible for a science museum to humor the notion that the theory is in question. ID is purely a religious belief and the Smithsonian should not be accepting money to host religious sermons. It has nothing to do with science or the purpose of the museum. Showing a film on ID is no different than showing a film about Krishna. What does it have to do with science?

Should there be no rules or parameters at all? Should anyone who can cough up the beans be allowed to use the museum as a venue for religious presentations? The Smithsonian is for teaching not for preaching.

You can’t debunk religious beliefs. That’s exactly why they aren’t scientific theories. They make no falsifiable predictions.

I don’t think Randi’s afriad of anything. What I think Randi is saying is that if The Smithsonian needs money so badly, that they’re willing to show an ID film, whose money they say is for the purpose of funding “real” science, then cut out the middle man. Take the 20Gs and fund the science…If it’s a just a matter of money.

If it’s a matter of science, then they should be willing to show the ID film as part of their regular science program…without the incentive. It’s that they took money to show something they appear not to agree with that’s the problem and Randi’s calling them on it.

What Randi’s doing isn’t out of character—it’s a publicity stunt. Now, maybe Randi is making serious and straightforward attempt to stop the Smithsonian to stop running the film, but I doubt it. (I guess it’s just the skeptic in me. :slight_smile: ) There’s no way the Smithsonian would take the money. That would be admitting that they’re willing to sell out to the highest bidder. The negative publicity would be horrendous.

But, having thought that through, isn’t it clear that taking the JREF offer would be just another step down the wrong path of allowing money to dictate what is or isn’t displayed as science in the Institution?

So I think that Randi’s message is that we have already established that the Smithsonian is a whore; now we’re just dickering over the price. He wants to shame them.

I’m not sure that I agree with the tactics (or even that I have read his motives correctly), but it’s clear that the Smithsonian needs to take a long, hard look at their policies.

Equal time is not the solution. ID is not a scientific theory because it is not falsifiable. Real biologists do not go to real conferences and present real scientific papers debating the merits of ID because Intelligent Design is not science. You can’t disprove it with scientific evidence—not because we haven’t found the right evidence, but because finding such evidence is impossible! But ID propontents want you to beleive it’s science. They want to confuse the public by making it appear that there is a legitimate scientific debate about ID, but that’s bull. Allowing them equal time just perpetuates their myth that ID is a scientific theory.

Winston Bongo, while it’d be great for the Smithsonian to explain why ID isn’t science, it would probably be too controversial. I don’t fault them for wanting to steer clear of the contversy— but that should be what they do! Steer clear!

ID isn’t a theory.

There’s a reason these people paid the Smithsonian to show their movie, Shodan, and it wasn’t because they wanted to scientifically debate the issue. It’s because of the prestige. Holding Randi to this standard of scientific debate of something that doesn’t qualify as science in the first place is kind of pointless, and it’s roughly the same kind of rule-bending anti-evolution types like to use to “disprove” evolution.

I dunno. Maybe they should be faulted for that. Seems to me that a reputable pedagogical institution such as the Smithsonian should face such a controversy based on ignorance head on. Real people of science should get passionate when such a large portion of the country is trying to push a bullshit “theory” to further their own religious convictions. Won’t someone please think of the children?

They’ve already shown they’re willing to sell out to a preposterous proposal just for the money. Now they have a chance to redeem themselves just a bit and get paid for being right at the same time. Such a deal!

The pissed off idealist in me agrees with you, Moe. But the Smithsonian is very, very public and very, very tax-funded. They’re not in a good position to buck public opinion. ID is armpit-deep in fundementalist religion, and you attack it at the risk of offending significant chunks of Red-State demography. A big controversy about this one particular area of science could seriously interfere with their mission to educate about other fields.

Anyway, one step at a time. Step one: Stop taking money from cranks in exchange for airing their ludicrous pseudoscience! Then maybe you can think about slowly working your way up to denouncing the cranks and attacking the ludicious pseudoscience.

How would Randi explain away the Jesus horses?

probably that tired old giant lizard claptrap.

sigh. This is going to be one of those posts in which I have to take a position contrary to my own personal beliefs, but this has got to be said.

The only thing I know of this whole situation is the OP and this NY Times article (reg req). The Times article reads, in part, “The Discovery Institute, a group in Seattle that supports an alternative theory, “intelligent design,” is announcing on its Web site that it and the director of the museum “are happy to announce the national premiere and private evening reception” on June 23 for the movie, “The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe.” [snip] But a museum spokesman, Randall Kremer, said the event should not be taken as support for the views expressed in the film. “It is incorrect for anyone to infer that we are somehow endorsing the video or the content of the video,” he said. The museum, he said, offers its Baird Auditorium to many organizations and corporations in return for contributions - in the case of the Discovery Institute, $16,000.”

Now, it appears to me that the Smithsonian is simply renting out theater/reception space to some organization that wants to show their supporters some silly movie. If the Smithsonian does, indeed, sometimes serve as little more than convention space, I would have a very serious problem with them turning down an event solely because it was based upon what is fundamentally a religous belief, rather than hard science. So long as the material being presented in any of these events is not blatantly offensive, purely political, or an outright celebration of a particular religion, then I don’t see how the Smithsonian is justified in turning down whatever organization for meeting space.

If this film were to be shown as part of an exhibit on natural history, so that the public would go from a diorama on geology to a exhibit on Neanderthal sociology to a film on intelligent design, I’d object in that the film cannot possibly pass scientific muster, and therefore should not be shown in a manner that would imply scientific credibility.

But to the best of my understanding, again, the Smithsonian is simply renting out a room for an invitation-only screening of a film and a reception to follow. I would find it very objectionable if Randi (I’m a huge fan of his, BTW) could buy off the Smithsonian in order to prevent a peaceful assembly in our Nation’s Capital.

Of course, I’m opposed to the Smithsonian selling out to all these corporations, from this Discovery Institute to Calvin Klein and Microsoft. But as long as they’re doing it, they ought to be fair about it and not discriminate against organizations simply because they’re a bit barmy.

I don’t have a problem with the original deal at all IF it turns out that it’s basically just a space-rental thing. HOWEVER, if the Discovery Institute is playing up the fact that this movie is being shown at the Smithsonian Institution as if the Smithsonian were sponsoring the showing, then the Smithsonian needs to speak the hell up and smack them down a bit.

Of course, the Smithsonian is an organization that, while not a government entity in itself, is very, very intertwined with government through funding, personnel and exhibit ownership. With the Administration we have, the leader of which has personally expressed sympathy for the Creationist point of view and which has undermined government scientific research throughout its tenure, I’m not surprised that they’re keeping mum. I’m still disappointed. I’m just not surprised.

No, I’m sure they didn’t want a debate. The trouble is, Randi is now seen as wanting to avoid one as well, and he’s the one at least pretending to be scientifically objective.

What he said.

If Randi and the JREF is genuinely committed to a dispassionate examination of the evidence, he sure ain’t gonna get it by trying to silence one side.

It’s bad tactics, if nothing else.

I think “there are some things we can’t even talk about” is a bad precedent to set.