The Discovery Institute fact checks Flock of Dodos

Recently, I posted my review of “Flock of Dodos: the intelligent design – evolution circus” by Randy Olsen. It appears that the Discovery Institute took exception to the theme of the movie. Several posts were written, and even a website was created to discredit the movie. A quote taken from the this post summarizes their feelings:

Randy Olson presented fiction as fact in his anti-ID documentary Flock of Dodos. But rather than apologize for his film’s repeated bloopers and misrepresentations …

Repeated bloopers and misrepresentations? I have been scouring the Discovery Institute’s blogs to find all their criticisms of “Flock of Dodos.” I have only been able to find two realcriticisms: the Haekel drawings in textbooks and the Discovery Institute’s budget. You would have thought that in a movie that runs nearly an hour and a half, they could have found more “repeated bloopers and misrepresentations.”  The film has quite a few tidbits of information that support evolution and/or discredit intelligent design. I don’t see any complaints about the poorly designed digestive system of herbivores or weak heart architecture. There is no talk of the vestigial pelvises of whales that was shown in the film.  I guess the Discovery Institute is too busy focusing on segments of the show that totaled all of maybe 5 mins.  Since the criticisms largely focus on Haekel drawings and the budget issues, I will focus on them.

First, let me say this, I don’t think it matters too much to the modern theory of evolution that Haekel faked his drawings. If you look at real micrographs of developing embryos, you see a surprising amount of similarity. Look here and here. The idea is that there is a conserved genetic blueprint that is followed to varying extent in animals, not evolution recurring during embryogenesis as Haekel believed. Not the strongest support for evolution, but it is line with the existing theory. If animals were designed, wouldn’t it make sense that they would look as different during development as they do when they are fully grown?

Second, Olson did not say that you would not ever find any references to Haeckel’s drawings. He said that they have been largely removed and when they are present is in the context of history. From this  post by John West:

But it turns out that Olson is the one who is promoting a fraud. The diagrams in question were unquestionably used in modern textbooks, and Olson himself knows that fact.

Here is the what Olsen said during the movie:

No, you don’t find it, there’s no trace other than a mention that once upon a time Haeckel came up with this idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny

So in fact, Olsen did not say that you will never find them. An IDer taking an evolutionist’s words out of context, what a huge surprise!  I looked at my own biology textbooks and I did find the drawings in one of the four that I own.  So the textbooks are not perfect, but I don’t think this is the first time t have provided inaccurate information

Did Olsen exaggerate the budget of the Discovery Institute? Yes, but not by much.  Certainly not as big of a deal as the Discovery Institute believes.  Olsen said “around 5 million” and the Discovery Institute says $4.2 million.  I personally believe that 4.2 is around 5 million.  If someone asked you about how much something that costs $4.20, would you feel that you were lying if you said 5 bucks?  The Discovery Institute goes on to say that they really only spend one million on intelligent design activities, but Olsen only referred to their total budget.  They even produced a nice little graph, which I have altered below to be more accurate to the movie.  For my own peace of mind, I looked up what the Discovery Institute’s reported income for 2006 and it was 4,165,847, or about 5 million.


Other criticisms from the Discovery Institute are that Olsen misrepresented the “Wedge document”, he exaggerated the Discovery Institute’s involvement in the Dover trial, and why he was not ever granted an interview with a Discovery Institute fellow.  My personal opinion is that if they had such a problem with the content of the movie, they would have done something like the Expelled Exposed website.


Flock of Dodos: The Intelligent Design – Evolution Circus

Randy OlsenAfter waiting patiently for it to reach the top of my Netflix cue, I recently watched Randy Olsen’s “Flock of Dodos”.  Although I haven’t seen Expelled yet, I believe “Flock of Dodos” is its antithesis.  Randy Olsen, PhD is a trained marine biologist and former tenured professor, while Ben Stein was a political speech writer and professor of law.  Right from the start, you can see that one side is treating the evolution/intelligent design debate coming from the side of science and the other from the side of politics. Presumably, Stein would say that his film comes from an outsiders perspective so he is able to present an unbiased opinion. 


Olsen does a good job giving both sides of the debate their fair share of time.  He even interviews Michael Behe, one of the superstars of Intelligent Design, and lets him speak freely.  Of course the pro-evolution proponents are plentiful.  He even brings together a group of evolutionary biologists to play poker and discuss Intelligent Design.  He also covers much of the Kansas school board debacle and the Dover, PA trial. 


The movie has a light and cheerful feel, which was obviously intentional yet appreciated. So many documentaries, even highly acclaimed ones, are outright boring. Olsen achieves this feeling by sprinkling in amusing cartoons, colorful anecdotes, and of course lightly mocking people.  He even introduces us to his mother, Muffy Moose, who appears that she needs a movie or two of her own.  The “dodos” Olsen is referring to are not just Intelligent Design proponents.  He makes a point to say that the scientists who do not combat attacks evolutionary theory are as much dodos as anyone.


One of the things that I really appreciated about the movie was the way that Olson made fun of the idea of Intelligent Design. In particular, he and his interviewees mockhow badly some things were designed. The worst example of intelligent design (or the best example of unintelligent design) was digestive system of rabbits. Apparently, rabbits have their fermentation organ (where the complex plant material is digested) at the very end of their digestive system. In order for the rabbits to fully digest a meal, it has to eat its own poop. Behold: Intelligent! Design!


Olson makes the comment during the movie that when scientists try to share their side of the story, they are talking above the general audience. Not completely their fault as most have been working in their area of expertise most of their lives, and therefore they have a hard time bringing the conversation to a lower level. However, I think the problem is even worse than Olson believes. The target audience of the documentary was you average person, but one of the people who watched the documentary with me was a little lost. After all, she said she stopped learning about biology during “leaf collecting.” This leads me to believe that our educations system may be lacking, but that is a subject of another post.


My general feeling after finishing the movie, is that there is a war of ideas, where the two sides are playing by different rules.  The evolutionists are using facts and evidence, while Intelligent Design proponents are using catch phrases and religious appeal.  Intelligent design proponents are not evil or malicious (for the most part). In fact, most in the movie came across as being honest, caring, and kind-hearted. These attributes could be part of the problem because they are a little too nice, a little too naive, and a lot too trusting.


So for those of you interested in the Evolution / Intelligent Design debate, I recommend that you see this movie.