Movie Reviews: Flock of Dodos

We sat down and watched Flock of Dodos recently and we recommend this movie. It’s a documentary about the American culture war to teach creationism and creationism’s cousin, intelligent design, as basic science, on a par with the science regarding Darwin’s thoughts on natural selection and the origin of species.

It’s a film by an evolutionary biologist, so it definitely leans toward respect for the scientific method and that does not bode well for the creationists, but the filmmaker expended a fair amount of effort making the point that the scientists are wonderfully inept at conveying the science.

In the end it becomes clear that there are dodos on both sides of the argument. The creationists are hoping to hang on to the notion that there is a controversy about natural selection and the origin of species despite the scientific record and the evolutionary scientists sputter, pontificate, talk over each other in a way that makes it painfully clear that the scientists wouldn’t know a talking point if it evolved or was created right in front of them.

The even-handed and friendly approach of the film-maker made all of the characters on both sides of the controversy seem likable. The message of the film could teach both sides to bring a little more rigor to the public presentation. The creationists might want to base their presentation on facts, they might be better served not to say that a discredited scientific set of plates known as Haeckel’s Embryology are showing up in every textbook and being taught every day unless they can find a textbook in use today that actually presents Haeckel’s work as useful in understanding biology.

And the evolutionary scientists might want to take a simple communication class or two from time to time so that they can figure out how to present their science in simple language when the situation calls for that.

I think that’s a hard one for the scientists because the interesting areas of science are the areas of controversy, the cutting edge of knowledge, the work where things are not certain and when enthusiastic scientists talk about their work, they usually talk about the stuff they are working on right now, largely settled areas of science are not attracting large numbers of publication submissions.

Darwin was not anxious to publish his thoughts and science on natural selection and the origin of species. He understood that the science would be challenging the creation story in much the same way that early astronomers got in trouble when their observation indicated that the earth orbited the sun and not the other way around. That argument appears to be generally settled these days and the settlement of the astronomical “controversy” suggests that someday there may no longer be a need for an assault on the sciences based on Darwin’s work and the body of science that has followed Darwin’s publication regarding natural selection and the origin of the species, but we are clearly not there yet.

I hope this film will be shown in basic high school science classes as a lesson in the need to present facts accurately and also as a lesson that scientists need to remember to step back from their cutting edge work when the occasion calls for it and to communicate clearly about science and the scientific method.