Expelled Beats Sicko

Metacritic (a review aggregator) gives Michael Moore’s latest movie Sicko a 74 out of 100, while the new Expelled gets only a 20Expelled, however, is a better movie.

In Sicko, Moore shows US folks facing high prices for docs, drugs, and surgery.  Sad anxious people find that if they can’t pay, they may not be treated.  But then we see happy glad folks in England, France, and Canada getting all the medicine they want for free.  Free good, expensive bad — that is the depth of Moore’s celebrated case for universal care.

Sicko makes Expelled seem like a graduate seminar.  In Expelled, experts on many sides speak at length in their own words.  The movie makes a good case for its main claim, that intelligent design advocates are shunned by academia.  And they get opponent Richard Dawkins to admit a 1% chance of God, and a higher chance Earth life may have been designed by distant ancient higher powers.  Both these estimates justify devoting higher-than-now fractions of origin-of-life research to such possibilities.  (And I estimate betting markets would endorse >1% chances for these.)

For my taste, the movie overdid threats to a mythical "academic freedom" that supposedly made the US great, but probably never existed.  It also overdid how understanding Darwin leads people to reject God, and emboldened Nazis to brutality.  These claims are not relevant to the truth of intelligent design, but they are admittedly true and relevant to most viewers’ desire to avoid beliefs with such consequences. 

Sadly, it seems reviewers praised Sicko because they agreed with universal care, and panned Expelled because they disagreed with intelligent design.  The tug-o-war continues.

Should-be-unneeded disclaimers: There are good arguments possible for universal care, and in a betting market I’d probably be short both God and universal design.

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  • anonymous

    http://www.expelledexposed.com/index.php/the-truth

    I bet the “communist universal healthcare” affected your review of Sicko.

  • http://www.vetta.org Shane Legg

    Creationism is a myth supported by no scientific evidence what so ever. None. Universal health care is nothing of the sort: in first world countries it’s the norm. Arguments can be made against it, sure, but to implicitly compare it to a religious myth?

    You might want to look at overcoming your bias.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    The first discussion of “Expelled” in the overcomingbias space is to compare it to “Sicko”, a movie on a completely different topic that came out over a year ago? I’d love to read your own good faith meta-analysis of what motivated you to write this post, and to write it the way that you did.

  • Sam B

    Warning: Partially baseless comment coming up (I haven’t seen either movie, though I have seen Moore’s earlier movies, Columbine and Fahrenheit).

    Moore is a very talented documentary maker. Even when he’s wrong, he’s funny, and even when he’s horribly over-the-top, he’s thought-provoking. Watching him make a film about the perverse state of healthcare in the US is bound to be better than watching the religious complain about how their opinions are being shut out of science just because they’re unscientific. Moore’s claim (socialised medicine is better) is highly debatable but certainly defensible, much more so than “there’s a conspiracy against ID”.

    And I’m not sure if I’m reading your sentence correctly, but I would say that the notion that “understanding Darwin emboldened the Nazis to brutality” is not true, it is in fact complete nonsense. Coming from one side, it was a variety of factors including a ubiquitous state, anger at Germany’s post-WW1 humiliation and the tendency not to ask awkward questions about your own government during wartime that emboldened the Nazis. Coming from the other, Darwinism provides no justification for either anti-Semitism (if Jews are an inferior race, shouldn’t they have gone extinct by now after so many attempts?) or genocide (inferior species do not go extinct because a higher authority dictates they must die, they go extinct because they all get eaten or die of starvation or disease).

    To get back to the point, in my opinion, documentary films are primarily entertainment. If I want to educate myself about global warming or gun control or ID, I’ll read a book (except in the case of ID – it would be quicker to huff paint, and less damaging to my brain). Moore understands this, which is why he makes good documentaries. Sicko couples a good documentary maker with a good subject, a subject of interest to everyone who isn’t immortal. Expelled couples a bunch of strawman scluptors with a bad subject, one of no interest to anyone who isn’t a creationist. Sicko is good entertainment. Expelled is not.

    To expand on one thing there – there is a crucial difference between the debate Sicko is part of, and the debate Expelled is part of, which is why Sicko is of universal interest while Expelled is only of interest to those who agree with its makers. If I’m arguing with someone that state-delivered healthcare is best, and he retorts that private-delivered healthcare is best, we still share something in common – we want the sick to be healed. The argument is about how to reach that shared goal. If an alien spaceship suddenly landed next to us and gave us thousands of healing pods which would restore anyone to full health at trivial cost, our argument would be solved without either one of us being proved wrong. We would shake hands and walk away.

    Arguing with someone about whether an “alternative” hypotheses to evolution should be considered purely for the sake of an “alternative” is different. He wants an alternative to evolution taught in science classes, I view this as like offering poison as an alternative to food in the school canteen. There is no shared end. There is no conceivable spaceship scenario which renders our argument moot without proving either one of us wrong. This makes the argument far more bitter than the argument where we share an end and only disagree on means.

    This is why watching a documentary propounding an opinion with which you disagree with can still be worthwhile in the case of healthcare, and an exercise in masochism in the case of intelligent design study.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Shane, the topic is intelligent design, not creationism.

    Hopefully, what would be a better popular documentary to compare with? There are no other on ID, and Moore is the most popular documentary director.

  • Herman

    Robin, Intelligent Design and Creationism are pretty much the same thing. The Intelligent Design movement was started as a way to introduce creationism into the classroom without running afoul of the establishment clause.

    See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitzmiller_v._Dover_Area_School_District#Decision

    (as judge Jones ruled there: “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”)

  • http://www.vetta.org Shane Legg

    Robin: Intelligent design is creationism, albeit with a new name and catch phrase. It is so blatant that in one of the trials it was discovered that they took a book on creationism and literally did a search and replace on the text to make it a book about ID.

  • Caledonian

    Expelled, which never actually describes the differences between ID and evolution, or even explains what they are, and has Ben Stein pretending he’s never heard about the Holocaust before, is a better movie than Sicko?

    Robin Hanson, what are your religious beliefs?

  • david

    (And the IDists didn’t even do the search and replace well – anyone remember the “cdesign proponentsists”?)

  • http://liveatthewitchtrials.blogspot.com/ david curran

    >It also overdid how understanding Darwin … emboldened Nazis to brutality.

    >Moore is the most popular documentary director.

    Let us say we take Hitler as the most popular Nazi. A quick look through Mein Kamf reveals no mention of Darwin. The book does talk about evolution of races but in a way that shows no understanding of evolution of species by the means of natural selection.
    Copy of Mein Kamf http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200601.txt
    Now just because the Nazis did not reference or understand Darwinism does not mean they weren’t emboldened by it does make this less likely.

    @Caledonian
    >Robin Hanson, what are your religious beliefs?

    I do not really see how this is relevant. Could you tell me what sort of car you drive so I can decide whether to listen to you or not?

  • Herman
  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Sam, I found Expelled as entertaining as Sicko, and its topic has wide enough interest to support a movie.

    Herman and Shane, the movie consistently discussed only intelligent design. When someone claims and seems to argue for X, it is bad form to insist without strong evidence they are really arguing for Y.

    David and Sam, you’ll dismiss the Nazi-Darwin connection without even hearing the movie’s case?

  • http://rolfnelson.blogspot.com Rolf Nelson

    In general, most people would agree that ideological bias is a problem in reviews. How could the problem be ameliorated? (Assuming, of course, that you want it ameliorated; documentaries like Expelled and Sicko show that many people will even pay money to receive one-sided propaganda that confirms things they already believe.)

    One way might be to use a Metacritic-style coding to determine the correlation between an average reviewer saying “The thesis of this documentary/book is noble and just” and “This is a great documentary/book”. Then, code each review with a “bias-adjusted score” by scaling up or down the score appropriately, expecting that some of their love or hate for the documentary/book came from their regard towards the righteousness of the thesis. People probably do this informally already to some degree. Obviously this could be “gamed” by reviewers in the unlikely event it became wildly popular.

  • http://mccarthy.vg/ Jamie McCarthy

    If this is trolling or devil’s-advocacy, it’s not a very good example of the genre.

  • burger flipper and Cavalier driver

    “Both these estimates justify devoting higher-than-now fractions of origin-of-life research to such possibilities.”

    Does a 1% chance of the existence of God alone really justify any expenditure? Doesn’t the question have to be researchable? What form would this research take? Even in that 1% instance, what probability is there that the research will prove fruitful? I’d like to hear Dawkin’s take on that.

    The most realistic scenario I could imagine where such funding would be justified were if the omni-potent/scient one were just waiting to see a demonstration of good faith research spending before revealing himself.

  • Herman

    Robin, did you read the link I provided? Or at least read the quote: “The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory.”

    You contend that it is bad form to insist that ID is creationism without “strong evidence”. The evidence is not just strong, it is “overwhelming”.

  • Caledonian

    I do not really see how this is relevant.

    Because up to now, 100% of the reviews I’ve encountered who have not spoken about the incredibly dishonest arguments, use of deceptively-incomplete data, and shoddy reasoning of Expelled have been from religious apologists from its position, and I wish to see if the correlation holds.

    I’m sure Sicko is not an especially good movie, but even some people who vehemently disagreed with it had some good things to say about its presentation. No one likes Expelled – except Robin Hanson, who yet again has departed from the common wisdom, against his own stated belief that doing so is unwise. Curious.

  • http://liveatthewitchtrials.blogspot.com/ david curran

    >David and Sam, you’ll dismiss the Nazi-Darwin connection without even hearing the movie’s case?

    Without access to the film I believe analysing the Nazis original material is reasonable step. But no I will not dismiss the Nazi-Darwin connection without even hearing the movie’s case. Another analysis of the Nazi-Darwin connection is here
    http://richarddawkins.net/article,2488,An-Open-Letter-to-David-J,Richard-Dawkins

    @Caledonian thanks for the explanation.

  • http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com Stuart Buck

    The comments in response are a useful example of how human beings typically analyze someone else’s tastes by reading the signals that are supposedly intended (even if those signals are expressly disclaimed), and moreover with the impulse to categorize that person as friend or foe. Some people really do seem to think that if you say, “I thought this was a decent movie in some ways, although I disagreed with it,” you have thereby signaled that you secretly do agree with it after all (or else why would you even take a moment to identify anything good about it whatsoever?)

  • http://stuartbuck.blogspot.com Stuart Buck

    The comments in response are a useful example of how human beings typically analyze someone else’s tastes by reading the signals that are supposedly intended (even if those signals are expressly disclaimed), and moreover with the impulse to categorize that person as friend or foe. Some people really do seem to think that if you say, “I thought this was a decent movie in some ways, although I disagreed with it,” you have thereby signaled that you secretly do agree with it after all (or else why would you even take a moment to identify anything good about it whatsoever?)

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Caledonian – why take issue with my post if you won’t bother to read it? (Especially the last ten words.)

    Herman, your evidence is not about this movie. I’m reacting to this movie, not all other who speak on similar topics.

  • Herman

    Stuart, the review does not say “I thought this was a decent movie in some ways, although I disagreed with it”. Robin reviews it as a decent movie and explains that he agrees with the premises that:
    * Intelligent Design is a viable scientific theory and is being ostracized by the scientific community
    * Darwinism leads people to reject God and emboldened Nazi’s to their brutality.

  • Cyan

    Robin,

    You’ve done a limited examination of the arguments in the two movies, and concluded that Expelled‘s argument is better constructed. Fair enough — Michael Moore’s appeal to emotion and simple storytelling omit rather a lot. This doesn’t justify the statement “Expelled, however, is a better movie.” Reasonable people might agree with everything else in the post and still think that Sicko was a better movie, because there’s more to a movie than just its arguments.

  • Herman

    Robin, in your first comment, in response to Shane, you said “the topic is intelligent design, not creationism.” and thereby avoided responding to the substance of Shane’s comment. As several people have pointed out, and supported with evidence, these two are basically the same thing. If you agree with that, then why not respond to the substance of Shane’s first comment, instead of dodging it? If you do not agree, please explain why, given the evidence presented.

  • Unknown

    As Robin said, “Sadly, it seems reviewers praised Sicko because they agreed with universal care, and panned Expelled because they disagreed with intelligent design.”

    The same is true of the comments here, verifying Robin’s point.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Does a 1% chance of the existence of God alone really justify any expenditure? Doesn’t the question have to be researchable? What form would this research take?

    Well, with respect to creation/ID at least, you could look for reasons that the life we see couldn’t have evolved in the available time, or the impossibly rapid appearance of new forms in the fossil record. But I don’t think “higher-than-now fractions” of research are justified; the creation/ID faithful have been researching this for some time, with (needless to say) zero convincing results.

  • anonymous

    Unknown, the rationality, biases (or lack of) and arguments in a documentary do and should affect reviews, since for example I think Apollo moon landing conspiracy films suck because they use false arguments and unscience to present their claims. Besides, according to most reviewers Sicko is technically a lot better (it is better presented) than Expelled.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/DaveInNYC/ DaveInNYC

    Robin – how would you distinguish ID from creationism?

  • Caledonian

    I am still waiting to hear about Robin Hanson’s religious views.

  • Unknown

    Caledonian, why don’t you stop being rude?

    If you are interested in Robin’s religious views, it is easy enough to gather this from the disclaimer in this post, as well as from any number of other places.

  • Ian

    A few thousand years ago absolutely everything was god, was designed, was a creation from a higher power. And every day since the creation of god or a “designer” the human race has been figuring out more and more information that at first rain was god now christians don’t say that rain is god literally giving us rain, it is evaporation and the entire precipitation process. Settling for this is so complicated someone or thing must have made it is settling for the same crap that made people think pigs were evil because they made people sick. People just weren’t aware of bacteria and sickness from spoiled food and excrement. Creation and Intelligent Design are religious views of the worlds beginning and it needs to stay in their religious institutions and not in academia. Why not apply it to math, because since jesus turned a fish into many fish, maybe 1=100 to a creationist, this is ridiculous that in this day in age creation arguments aren’t just dismissed. Creation=Belief, SantaClaus=Belief, should we teach santa in schools too? Should we not laugh at someone arguing for the existence of santa and give them a fair shake at their ideas? Only a nation of primal morons would even entertain the idea.

  • Jen

    How can a blog whose aim is to “obtain beliefs closer to reality” support the argument that any tenuous connection between evolutionary theory and Nazism is “relevant” in evaluating evolution vs. ID/creationism?

    Other thinkers have covered this before, but briefly: an appeal to evolution for support of a genocidal agenda is a gross misreading of Darwin (not to mention modern evolutionary theory). Farmers and livestock owners have practiced “artificial selection” since the dawn of agriculture, long before Darwin; his primary advance in understanding was pointing out that *nature* also exerts selective forces.

    To claim that his evidence for such *natural selection* should somehow motivate humans to start killing each other is absurd. Anyone who uses this as an argument against evolutionary theory has succumbed to the naturalistic fallacy and the is-ought fallacy.
    See, e.g., http://www.txstate.edu/Philosophy/fallacies/isought.htm and http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/social.html

    I thought these irrational patterns of thinking were exactly the kind of thing this blog was supposed to help readers “overcome”…

    Furthermore, how can the claim that an understanding of evolution causes people to reject god be “admittedly true and relevant,” when prominent biologists like Ken Miller, Francis Collins, and Francisco Ayala stand as such stark and public counterexamples?

    Misinterpretations of evolutionary theory in support of some other agenda have no bearing whatsoever on the truth value of evolutionary theory (or ID/creationism), as you note. Ditto for any relationship that might exist between evolution and atheism.

    But then, why praise a movie that claims we should base our choice of ideas on those considerations, committing the specious fallacies described above? Expelled (which I have seen) spends the bulk of its time working to make the viewer forget that science is descriptive, not prescriptive/normative.

    I thought the main theme of “Overcoming Bias” is that we should learn to accept things that are real and true, rather than shutting our our eyes and rejecting true information because we don’t like the apparent consequences or implications. Please return to that worthwhile goal.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    I believe Hanson has stated elsewhere that he is not religious, although he once was. Caledonian really shouldn’t have had to ask, as it was evident that Robin didn’t really think the IDers were likely correct.

    the creation/ID faithful have been researching this for some time, with (needless to say) zero convincing results.
    Have they actually done any research on the subject? All the work I was aware of them doing seemed limited to the “culture war”.

  • http://www.vetta.org Shane Legg

    For those interested in just how biased (and plain out dishonest) Expelled is I would recommend the Scientific American article:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=six-things-ben-stein-doesnt-want-you-to-know

  • http://profile.typekey.com/RobinZ/ Robin Z

    If you have a couple hours at some point, Mr. Hanson, Ken Miller’s presentation on Intelligent Design is worth watching.

    Other than that, I shall remain silent, as I have seen neither movie.

  • Nick Tarleton

    TGGP: think Michael Behe, William Dembski, the Discovery Institute, or sections B-F of the Index to Creationist Claims. I’d call that (fairly stupid) research.

  • Caledonian

    And they get opponent Richard Dawkins to admit a 1% chance of God, and a higher chance Earth life may have been designed by distant ancient higher powers. Both these estimates justify devoting higher-than-now fractions of origin-of-life research to such possibilities.

    What does Darwinism have to do with origin-of-life research? The Theory of Evolution says nothing about the origins of life. It is not at all incompatible with the possibility that Earth life developed from the designs of intelligent entities.

  • Sam B

    “David and Sam, you’ll dismiss the Nazi-Darwin connection without even hearing the movie’s case?”

    I believe that the chance of Darinwism having anything to do with Nazism is sufficiently low, that the certainty of wasting two hours of my life watching Expelled is not worth the tiny chance of gaining any utility from realising, courtesy of the movie and the movie alone, that it actually is.

    Luckily of course, I don’t need to spend two hours. A minute with Wikipedia tells me that the movie’s “case” consisted of one of the worst selective quotation jobs I’ve ever seen in my short life.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expelled:_No_Intelligence_Allowed#Charles_Darwin_quotation_issue

    About 50% of the quote was cut from the inside, plus some important stuff at the end. By this standard I can quote you, Robin, as saying:

    “For my taste, the movie probably never existed. It also overdid how understanding Darwin leads people to reject brutality. These claims are not relevant. They are admittedly true to most viewers’ desire to avoid consequences.”

  • Tom P

    Robin, I’d be interested to know how you differentiate your degree of belief in a proposition (God) and your estimate of the price a prediction market would put on it. Aren’t you implicitly opening yourself to arbitrage by having different numbers here?

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Cyan said: You’ve done a limited examination of the arguments in the two movies, and concluded that Expelled’s argument is better constructed. Fair enough — Michael Moore’s appeal to emotion and simple storytelling omit rather a lot. This doesn’t justify the statement “Expelled, however, is a better movie.” Reasonable people might agree with everything else in the post and still think that Sicko was a better movie, because there’s more to a movie than just its arguments.

    Seconded. And while I’ve seen neither movie, it doesn’t follow that Expelled’s argument must be better constructed, because experts speak in their own words; I believe Dawkins has claimed hatchet-quote-remix of his own interview. Sicko, from your perspective, may convey no more information than “individual patients pay less at the office in other countries, and I’m not telling you anything about other costs”. Fine; this is bad. But it is possible to do worse than emptiness if you remix soundbites from many apparent experts. In short, there is such a thing as anti-knowledge.

    Perhaps this come down to, “I wish Sicko had quoted experts the way Expelled pretends to?” or “At least Expelled is pretending to the standard forms of debate rather than neglecting them entirely.”

  • poke

    david curran,

    Could you tell me what sort of car you drive so I can decide whether to listen to you or not?

    I drive an invisible car that loves me. Still think I’m worth listening to?

  • http://metaandmeta.typepad.com Anonymous

    I’m with Stuart Buck on this. Robin stipulates that both films are propaganda pieces, and grants that the thesis of Moore’s film is highly more probable than that of Stein’s. The merits of the competing claims aren’t even in issue.

    As far as evaluating the films themselves qua films, though, I sure wouldn’t have thought that “seeming like a graduate seminar” made for a “better movie”!

  • http://liveatthewitchtrials.blogspot.com/ david curran

    poke
    >I drive an invisible car that loves me. Still think I’m worth listening to?

    Cool can I buy it off you for some magic beans? If you are implying that anyone who has an imaginary friend called “God” is not worth listening to that would seem pretty harsh. You would have to ignore every film star but Keanu Reeves, almost every politician and almost all the worlds population.

    Cars are different from religions in that no one expects you to believe in them.
    “Most witches don’t believe in gods. They know that the gods exist, of course. They even deal with them occasionally. But they don’t believe in them. They know them too well. It would be like believing in the postman.”
    — Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad

  • http://www.saunalahti.fi/~tspro1/ Kaj Sotala

    I get the feeling most commenters are missing the point, here.

    Whether ID or creationism or whatever is a good idea to support, or even remotely believable, is irrelevant to Robin’s post. Arguably, so is the intellectual honesty of Expelled’s makers. We’re not talking about any of that – we’re talking about whether the structure and presentation of either movie’s arguments were good. I haven’t seen Sicko (nor Expelled, for that matter), but I did see Bowling for Columbine. A large part of the arguments presented there were misleading or outright lies. Yet I consider it a good movie, because the presentation was convincing and entertaining. Same principle here – the movie might be good even if the content was garbage, but apparently many reviewers are attacking it on the content alone.

  • Z. M. Davis

    Caledonian wrote: “[…] Robin Hanson, who yet again has departed from the common wisdom, against his own stated belief that doing so is unwise. Curious.”

    I’d like to second that this really is a curious phenomenon.

  • Paul Gowder

    Robin, here’s a thought experiment.

    Suppose I write two books. One book is 70% bad arguments in support of a proposition that has a .5 probability of being true. The second is 50% bad arguments in support of a proposition that has a .01 probability of being true. On what basis would we compare the two books?

    If we’re comparing mere badness of argument, we’d evaluate the first book as worse. But if we’re comparing, e.g., overall injury to the truth, disposition of the author to produce cynical propaganda, etc., we’d probably evaluate the second book as worse.

  • http://fac-staff.seattleu.edu/dohertyd Davis

    It also overdid how understanding Darwin leads people to reject God, and emboldened Nazis to brutality. These claims are not relevant to the truth of intelligent design, but they are admittedly true…

    If Darwinism was a motivator for the Nazis, then why were books on Darwinism banned under the Nazis? This claim is actually rather contentious, and it’s unfortunate that you’re willing to grant it.

  • Caledonian

    Perhaps the problem here is that Robin Hanson has radically different criteria for judging movies than most people.

    Robin, can you offer us some examples of films you thought were excellent? What about films you hated?

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Davis, were you referring to the following quote?

    Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism (Häckel)

    That seems to be specifying a certain kind of Darwinism, rather than the whole thing, somewhat like Lysenko’s attack on “Mendel-Morganism”.

  • http://fac-staff.seattleu.edu/dohertyd Davis

    TGGP,

    That was indeed the quote; and the more I read it, the more it’s unclear to me whether this is a rejection of certain kinds of Darwinism, or simply an insult leveled against Darwinism within the text of the law. The previous section, stating

    All historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk

    lends some support to an overall distaste for Darwin’s work (since it would claim the Volk are related to the lower races). I’d be interested in some clarification on this point.

  • http://pownce.com/manuelg/ manuelg

    This was a particularly humiliating post for Robin Hanson, but I do appreciate how quickly the commenters got to the heart of the matter.

    Evidence strongly suggesting the vacuous differences between creationism and intelligent design:

    Posted by: Shane Legg | May 07, 2008 at 08:24 AM
    Posted by: david | May 07, 2008 at 08:36 AM

    The peculiar, controversial claims made in the body of the post:

    Posted by: Herman | May 07, 2008 at 09:28 AM

    Evidence against the peculiar, controversial claim that Darwinism could have a causal link to the Holocaust:

    Posted by: Sam B | May 07, 2008 at 07:44 AM
    Posted by: Davis | May 07, 2008 at 01:19 PM

    Lastly, Robin Hanson takes a singular, outlying opinion, against his own oft repeated advice:

    Posted by: Z. M. Davis | May 07, 2008 at 12:49 PM
    Posted by: Caledonian | May 07, 2008 at 09:09 AM
    Posted by: Shane Legg | May 07, 2008 at 10:31 AM

    The whole episode has Robin Hanson acting in a bizarre manner, I am trying to construct a model that is consistent with the behavior. The best I can come up with is that “Darwinists” tend to be secular humanist who tend to be environmentalists and skeptics of free market health care who tend to favor government intervention. And unfitness is thus demonstrated.

    (What the hell does the word “Darwinist” even mean? I apply my car breaks at every stop sign; does that make me a “Newtonist”?)

    Is there more to this than just a chain of “cognitive cooties” linking “Darwinists” to those who tend to favor government intervention?

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    All, yes I am more fond of graduate seminars than the average viewer, and I evaluate movies according to my standards. I have no problem respecting arguments for unlikely conclusions, even if I am not ultimately persuaded, as long as I know those conclusions were ex ante unlikely.

    I’ve conferred with a local history expert, who confirms that yes it seems that Darwin influenced the eugenics folks who influenced the Nazis. This is not to say this was the main or only influence, or that Nazi brutality is anything like a direct logical implication of Darwinian theory. But had that theory not arrived for another century, more likely than not Nazis would have perceived less support for their actions.

    Eliezer, the Dawkins excerpts didn’t seem unfairly edited to me. I also know Steve Fuller who was quoted, and his excerpts also seemed fair to me.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    manuelg, you really seem to be stretching things. Hanson’s issue with health-care isn’t government provision: it’s that it’s just plain ineffective (people made a similar assumption about Eliezer’s take on education, even though he went to Hebrew school). In his Cato Unbound lead essay he explicitly rejects both the right-wing/libertarian/free-market view and the liberal/progressive one.

    I’ll dissent with Robin on the link between Darwinism and Nazism: if Darwinism had not come about for another century the nature of Nazism would have been different and I have no reason to believe that other form would receive less support in its own environment. Nazism was very much a product of its time and place.

  • Caledonian

    As has been previously noted, humans had known for a long time that animals could be bred in specific ways, and the Spartans had attempted a crude sort of eugenics by eliminating children they thought incapable of performing their civic duties.

    If Darwin, by pointing out that humans were simply another type of animal, made it psychologically possible for that sort of thinking to begin again, that is hardly a mark against his scientific work. What is true, is.

    Shall we blame Galileo for undermining the authority of the Church in the eyes of men, too?

  • Nick Tarleton

    I’ll third Caledonian: Robin Hanson [has] yet again departed from the common wisdom, against his own stated belief that doing so is unwise. Curious.

  • Constant

    If Darwin, by pointing out that humans were simply another type of animal, made it psychologically possible for that sort of thinking to begin again, that is hardly a mark against his scientific work.

    Yes, and this agrees with what Robin said, here: These claims are not relevant to the truth of intelligent design

    Robin Hanson [has] yet again departed from the common wisdom, against his own stated belief that doing so is unwise. Curious.

    Robin has stated his criteria. It has become evident that others use different criteria. As long as we keep in view the difference in the criteria, there is no genuine disagreement in evidence.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    A couple of comments on “going against the common opinion”: First, Robin has also argued that a sensible policy is to internally believe the common opinion, while continuing to advocate positions one might have held if he did not adopt the majority view. In this way society benefits from a vigorous airing of all perspectives, while each individual still gains the advantages of plausible beliefs. His advocacy of an unpopular view would be consistent with this policy. Second, this Metacritic aggregation only reflects (I gather) critics, while the opinions of the general public would arguable be more important to copy. My sense is that the average American would be more favorably disposed towards Expelled than Sicko, compared to these critics. given the large population of religious, traditional heartland subcultures.

  • Caledonian

    So, just to make sure I have this straight: Hanson’s strategy is to be a hypocrite AND a conformist at the same time?

    How very remarkable. Somewhat tiresome for those of us who make an effort to be sincere, of course, and it would lead people to not take one’s beliefs seriously as they’re likely to be nothing but playacting that conceals the actual beliefs, but remarkable nonetheless.

  • Z. M. Davis

    Maybe in this particular case, Constant, but this is a long-standing problem. Back in March, TGGP wrote: “It’s kind of ironic to find majoritarianism promoted on a blog whose contributors have such ‘eccentric’ opinions, even relative to an educated and intelligent group like academics. I suppose it might be the case that you’d be even more eccentric if you weren’t adjusting your beliefs to be closer to the average.”

    –which I find hard to imagine. If you’re really, seriously putting so much epistemic weight on the opinions of others, how on Earth do you end up believing in mangled worlds, or that marginal medical spending is worthless, &c.? (Although also of course note the “Distinguish Info […]” post that Hal links to. Still …)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/halfinney Hal Finney

    As far as Intelligent Design, I don’t know exactly what that term means, or what position is being advocated in the movie. The Wikipedia page on ID seems to gloss over one place where I would find the concept somewhat plausible: as an explanation for the origin of life on earth. This is a topic which is quite a puzzle and for which there are no really good models so far. Hoyle’s old idea of Panspermia postulates that seeds of life fell to earth from outer space, with some variants suggesting that they were sent into outer space by alien technology. In that sense, earthly life and its potential for evolution may have been intelligently designed, potentially by beings who had a very different nature.

    One might also consider Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Argument which raises the possibility that we are living in a computer simulation similar to that presented in The Matrix. If we were to accept that as a significant possibility, it might be said to represent a case of Intelligent Design – especially if our simulated reality is substantially fictional and an invention of the simulation operators.

    So by this particular reading of the term, dispensing with the religious baggage, ID can be seen as consistent with our current scientific understanding, and is not completely implausible as a potential causative factor in the world we live in. However I doubt that this variant of ID is what is being pushed either by the movie or by its major advocates.

  • Psychohistorian

    RH – Isn’t there an easy way to determine which is the better movie? Given that there’s a direct financial market, wouldn’t it follow that the film that grosses higher is the better movie?

    I’m sure that a prediction market could be set up to answer the question, and I’m fairly confident that any such setup would overwhelmingly favor Moore’s movie.

    Not to mention that metacritic is itself an amalgamation of many viewpoints. So, under RH’s theory that if you disagree with the masses, you’re probably wrong, shouldn’t he not have this view?

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Ben Stein graduated 1st in his class from Yale law school, in my understanding, and the breadth of his knowledge/intellect was evident from Win Ben Stein’s Money, where unlike Alex Trebek, he’d face off against each finalist from his Jeopardy game show, and much more often than not, beat them.

    It’s interesting that he’s behind Expelled, because he seems to be too smart and too knowledgeable to not have a grasp either of the strengths of the evidence for evolution, or for the weaknesses of creationism/intelligent design as a theory.

    I’d be curious to know exactly what his strategy was for going into doing this film, besides a perhaps rational attempt to find a suitable way to earn Mel Gibson amounts of money with the right movie: one that provides the right amount of controversey and perhaps motivates the same population (christians who feel persecuted by secular society?) to redistribute their money to him through movie ticket and DVD purchases.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    John Derbyshire (a bright guy himself, at least when it comes to math) echoes HA on Ben Stein here.

    Hal Finney is the only blogger here who seems to take majoritarianism seriously. Robin Hanson talks about majoritarianism, but I’ve never gotten much indication that he practices it.

  • http://www.iphonefreak.com frelkins

    @Caledonian:

    Not that it’s necessary but I will address your question: Robin Hanson publicly (on Facebook) lists himself as agnostic. As for other movies he likes, he has stated he enjoyed the recent movie Once.

    If I may be so bold, I’ve found in my experience that when Robin says something which seems completely off-the-wall, this is the best time to ask him “What is the train of thought that you’ve been driving here?” And then I suggest you listen — really listen — to his answer. You might not like it, but I can vouch that *the process* of Robin’s thinking alone is worthwhile.

  • Jason R

    Robin, can you clarify whether you are saying you liked Expelled or not?

    I’d have assumed that you actually didn’t and that you were taking the opportunity to emphasize your disapproval of Sicko by taking advantage of the fact that you know that Expelled would pretty much bottom out the disgust meter of most readers of this blog.

    Both movies are pure propaganda pieces, neither gains any merit on the strength of its arguments.

  • http://lightskyland.com Matthew C.

    Folks,

    Many Intelligent Design proponents accept an ancient earth, evolution, and common descent of life. Their primary disagreement with the standard evolutionary theory is that they do not accept that all biological change is driven through blind, unconscious processes of random mutations and differential reproductive success. Instead they posit some kind of unknown, creative and “intelligent” process that can help direct these changes. Michael Behe is an example of a well known ID proponent who holds to this view.

    Creationists all believe in a young earth and individual “creation” of all species separately when the world was created, ex nihilo, somewhere around 10,000 years ago, based on fundamentalist biblical Christianity. They do not accept common descent of humans and other animals.

    The fact that the intelligent design political movement seeking to have ID taught in public schools descended from the creationist political movement does not mean that all intelligent design proponents are creationists.

  • Caledonian

    Robin Hanson publicly (on Facebook) lists himself as agnostic.

    Yes, but he also claims that people should go along with the masses, and pretend to hold whatever position would be held without using the masses as evidence.

    He claims to be agnostic. What are the chances that, in accordance with his claimed principles, he’s actually some kind of theist like the majority of people, and in accordance with his claimed principles, he misrepresents his belief?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/RobinZ Robin Z

    Matthew C., you may wish to watch Ken Miller’s presentation on Intelligent Design as well. In the general parlance, ID is distinct from theistic evolution in important ways, said ways including the thesis that certain biological components could not have evolved. Dr. Miller provides good evidence that this thesis is simply false.

  • Silas

    H/A: It’s interesting that he’s behind Expelled, because he seems to be too smart and too knowledgeable to not have a grasp either of the strengths of the evidence for evolution, or for the weaknesses of creationism/intelligent design as a theory.

    I can’t access youtube from here, but user:UbuntuMacDupe on that site has a video expanding on this point.

  • Doug S.

    A better movie to compare for Expelled would be Triumph of the Will, the wonderfully made Nazi propaganda film.

    Expelled is not a documentary. It’s a propaganda film intended to promote hatred of scientists and atheists.

  • Rob

    Thank you all for such insightful and cool headed comments on this blood boiling narrow minded blog. Overcoming Bias LOL
    It is really frustrating we still to have to debate childish superstition, evolution vs. biblical creationism/ID in the 21st century

  • eric falkenstein

    I think the scientific issues raised by ID are legitimate if focused in the following way. Take a mechanism like the bacteria flagellum, or the immune system, which Behe argues is improbable based on only evolution. The ID argument is basically that evolutionists are basically saying that a hurricane went through a junkyard and created a fully functional 747. The evolutionists counterargument is like saying that given many years, and an editor (natural selection), a bunch of monkeys will produce the complete works of Shakespeare. The legitimate question is, given the path dependent mechanism of evolution, what is the ex ante probability that the bacteria flagellum would arise? If the number is like 1 in a google, it is likely it was designed. If the number is more like 1 in a hundred trillion, then given the number of planets and years, this is possible. These are both big numbers, but the ID people are basically saying the odds are too great, the evolutionists saying they are large but given the anthropic principle evolution is highly likely to be sufficient.

    I think the argument should be focused on examining the true probabilities given the mutations that had to occur, in what order, acknowledging that various sub-steps had intermediate functionality that is no longer present. The basic evolutionary argument of Ken Miller is to point out that various components of the bacteria flagellum have sets of proteins that are homologous to proteins that have other uses. A good reference for this is http://www.talkdesign.org/faqs/flagellum.html But I think the probabilities are not summed very well, the evolutionists merely say there’s a way, and so, given the anthropic principle, it must have happened.

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com/ The Uncredible Hallq

    >In Expelled, experts on many sides speak at length in their own words.

    When did this happen? I was put off by how quickly they shifted between interviewees, the only substantial argument for intelligent design I could see was based on the misrepresentation that everyone agrees life would have had to begin with a single cell, when most scientists are thinking simple self-replicators.

    >And they get opponent Richard Dawkins to admit a 1% chance of God, and a higher chance Earth life may have been designed by distant ancient higher powers.

    Maybe this doesn’t look good if you really think about it, but for people who aren’t probability & statistics nerds “%1 chance” just means “really small chance.” Dawkins himself said it was hard to put a number on, and Stein made himself look like a fool insisting on getting a number after Dawkins said that.

    >For my taste, the movie overdid threats to a mythical “academic freedom” that supposedly made the US great, but probably never existed.

    What do you mean by “mythical academic freedom”? It’s undeniably true that U.S. universities have policies that give academics considerable autonomy in some ways, emphasis on some. Their star case for the supposed assault on academic freedom was a guy who’s publishing record dried up when he got into pseudoscience. It looked bad if you don’t know anything about the issue, but you could stand to be a little more skeptical here.

    >It also overdid how understanding Darwin leads people to reject God, and emboldened Nazis to brutality. These claims are not relevant to the truth of intelligent design, but they are admittedly true and relevant to most viewers’ desire to avoid beliefs with such consequences.

    Am I the only one here who’s read Plato? He was talking totalitarianism and eugenics two millennia before Darwin. Darwin was, at best, occasionally referenced in Nazi propaganda as in the modern world science is always worth shoehorning into propaganda if you can, but it doesn’t mean anything.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Hallq, nice to finally see a comment from someone who saw at least one of the movies compared. Sure interviewee clips could have been longer, but if you’d seen Sicko, you’d admit Excelled was far fairer. I saw nothing wrong with insisting on a number – we do that to lunch guests all the time. On freedom, sure there are official policies, but they are symbolic and largely unenforced.

  • http://unintelligencedispelled.blogspot.com NP

    If intelligent design wants to make a case for itself, the movement needs to start producing scientific data and testable hypotheses, not B-movies and popular books that pander to credulous creationists.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/tim_tyler Tim Tyler

    IMO, about the best thing to come out of the “Expelled” fiasco was:

    “Richard Dawkins – Beware the Believers”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaGgpGLxLQw

  • burger flipper

    “And they get opponent Richard Dawkins to admit a 1% chance of God”

    Actually walked into this after a double feature today. Probably missed the first half hour, but stayed for the remainder. The film is pretty transparent, as was Sicko. Evidence consists of such things as having two seperate ID experts say that when evolutionary biologists are drinking they admit to problems with evolution.

    And while Dawkins does not come off well, Hanson isn’t being fully forthcoming in the sentence quoted above. Stein asks Dawkins to rate the percentage chance that there is no god. Dawkins says he cannot put a number on it. Stein presses again and Dawkins (very hesitantly) offers 99, but also asserts two more times that it is not something he can really put a number on. Stein then says why not 97 and then it devolves into a question of whether it is a long way from 50/50.

    It was an interesting experience. I’m an Okie and the theater was over 1/3 full. The audience was very receptive (similar to that for Sicko), but I really did enjoy Redbelt much more.

  • http://www.mnuez.blogspot.com mnuez

    Uh, didn’t see ‘Expelled’ but love how Robin can’t let go of ‘Sicko’. Pretty funny stuff. I gotta say I’m impressed with the quality of the comments though. Last I visited these parts people were afraid to take Robin on (possibly on account of his Overcoming Bias through censorship of critical comments) and most of what we heard in response to his “the rich are always right!” cries was the “whoosh!” of his bowing lemming fans. It’s nice to see that the quality of commentors has improved… or is it just a temporary malfunction in Overcoming Bias’s CensorBot 3000?

    mnuez

  • http://econoblag.blogspot.com/ Daniel Reeves

    By the arguments made for both sides (U.S. needs universal health care, I.D. supporters are basically shunned and there’s still room to debate I.D.), Expelled is marginally better than SiCKO once you factor in how misleading SiCKO. (Cuba? Decent health care? No preferential treatment? Really?!) And that’s especially disappointing considering how many more valid arguments he could have used. However, Moore is an amusing and admittedly talented documentary maker. Expelled is just poorly made and isn’t nearly as entertaining. But I didn’t personally pay to see Expelled, so that only cost me time.

    Is Hanson biased?

  • http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/05/quality_health.html EconLog

    Quality Health Care for Peanuts: How Singapore Does It

    If Michael Moore really wanted to challenge our preconceptions about health care, Sicko would have been a documentary about health…

  • Liza

    The point is not to say that ID is true, or that evolution is false, all they want is for it to be debatable.
    Not have evolution taught in schools as 100% FACT when it is still nothing more than a THEORY.
    And there’s not a lot of legitimate evidence for evolution either. Everything they decide is “proof” gets proven as something else later. Anyone remember Lucy? Or how about great grandpa Coelacanth?
    The bottom line is evolutionist will believe in absolutely anything so long as they don’t have to believe in “god”.
    Fine, believe what you want, but stop teaching our kids that the world is billions of years old and their relatives consist of monkeys and fish.

  • Albert

    Ok there may be good arguments possible about Universal Healthcare but would you be long or short in a market on it? Your disclaimer failed to state your personal position on it.