Sunday, March 20, 2005

Undoing the enlightenment: the attack on the science musuems

The New York Times > National > A New Screen Test for Imax: It's the Bible vs. the Volcano (3/19/05)

The Enlightenment is being undone one science museum at a time (see excerpts below, emphases mine). The "Intelligent Design" team are doubtless "shocked, shocked" that their assaults on evolution are part of a larger attack on all of the "origins sciences". The Gates Foundation should be pleased with how well their money is being used.

This attack will work on science museums the same way it has worked on textbook publishers. An attack that denies 10% of a market is more than sufficient to bias future product production. Commercial IMAX theaters are the most vulnerable to attack, then southern science museums. If both of those are picked off then "origins sciences" will disappear from IMAX productions.

We need the Guardians of the Enlightenment to awaken. If I were a member of the Fort Worth science museum I'd be calling for an urgent meeting of the museum board -- and I'd be considering terminating any museum membership. In a more positive light perhaps science museums that actually teach and support science could create an international support network so that the strong (Boston, London, Toronto) could support the weak (Fort Worth, Texas). As a past Guardian once said: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
Several Imax theaters, including some in science museums, are refusing to show movies that mention the subject - or the Big Bang or the geology of the earth - fearing protests from people who object to films that contradict biblical descriptions of the origin of Earth and its creatures.

The number of theaters rejecting such films is small, people in the industry say - perhaps a dozen or fewer, most in the South. But because only a few dozen Imax theaters routinely show science documentaries, the decisions of a few can have a big impact on a film's bottom line - or a producer's decision to make a documentary in the first place.

People who follow trends at commercial and institutional Imax theaters say that in recent years, religious controversy has adversely affected the distribution of a number of films, including "Cosmic Voyage," which depicts the universe in dimensions running from the scale of subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies; "Galápagos," about the islands where Darwin theorized about evolution; and "Volcanoes of the Deep Sea," an underwater epic about the bizarre creatures that flourish in the hot, sulfurous emanations from vents in the ocean floor.

"Volcanoes," released in 2003 and sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and Rutgers University, has been turned down at about a dozen science centers, mostly in the South, said Dr. Richard Lutz, the Rutgers oceanographer who was chief scientist for the film. He said theater officials rejected the film because of its brief references to evolution, in particular to the possibility that life on Earth originated at the undersea vents.

Carol Murray, director of marketing for the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, said the museum decided not to offer the movie after showing it to a sample audience, a practice often followed by managers of Imax theaters. Ms. Murray said 137 people participated in the survey, and while some thought it was well done, "some people said it was blasphemous."

In their written comments, she explained, they made statements like "I really hate it when the theory of evolution is presented as fact," or "I don't agree with their presentation of human existence."

.... Hyman Field, who as a science foundation official had a role in the financing of "Volcanoes," said he understood that theaters must be responsive to their audiences. But Dr. Field he said he was "furious" that a science museum would decide not to show a scientifically accurate documentary like "Volcanoes" because it mentioned evolution.

... Mr. Cameron said he was "surprised and somewhat offended" that people were sensitive to the references to evolution in "Volcanoes."

"It seems to be a new phenomenon," he said, "obviously symptomatic of our shift away from empiricism in science to faith-based science."

... Large-format science documentaries "are generally not big moneymakers," said Joe DeAmicis, vice president for marketing at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and formerly the director of its Imax theater. "It's going to be hard for our filmmakers to continue to make unfettered documentaries when they know going in that 10 percent of the market" will reject them.
Guardians of the Enlightenment Awake -- your fields are afire ...

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