Seeing Ben Stein's Hollywood screening of his new documentary, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" provided an eye-opening look into how far American science has veered from its commitment to freedom of inquiry and of speech.
The documentary opens Friday in select theaters nationally. Find a theater in your area and see this challenging film.
If that film wasn't unsettling enough, watching Leslie Stahl give a 14-minute endorsement to Al Gore's global-warming message on "60 Minutes" provided yet another look into the annoying arrogance of scientific orthodoxy. How embarrassing to watch the once-hard-hitting show provide softball after softball to the former vice president.
When asked about those who disagreed with his views, Gore minimized the "few" whose "silly political games" aren't to be taken seriously. He likened the dissenters to ancient flat-earth defenders.
When Stahl countered that many pretty impressive people disagree, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Gore and millions of liberal viewers were given their opportunity to laugh. Stahl could have pointed to Richard Lindzen, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist, or any of the 19,000 scientists who believe the "inconvenient truth" that global warming is probably natural and not a crisis. She also could have asked why Gore has not appeared with any scientists who have willingly offered to debate the issue.
Although Stein's documentary looks at the treatment of scientists studying intelligent design, the movie's main target is "science" as practiced in the "politically correct" American universities and supported by our government agencies.
Stein, using both his intellect and quick-witted humor, interviews scientists who consider any mention of ID as a "science sin" against St. Charles Darwin, worthy of forced banishment from the scientific community. By challenging the status quo, you risk being punished. Many have paid a price for even questioning orthodoxy.
Dr. Richard Von Sternberg lost his editorial role with a Smithsonian Institution journal for including a peer-reviewed research article by Stephen Meyer that dared support intelligent design. Meyer shared the comment of a wise mentor: "As a scientist, beware of the sound of one hand clapping."
Science is built and evolves through responsible disagreement and critical analysis. Science needed Darwin to challenge the views of his time. Science now needs "new Darwins."
Whether it's ID or global warming, a wall has been erected that forbids study of a whole line of hypotheses. That means no grants, no support and no access to the best scientific journals. Jonathan Wells, another scientist interviewed, asserted the obvious: "Science isn't settled by orthodox pronouncements, but by evidence."
After all, what are responsible scientists afraid of? If their theories are true, they will withstand whatever evidence critical scientists can produce. Truth in science must continually be tested. Scientists don't want to be silenced; they just want the freedom to follow the evidence wherever it leads. This isn't science versus religion; it's scientific evidence versus scientific evidence.
When research by paleontologist Meave Leakey showed last August that two species of early human ancestors lived at the same time in Kenya, this didn't work well with the pictures of the hunched-over ape evolving across a page to the man in a business suit. When Homo erectus is waving to Homo habilis, Darwin has some explaining to do.
Seth Borenstein reported that scientists didn't feel that the discovery repudiated evolutionary theory; it just showed the complexity of "good science."
Susan Anton, anthropologist at New York University, commented: "This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points. This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continuing self-testing process."
Bernard Wood, a surgeon-turned-professor of human origins at George Washington University, added: "This is only a skirmish in the protracted war' between the people who like a bushy interpretation and those who like a more ladder-like interpretation of early human evolution."
Many scientists seem to only welcome "skirmishes" with colleagues who support their orthodoxy, whether that's Darwinian evolutionary theory or man-made global warming. Do you hear the sound of one hand clapping?
As Stein suggests, there's a wall imposed in the world of science that destroys freedom of inquiry. If you don't play on the right side of the wall, you're not science.
It's time to resurrect Ronald Reagan's classic challenge, "Tear down this wall!"