Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Flock of Dodos (2006)

     Randy Olson's Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus (2006) takes a look at the repeated attempts to change to academic standards in Kansas to allow for alternatives to evolution-- the kind that are considered 'God friendly' -- to be taught to schoolchildren, and at the larger movement behind it.  At times light, cheerful, and breezy, Flock of Dodos is as respectful to both sides as a Ph.D. in Biology can manage to be.
     Olson spends a little too much time getting the audience invested in him and his story (his parents certainly are noteworthy people, probably worthy of their own documentaries).  He makes use of cartoon dodos (this disappears for a lengthy period of time to finally be revisited at the end) and title cards with definitions of words which the audience probably knows (but it serves as a great way to reinforce his points).  At no point does Olson get angry with or make accusations against the advocates of "teaching the controversy", the supposedly legitimate challenges to Darwinian evolution.
     Olson does end up laying the blame for this manufactured "controversy" at the feet of two groups.  The first are nameless, faceless PR firms (actually, he does name some firms in the movie, but he extends the bubble of blame beyond those named) pushing the debate because it is profitable.  The second group, and this is a view that has also been presented in Scientific American, is that scientists themselves have long neglected making any meaningful public outreach to explain their work, its evidence, and its implications.
     Flock of Dodos is probably the most approachable, most well thought out investigation of the Intelligent Design v. Evolution debate I have seen.  It gives both sides a fair amount of time to make their points (which would be more compelling if both sides fully understood their points and not just their talking points) and does not condemn ID for simply being anti-evolution -- though it does stop short of explaining that the very notion of ID prohibits effective scientific testing, citing instead that there is no way to test ID at the moment.  I think this would be a good watch for those who have been away from any kind of biology class for a while or children old enough to be introduced to the notion of taking scientific inquiry seriously.

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