Expelled? Or "misportrayed"?

I'm FINALLY catching up on some of my Netflix and got around the Ben Stein's documentary, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Purporting to investigate the persecution of freedom in the American scientific academy, the documentary represents the worst its genre.

Say what you will about Michael Moore, when his critics use his methods (which they claim are dishonest and misleading), the ring of hypocrisy is hard to deny.

Below appears the review I wrote for Netflix (I gave the film two stars out of five):

A clumsy and manipulative exploration of an interesting topic.

Stein prowls the alleyways of academia without distinguishing between instructor ranks and tenure-track ranks. And several of his prominent subjects apparently have credentials, but the viewer is not provided with details. This represents the worst problem with Stein’s approach: the lack of context. Large numbers of qualified academics are denied tenure every year, and to assert without question that each of these cases is political demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the tenure process itself.

And in at least one of the cases, the instructor was not on tenure track, making the argument about the connection between academic freedom and her release from the university blurry at best.

Stein also points to eugenics as a cause of the Nazi Holocaust (spending no effort to discuss other variables that contributed, such as Hitler’s experiences in WWI, the economic forces in modern Europe, the influence of Nietzche on modernity or even Hitler's own religious faith). Stein equates eugenics as a natural outcome of “Darwinism,” instead of the narrow movement that it was within the academy. The result is the unsubstantiated claim that "Darwinism" directly justifies the Holocaust and will create another such movement in America today if unchecked.

I was more amused than offended at the expulsion from the Smithsonian. Does any viewer really think that ANY uninvited camera crew WON’T be tossed out of the Smithsonian? They sell prints and videos of their cultural artifacts as a major source of revenue.

And then there’s Stein's ambush of Richard Dawkins. Having read Dawkins' recent book, "The God Delusion," it is clear to me that Dawkins' views (which I ultimately disagree with personally) are not represented by Stein's interview. Watching Dawkins struggle to make sense of Stein's questions is painful, it does look as if he thought the conversation was geared for another treatment (which supports his widely circulated claims that Stein lied both about the title and the intent of the film when he arranged the interview).

All said, it was never clear whether Stein possesses the needed credentials, background or gravitas to make him a good focal point for this needed discussion. Much context about the rancor surrounding these debates is missing, leading the viewer to take on faith that there exists a terrible and arbitrary bias within the academy.

Perhaps Stein should limit his cultural authority to his gifts of comedy and financial insight (though did he not also miss the recent crisis on Wall Street? I don't remember any warnings from him to his viewers and readers).

0 comments: