Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Cambrian Explosion, the Discovery Institute, and the Smithsonian

I intend to write a set of blog posts addressing the comments and thoughts on Darwin’s Dilemma from people who have seen the film. This is useful because people who do not have a background in the Cambrian Explosion or palaeontology are the people that the Discovery Institute is hoping to mislead. So what such people are taking away from the film, the messages that the Discovery Institute is hoping to instill, the questions raised in people’s minds, etc., are worth addressing.

Previous posts: The Cambrian Explosion, the Discovery Institute, and
Charles Doolitte Walcott (part 2)
James Valentine
Prof Paul Chien
Cambrian Ediacaran Extiction
Cambrian Diversity
Charles Doolittle Walcott

The California Science Center in Los Angeles was scheduled to show Darwin's Dilemma of October 25th, but has just announced that it has cancelled the performance. The Discovery Institute is making the usual claim of censorship, and that the cancellation was due to the Smithsonian putting pressure on the California Science Center. The Smithsonian? Well yes, the Smithsonian. But to understand this you have to understand the Discovery Institutes tactics here.

This is all part of the Discovery Institute's desperate attempt for legitimacy through the tactic of 'legitimacy via association'.

This operates by having recognised scientists in you product (even if you have to mislead them into appearing, and they do not support the claims of intelligent design creationism), showing a product in a museum (Seattle) or other science venue, which, by association, validates the claim that the content is scientific.

In their latest attempt at 'legitimacy via association', the Discovery Institute issued a press release promoting Darwin's Dilemma being shown at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, by referring to the Center as the Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate. See the tactic?

'We are showing Darwin's Dilemma at the California Science Center which is THE SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTE'S WEST COAST AFFILIATE! SEE? SCIENCE CENTER! SMITHSONIAN! ARE WE LEGIT OR WHAT?!'

The problem for the Discovery Institute is that this particular dishonest tactic is easy to expose.

Firstly, the claim that the California Science Center is the Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate. Is it? Actually, while it is a west coast Affiliate, it isn't the west coast Affiliate. The Smithsonian is currently affiliated with 20 fine Californian institutions:
  • Aerospace Museum of California - McClellan
  • Agua Caliente Cultural Museum - Palm Springs
  • Arts Council for Long Beach - Long Beach
  • Blackhawk Museum - Danville
  • California Science Center - Los Angeles
  • Cerritos Library - Cerritos
  • Chabot Space and Science Center - Oakland
  • Discovery Science Center - Santa Ana
  • Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art and Science - Fresno
  • Hiller Aviation Museum - San Carlos
  • Japanese American National Museum - Los Angeles
  • LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes - Los Angeles
  • Mexican Heritage Plaza - San Jose
  • Millard Sheets Center for the Arts at Fairplex - Pomona
  • Museum of Latin American Art - Long Beach
  • Riverside Arts and Cultural Affairs Division, Riverside Metropolitan Museum - Riverside
  • San Diego Air and Space Museum - San Diego
  • San Diego Natural History Museum - San Diego
  • Sonoma County Museum - Santa Rosa
  • Western Center for Archaeology and Paleontology - Hemet
But lets look further up the west coast, north to the State that flies on her own wings. Any Smithsonian Affiliates there? Well yes,
  • Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum - McMinnville
But wait there's more west coast to go. Up to the Evergreen State. Any Smithsonian affiliates there? (you know the answer, right?)
  • Whatcom Museum of History and Art - Bellingham
  • The Museum of Flight - Seattle
  • Wing Luke Asian Museum - Seattle
  • Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture - Spokane
Hang on. Say what? Two in Seattle?! Isn't the Discovery Institute headquartered in Seattle? They missed two Smithsonian Affiliates right there in their home town?! Oops.

All in all, 25 Smithsonian Affiliates on the west coast.

OK, that's exposes the falsehood of the claim that the California Science Center is the Smithsonian Affiliate on the west coast, but what about the affiliate link anyway, what does that mean?

Clearly the Discovery Institute would want you to think that Affiliates are the Smithsonian in the regions, but what is an Affiliate?
Smithsonian Affiliations offers broader opportunities than those found in standard museum loan programs. In addition to artifact loans, Smithsonian Affiliations helps member organizations identify appropriate resources within the Smithsonian to accompany exhibit loans: education and performing arts programs, expert speakers, teacher workshops, and technical assistance.
So Affiliates are entirely independent from the Smithsonian, and being an Affiliate simply means that they can gain access to the Smithsonian collections to support their own exhibitions. The Smithsonian has no control over the day to day operations of any Affiliate.

So, the California Science Centre is just one of 25 Smithsonian Affiliates on the west coast, and being an Affiliate simply means you get access to the Smithsonian collections, and the Smithsonian has no day to day control over Affiliates.

All this may appear to be nitpicking, but this slight of hand (or in this case slight of phrase) is the modus operandi of the Discovery Institute's dishonest tactic of 'legitimacy via association'.

Of course there would be no need of the tactic of 'legitimacy via association' if your claims weren't scientifically vacuous, but this is the Discovery Institute.


  1. "Legitimacy via association" is a subspecies of inflationary credentialism, another very common creationist tactic.

  2. BTW, the language in the Disco 'Tute's press release is deceptive about the Smithsonian's involvement. The press release says

    The debate over Darwin will come to California on October 25th, when the Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate premieres Darwin's Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil
    Record, a new intelligent design film which challenges Darwinian evolution.

    Note the phrase "the Smithsonian Institution's west coast affiliate premieres ...". That clearly makes the Smithsonian, or its California Science Center "affiliate," the active agent when in fact its role was passive, merely renting out a hall.

  3. I intend to write a set of blog posts addressing the comments and thoughts on ...


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