May 28, 2005

A Major Public Relations Coup for Creationism

Frankly, I expected better of the Smithsonian but perhaps there was little they could do. The New York Times reports that the creationist movie "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe" will be shown at the Smithsonian Institutes Natural History Museum. The film is a so-called documentary based on a book by the same title by Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State University, and Jay W. Richards, a vice president of the Discovery Institute. It is pure creationist propaganda.

Apparently, the Discovery Institute paid for the use of the Museum's theater, making it available to them just as they would any other group that had $16,000.00. Discovery Institute has implied (see below) and will imply in every available opportunity that the Smithsonian sanctions this showing. The very fact that the film is being shown at the Smithsonian implies what we in marketing call "a third party endorsement." And what an endorsement!

This "endorsement" strategy is already in play.

News of the Discovery Institute's announcement appeared on a blog maintained by Denyse O'Leary, a proponent of the intelligent design theory, who called it "a stunning development." But a museum spokesman, Randall Kremer, said the event should not be taken as support for the views expressed in the film. "It is incorrect for anyone to infer that we are somehow endorsing the video or the content of the video," he said.

The museum, he said, offers its Baird Auditorium to many organizations and corporations in return for contributions - in the case of the Discovery Institute, $16,000.

When the language of the Discovery Institute's Web site was read to him, with its suggestion of support, Mr. Kremer said, "We'll have to look into that."

In fact, the Discovery Institute treats the announcement as if it were a Smithsonian press release.

June 23, 2005

Smithsonian Institution Premiere of The Privileged Planet

The Director of the National Museum of Natural History and Discovery Institute are happy to announce the national premiere and private evening reception for The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe, 6pm Thursday June 23, 2005.

The documentary showing will be in the Baird Auditorium of the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Insitution (sic), Washington D.C.

The reception following will be in the Smithsonian Institution's Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals.

Attendance is by mailed invitation only."

I could find no such announcement on the Smithsonian website. In fact, the National Museum of Natural History lists the showing of "Endangered Species" on June 17 and "The Greatest Good" on June 26 and absolutely nothing for June 23.

The lies have started.


PZ Myers at Pharyngula, Joshua Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas and Burt Humburg at The Panda's Thump have all written on this. I really hate these bloggers who live two or three times zones away and get up early on Saturday. I had hoped I'd have a scoop.

Just in case, it was not clear from what I wrote. The Smithsonian is not "co-sponsoring" this event. PZ, Joshua and Burt use the correct word. The Smithsonian is "renting" the theater. They have no legal choice in the matter.

Posted by DuaneSmith at May 28, 2005 10:21 AM | Read more on Evolution |

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"The Smithsonian is not "co-sponsoring" this event. PZ, Joshua and Burt use the correct word. The Smithsonian is "renting" the theater. They have no legal choice in the matter."

Just off the top, I think your idea of "legal" and mine differs quite a bit.

Now let's say the group renting the theater were trying to show something that was racist, or highlighting questionable sexual practices --- I don't know where one draws the line here, but clearly the Smithsonian has indeed the option as to who or what they rent their facilities to. In this case the institution needs to be
specifically sensitive to what sort of cachet is inferred to anything that's simply presented within the halls of the Smithsonian. Many, if not most people are not aware of the fact that one can simply rent the facilities and, therefore, anything shown in them is given an inferred blessing by the institution itself to those people who only know, or are otherwise told, that "Such and Such was premiered in the Smithsonian Institute". The DI knows this, and it's disenguous to believe that of all the possible facilities it could have rented for its $16K there weren't others that wouldn't present possible conflicts in the way that the Smithsonian does.

The Smithsonian has a reputation it needs to protect, and it needs to be very sensitive to what it allows to be presented within its walls inasmuch as by the simple fact of allowing something in an inferred, correctly or not, stamp of approval is put on it.

Posted by: James at May 30, 2005 04:42 PM

I'm not sure what the facts of the matter are. I've tried to find out. However, the Smithsonian, while not a public institution in exactly the same way as a public school is not the less a public institution. If they have ever rented their auditorium to an outside group, I believe they are obligated to rent it to any group whose activity is not illegal. One of your examples, "questionable sexual practices" is indeed illegal in most jurisdictions. Your other example, racist practices may or may not be illegal depending on the exact nature of the content. An example of the problem, the Smithsonian may be facing is exemplified by a recent court ruling that the KKK could sponsor sections of highway.

Now I think the Discover Institute is a despicable organization. I don't like it on bit that they are being allowed to use the Smithsonian. I like the idea Randi had on this subject. But, until I have more facts, I will focus my contempt on the Discovery Institute rather than the Smithsonian.

Posted by: Duane at May 30, 2005 07:06 PM

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