Mike Palin queries the judging criteria in a recent high school science video competition.

A blatant anti-evolution DVD has been “commended” by the Royal Society of New Zealand (www.rsnz.org/events/bigsci/2008/competitionresults.php). The video is hosted on HotScience (www.hotscience.co.nz/video_detail.php?videoid=184). It presents “five assumptions” of evolution, each of which are portrayed as lacking any supporting scientific evidence. Four of these are prominent in creationist literature and websites. The fifth deals with irreducible complexity, a term coined by proponents of Intelligent Design (ID). The video includes a short discussion of the failure of evolution to explain giraffe development that appears to have been taken directly from the book Of Pandas and People. This book was the subject of a federal court case in the US involving an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the school board of Dover, Pennsylvania to introduce ID into the biology curriculum.

The five-minute video was submitted by a team of three students from Te Kauwhata College as part of the Freemasons BIG Science Adventures DVD competition held in May. The competition is for year 11-13 students and is administered by the RSNZ The theme of Darwin and evolution was chosen this year to mark the 150th anniversary of the Wallace-Darwin paper on natural selection read to the Linnaean Society in London in 1858. DVDs were to be made by the students with a teacher acting as a guide and facilitator, but not directly involved in the production. Principals were to approve each entry. A short list of entries was considered by a panel of judges chaired by Prof Lloyd Davis of the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago.

When contacted, Prof Davis said in an email, ” I chaired the final judging panel tasked with selecting the top two films from those short-listed. That is, I played no part in determining which films made the short list. We duly selected the two best films in our opinion and the film to which you refer did not make the top two.” He added, “As someone who has taken a strong stance against Intelligent Design in a recent book, I can say that I don’t think it is worth getting too precious about the film. You have to understand that from the point of view of the competition, there was much more being judged than the quality of their arguments (which I agree were flawed) – from a filmmaking perspective, like other entries we saw, they did some things well and some things poorly.”

A matter of style over substance?

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