Expelled just keeps on sucking.

April 30, 2008

I’ve been working on my first peer-reviewed research post, which should be coming within the next day or two; these things require considerably more effort, so it’s not going as fast as I might have liked. But in the meantime, I thought I would drop in to mention that Expelled is continuing to stink the place up in its slide into obscurity: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all down at least 45% from the corresponding day on the opening weekend, and the total take to date is just shy of $5.5 million (boxofficemojo). Given yesterday’s rather dismal performance of $157,191 (down 35% from last Monday), things are looking a little grim for Ben Stein’s money.

Dracil has a good round-up of the weekend’s numbers, and I encourage you to check it out.


iPhone in Canada!

April 29, 2008

Rogers says iPhone coming before year-end

Okay, now *that’s* what I’m taking about. Here’s the important part of the story, since the rest is really just blah-de-blah about Rogers and their revenue:

TORONTO – Rogers Communications Inc. said on Tuesday it plans to bring the iPhone to Canada before the end of the year.

“We’re thrilled to announce that we have a deal with Apple to bring the iPhone to Canada later this year.

No word on pricing, yet. And the ‘later this year’ bit makes me think that they might be waiting for the release of the 3G iPhone which is rumoured to be in the next few months.

I wonder how much this is going to hurt the booths selling unlocked iPhones (and other GSM phones) around Montréal? (And were those sales being included in the world-wide stats on iPhone sales? My thought is “yes”, because they had to legitimately buy the phone somehwere, but I’m not confident enough to state that definitively.)

In any case, I’m glad to see that they’re finally bringing the iPhone to Canada, but unfortunately it comes a little late for me. A few after the initial release of the iPhone in the U.S., I was coming up to the end of my contract with B*ll and if the iPhone had been available, I would have found the money to get an iPhone. But it wasn’t, so I didn’t, and now I have a KRZR. (It’s an okay phone, but let’s face it, it’s no iPhone). Not to mention that Bell drops about 1 out of every 4 cross-country calls for me, but that’s a story for another angry blog post.

Expelled and the definition of “tanking”.

April 28, 2008

This started out as a reply to a comment made on this post, but the amount of research quickly got out of hand so I decided to give a post of its own.

Bad made a comment:

I’m not really sure “tanking” makes much sense. The film certainly didn’t meet its maker’s stated goals, but its seems to have the basic and relatively mediocre trajectory of any documentary.

My reply to Bad:

Thanks for the comment, Bad! Here’s why I said that Expelled is “tanking”:

Expelled is playing on an over a thousand screens, which is absolutely unprecedented except for the top two Michael Moore documentaries. Each movie theatre that they open in costs, right off the bat, $1500 to $2000 for the cost of printing the film (see HSW: Movie Distribution). So, since they opened on so many screens, even estimating on the low end, they’re already at least $1.5 million in costs. The theatres retain a portion of the money made from tickets; I’ve seen estimates rating up to 50% (here’s one), but let’s lowball it and call it 20%. Boxofficemojo.com is currently reporting an estimated take of $5.3 million for the movie to date (that number will become clearer tomorrow, obviously). Taking off 20%, they’ve made 4.24 million. Subtract the printing costs and you’re left with about $2.75 million dollars in revenue to date.

Of course, that’s before any consideration of the aggressive marketing they’ve been doing. The LA Times noted that the Expelled advertising budget was “in the single-digit millions”. Given that, I would be extremely surprised to see that they had managed to swim out of the pool of red ink yet, and that’s one definition of “tanking” that I’m willing to run with.

None of this seems like the basic trajectory of any documentary I’ve seen or heard of; I”m admittedly not an expert on film distribution and box office reports, but if you could enlighten me more on the trajectory of a documentary, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Another definition goes by the stated words of the producers, as you noted in your comment. Again, the LA Times reported a quote from Walt Ruloff, the executive producer of the movie:

Ruloff said the film could top the $23.9-million opening for Michael Moore’s polemic against President Bush, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the best launch ever for a documentary.

That constitutes another meaning to “tanking” that I’m willing to go with.

And that’s not even counting the pathetic moves of the “bring 25 people and get a Ben Stein bobblehead” and the payoffs of $5 to $10 to schools and home-schoolers for each person that they bring. (The current status of this last bit leaves me a little confused: they were certainly offering it before, but the current page at GetExpelled makes it out to be a contest now that only a single school will win. However, the FAQ page on the site still clearly shows traces of this (see the attached screen shot). It seems likely that they tried to clean up their tracks and just failed to erase all the traces. If anyone knows what happened, please let me know!)

Text from the FAQ page.

Now *here’s* a great idea.

April 27, 2008

Uncertain Principles: A Pro-Science Film Festival: Why Not?

Over at Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel has a really smart idea to help counter the tsunami of stupid that is Ben Stein’s Expelled:  a ScienceBlogs-sponsored science film festival, run though YouTube and featuring user-generated submissions.  This is pure Web 2.0 / user-driven content, but done for a great cause which doesn’t involve hawking automobiles.  (To be fair, I didn’t actually have that big a problem with the Chevy campaign, but I’m in a very small minority it seems…)

In any case, if you’re reading this, what are you still doing here?  Head over to Chad’s blog and voice your support or add your ideas.  If this thing goes ahead, I’d sure be tempted to borrow a camera from someone and put together my magnum opus, dissertation be damned.

Expelled is tanking as we speak.

April 27, 2008

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) – Daily Box Office Results

We’ll have to wait to see how things play out until Monday, but Friday’s results seem to be pretty suggestive: Expelled’s staying power seems to have come up drastically short. With a nearly 70% drop from the previous Friday’s results and a grand total of about $4.3 million, Expelled will be hard pressed to make back the millions of dollars that they put into the film. (Yeah, I know: Brayton’s estimate is at best an educated guess, but I haven’t see anything better anywhere, and the argument is plausible).

Excuse me while I shed some tears over the demise of this steaming pile of creationist spew.

UPDATED: Dracil dropped by to leave a comment, and I liked his Friday round up so much that I’m linking to it.  So there.  You can’t stop me!  Oh, wait, I’m mad with power.  Right, have to take my pills now….

UQÀM under threat…?

April 25, 2008

I just attempted to enter the Biological Sciences building at UQÀM (the Université du Québec à Montréal), and I was refused entrance (along with everyone else) for unspecified “threats”. Someone I know who spoke to security had just left the building and I caught up with her; according to her, the threat wasn’t about a bomb but was instead a threat about something like a school shooting. “Apparently somone was really upset and made some threats”, she told me.

UQÀM students have been in the news lately for scuffling with school administration and security regarding tuition (something which sort of amused me, considering that UQÀM tuition is much lower than most institutions outside of Québec), but I don’t know if these threats are related to that.

I’ll update this post with any further information I gather; I’m probably meeting some people from UQÀM later this afternoon, so I’ll see what comes of it.

UPDATE (6:55 p.m.): I did speak with some people in UQÀM’s bio department. They tell me that indeed there was a threat of a school shooter, which was phoned into UQÀM and the police last night. The comments about UQÀM’s response were fairly disparaging, owing to the complete lack of communication between UQÀM and the students, and the apparent confusion of the security people who first suggested people leave the Biological Sciences building and then closed it entirely at about noon or 1:00 p.m. The fact that this was an exam day makes me wonder if the threat was simply meant to postpone exams (which did, in fact, happen). In any case, no-one appears to have been hurt, and normal activity is expected to resume on Monday.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, the IT people are UQÀM are actually monkeys, and badly trained ones at that. Apparently, an e-mail mentioning unspecified threats to the Science Complex was circulated to students – arriving about 12 hours after they locked down the building.  Way to be timely, guys.

Jenny McCarthy: please keep your “help” out of Canada.

April 25, 2008

I was on CBC looking for confirmation that the Canadiens had won another game (which was admittedly a foregone conclusion, given the massive honking which just began outside my window), and I saw a link to The Hour with Jenny McCarthy on it.

I’ve been fuming about her for some time, but now she’s coming into my country and spreading her idiocy. I’ll keep this short, though: I’m in biology and I’ve read enough of the research to satisfy myself, but I’m not in epidemiology or medicine, so I’m going to refer you to some really smart people who are. Please, if you’re reading this, go and educate yourself.

Here’s some bonus links to Canadian media and Health Canada:

In many ways, I just feel sorry for Jenny McCarthy. She has a son with autism, which is not something I can imagine having to deal with. But she’s been taken in by her own sense of self-importance and she honestly believes that she’s smarter than the entirety of the scientific and medical community because she read a couple of websites and bought into some anecdotes. If you really think that you’re smarter than the most intelligent and experienced people on this Earth, you had better damn well have some evidence. And this is where the rage comes in: with her constant television appearances and star power, she’s helping to kill children who may die from diseases that we can stop, reliably and safely.

Teachers, academia, and attire.

April 25, 2008

No shorts, no sandals, no stonewashed, teachers told

This article on CBC, referring to a New Brunswick school district that has imposed a dress code which includes a ban on blue jeans, has provoked a predictable split in response:  some decrying the shackles of impersonal, objectifying business dress and others linking professional dress with an aura of respect and civility.  I’m going to put my perspective on this out there because, well, because that’s pretty much the point of having a blog.

I’ve had this fight with my wife before;  she’s a teacher, and she believes firmly in presenting herself well in every aspect of her life, including her classroom.  I don’t know what her response to this dress code announcement will be, and I’m not sure whether it should be legislated or not.  But I do accept her argument that whether we like it or not, whether we believe it should be that way or not, we are judged by our appearance.  And as a group, teachers would probably be well served to present themselves professionally as a way of enhancing their esteem among members of the public.

I came to accept this argument, which I originally did not, as I took a hard look around at academia.  I love academia, and I love science.  But academics in many fields (obviously not those in areas like law, business / economics, or the like) have traditionally been hostile to the idea of anything above a clean pair of jeans.  Frankly, some of my fellow grad students and the faculty around me even seem vaguely hostile to “clean”.  The argument is seductive:  science is about merit, about Truth.  It doesn’t matter what you like look, it matters what you say.  If your ideas are good, then all is well.

I reject this, and suggest instead that if your ideas are good, they’re accepted in spite of your presentation and demeanour, not because of it or even in ignorance of it.  At the last conference I attended, a big name in biology stood up and gave one of the key note addresses.  Unfortunately, he chose to preface his talk with a rambling discourse on a hot political topic which had exactly zero relationship to the content of his remarks.  It was clear that the audience humoured him simply because of his eminent status;  if I had tried the same thing in my fifteen minute talk, I would have been speaking to a suddenly empty room.  (I use that only as an extreme example of how an unprofessional manner can be tolerated, not because I disapprove of his actions;  honestly, I was kind of amused by the whole thing, or perhaps even a little embarrassed for him).

As I said, it’s an extreme example, but those who think that it doesn’t matter what you wear or say if you’re really smart are simply fooling themselves.  Social psychological / sociological / economic research has consistently shown that attractive people have an edge in many areas, including job success.  I would never suggest legislating a dress code at any level of academia, but presenting yourself well can never hurt your standing and can only enhance it.

All the above aside, I do my best not to judge on appearance.  I do believe that the ideas should be judged on their own merits, I just don’t know if I’m always successful.  And I don’t believe that everyone else is, either.

Hockey and its fans.

April 24, 2008

Paris riots

photo by glucozze

In the world of organized sports – hockey, as chance would have it – The Montréal Canadiens recently won the quarter-final match against the Boston Bruins. Montréal is not my home town, but I’m living there for the time being, and on the night of game seven, I could tell that they had won because the car horns on the street outside my window immediately began honking. They didn’t stop for the better part of six hours.

Now, I don’t like hockey. I know that admitting that means that I must immediately be ejected from the country and branded a foreigner to these lands, but I’ll take that chance. (I don’t drink beer either, so at this rate the only way I can redeem myself is to use maple syrup the same way one might use heroin. That, or do something unspeakable to a beaver – the ‘be a Canadian’ handbook is a little unclear on that last bit). In general, though, I don’t have a problem with people who do enjoy hockey, or any other sport.

What I do have a problem with is this. From one of the Gazette stories:

The violence, touched off as thousands of people were on Ste. Catherine St. W. celebrating the Canadiens’ victory over the Boston Bruins, caused damage to 16 police vehicles and 10 buildings, mostly businesses, near the Bell Centre. The images of burning cars and people looting stores evoked memories of Stanley Cup riots in 1986 and 1993.

Sixteen people, including three minors, were arrested and face charges ranging from mischief to aggravated assault. Most were released on a promise to appear in court at a later date.

Honking on the streets is bad enough. That alone can get my blood boiling, and to the people who would tell me to just let it go, I invite them to send me their home address so that I can bring 300 of my closest friends and their cars and spend six hours honking outside the house of the apologist whilst they try to sleep. People who would condone or forgive such behaviour are almost always people who don’t live anywhere near the repeated offence.

But this rioting and destruction of property is simply beyond the pale. It gives the sport of hockey a bad name, and it drives a nail into the idea that organized sports are important as a source of culture in a city. I sincerely hope that whoever participated in this riot is caught and pinned to the wall.

And yet … I’m forced to ask why such a thing would even happen. Despite my dislike of hockey, I’m sure that winning such a pivotal game on their path to the Stanley Cup would be a happy day for Canadiens fans. So how does it end up in rioting and destruction? The photo at the top of the page is, despite appearances, not of the Montréal hockey riot, but of riots in Paris (the 2005 riots, I believe). I find it odd that such similar outcomes – looting, burning, destruction – can come from such dissimilar causes as civil unrest and a victorious hockey time. This is the sort of thing that social psychologists and sociologists have probably studied to death, and if anyone in those fields read this, I’d love some introductory citations to relevant review papers. (I’d search myself, but hey, there are only so many hours in a day…)

Ben Stein is a goon.

April 23, 2008

In case anyone is reading this blog who hasn’t yet drowned in the angry response by the rest of the blogosphere to the creationist puff-piece Expelled, I’d like to direct you to the fantastic site Expelled Exposed, which does an absolutely brilliant job of thwacking Ben Stein and the pack of disgraceful lies he calls a movie with a stick. Here’s a few other places to go for good information on the evolution / creation debate

In case I haven’t made it clear, evolution is a big part of my research, and I find the attempts of hard-line creationists to degrade science education absolutely appalling. Though I am an athiest myself, I have no problem with the religious in particular; I dislike organized religion, but I support the right of people to believe as they will. I’m happy that – to the best of my knowledge – the creationist blather hasn’t made nearly the same foothold here in Canada as it has in the U.S.; for example, Expelled isn’t playing in very many, if any, places here. But if it rears its head here, I’ll be happy to join the fray.