'Land of the Lost' Ridicules False Scientific Consensus Claims

The new Will Ferrell comedy, Land of the Lost, based on an astoundingly bad mid-1970s children's show produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, is typical of Farrell's films--it's funny, imaginative, action-filled, nonsensical, and essentially well-meaning. Unlike most of his comedies, however, it didn't get a very good start at the U.S. box office, and it received very poor reviews.

Certainly there isn't even a pretense at a coherent narrative or interesting, complex, plausible characters in Land of the Lost. Given that those are among the things critics tend to praise, it's hardly a surprise that the film has gotten awful reviews.



Nonetheless, Land of the Lost is quite enjoyable. Despite the claims of some critics who seem disposed to hate everything about it, the movie is quite funny, with many instances of Ferrell's usual blustering and amusing comeuppances as well as numerous funny comments by Danny McBride as Ferrell's reluctant and cowardly sidekick. Jorma Taccone's performance as Chaka is also very risible at times.

Moreover, there is actually a very good, important, and timely thought in Land of the Lost. In a very amusing way, the film satirizes the current-day perversion of science in which claims of consensus are used as a blunt instrument to shout down opposing ideas.

Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, one of his typical blustering, ambitious, well-meaning characters. Marshall has written about his theory that a certain kind of elemental physical particle can be harnessed and enable people and things to move from the known universe into a parallel realm in which things from all times exist simultaneously.

Marshall's theory has brought him nearly universal derision among scientists and the media, which the film amusingly conveys through bookend scenes in which Marshall appears on NBC's Today Show to talk about books he has written, and is abused by host Matt Lauer as a charlatan and a fool.

Lauer's reaction perfectly represents the media's reaction toward, say, those who claim that the scientific evidence shows that anthropogenic global warming is not occurring and the current temperature trends of the earth show the very opposite of a crisis. Instead of actually engaging the scientific evidence, the media whores simply claim that all reputable scientists agree that there's a crisis requiring the absolute destruction of Americans' civil and economic liberties, and that anyone who disagrees with that premise is the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.

Lauer vividly recreates that approach in his scenes with Ferrell. The great irony is that Marshall turns out to be correct, and Lauer remains both abusive and now openly wrong, physically attacking Marshall in the second interview at the end of the film.

My guess is that this aspect of the film was not intended as direct satire but instead simply reflects something the filmmakers picked up in the contemporary zeitgeist. However, its presence in the central story of the film and the bookend scenes--which are in very important places in the film, the beginning and end--gives it great prominence and suggests that skepticism toward such claims of consensus has entered the culture as a real phenomenon.

The claim of consensus and refusal to address scientific evidence, of course, is the direct opposite of the scientific method, which is based on continual attempts to disprove accepted theories and hypotheses. The scientific method treats all claims as hypotheses, not facts, and requires humility on the part of the scientist.

Today, by contrast, on subjects as varied as earth's temperature record, the process(es) of species origination, and even whether the speed of light is a constant, many people knowingly misuse science for political purposes, arguing that "the science is settled" on a variety of issues when it most certainly is not. (People have done this throughout history, of course.) They do this in order to convey a sense of necessity and inevitability to their political preferences instead of actually having to show that their proposed policies are provably better than the possible alternatives.

Regarding global warming, for example, alarmists continually claim that scientists are agreed that anthropogenic global warming is happening and is a crisis. In fact, neither of those statements has achieved anything like a consensus among scientific experts in the appropriate fields. For example, the widely cited report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was written not by scientists but by politicians who ignored the multitude of comments made officially by scientists questioning the panel's alarmist claims.

Actually, many more scientists are on record as opposing the idea of an anthropogenic global warming crisis.

The same is true in a wide variety of other issues in which claims of scientific consensus are used to shout down political opposition.

In undermining the prevailing habit of using false claims of scientific consensus as a political bludgeon, Land of the Lost does something very good indeed beyond the laughter.

--S. T. Karnick, editor of The American Culture

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