Degaussed Moral Compass Alert: Dembski Using “Internet Video”

Abbie Smith at ERV has the story on William A. Dembski’s unauthorized use of an animation made by Harvard University and XVIVO.

Harvard/XVIVO have a cool animation they call, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. There are a couple of versions that have made it to YouTube or Google Video. Since it all looks very complex and mechanical, in addition to being visually stunning, “intelligent design” creationism (IDC) advocates also think it is cool. Or, at least, would be if the annoying science-talk narration that is part of the original went away and was replaced with somebody intoning about how complex and mechanical and designed it all is.

Enter William A. Dembski, philosopher and mathematician to the IDC movement. Dembski gives lectures, and expects honoraria for these lectures. He gave one at Oklahoma University a couple of months ago. Within his lecture, he embedded a video, an animation. Smith recognized the animation as the Harvard/XVIVO production, “The Inner Life of a Cell”. Smith contacted Harvard/XVIVO about this, and they issued a cease-and-desist letter.

Now, the version Dembski used in his September OU lecture was not identical to the Harvard/XVIVO production. It used video that did not include the opening title and credits. According to a post by Dembski, the musical score in his version is the original used by Harvard/XVIVO. However, an amateur dubbed-in voice on the audio provides an IDC-flavored narration to the video. Dembski claims that the closing credits remain intact, including a Harvard/XVIVO copyright notice. Dembski’s embedded version runs on a PowerPoint slide with the title, “The Cell as an Automated City”.

There are several odd elements to this story. Dembski claims to have tried to order a DVD of the video from Harvard/XVIVO, and was unsuccessful.

The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn’t ready.

I don’t know what relevance owning a DVD of the video has for wanting to use it in presentations. If one is making a presentation for profit, which a paid lecture may arguably be, simply owning a DVD does not confer the right to utilize the contents for commercial ventures. Those rights usually must be negotiated specifically and separately, and usually involve the payment of royalties on some scale involving the number of attendees.

Dembski claims to have gotten his version of the video, as it was presented to the OU audience, from “the Internet”. Dembski claims to have selected that version for its IDC-friendliness. Unfortunately, Dembski already admitted knowing what the original video looked like, so this selection process means that he knowingly used a derivative work. Further, Dembski does not even have the thin excuse of crediting the author of the derivative work. If Dembski is claiming that he should be held harmless as someone who used a derivative work in the belief that (1) the author of the changes had obtained permission to do so and (2) that Dembski had the permission of the author of the changes to use the derivative work, uncredited, in a commercial setting, he certainly has not done a good job of supporting that.

Dembski’s post about his use of the Harvard/XVIVO material falls into the category of “notpology” that he has used on past occasions. He says he will stop infringing on the Harvard/XVIVO copyright; he never says that he was wrong to infringe upon it in the first place. This makes good legal sense, but bad moral philosophy. To use a phrase from the time period that IDC advocates prefer that we take our understanding of science from, this whole incident merits a shout from the crowd of, “Oh, basely done!”

Update: John West of the DI has had some thoughts on the matter. I decided to make another post with my response.

16 thoughts on “Degaussed Moral Compass Alert: Dembski Using “Internet Video”

  1. Dave S.

    Typical Dembski – I did nothing wrong and I won’t do it again.

    And just to be certain the issue dies as quickly as possible, the comments are closed on the thread.

  2. Jim Wynne

    That’s “degaussed,” Wes.

  3. Austringer Post author

    Dang. I know I’ve spelled it correctly before, but I don’t know that I’d ever had it in a title before.

    Thanks.

  4. J-Dog

    Well, I for one think Dembski’s sorry. Sorry he got caught. Way to go ERV!

    Bill – LOVE the “Commnet Are Closed” set up for your notpology.

  5. ERV

    I asked Harvard to give him the benefit of the doubt on the credits. Their response to me is basically your post, but shorter :)

  6. Ric

    Hey, did anyone else notice how careful Dembski was to note that he personally didn’t remove the copyright notice or add the voice over. Of course, he doesn’t say anything about whether he knows who did (and of course he does, because it was the DI. In fact, it’s likely that he was involved, though he may not have done the actual computer work). He’s very careful to use the passive voice: “The version I used took the original soundtrack, which simply had music, and added a voice”. Notice there is no subject performing any of these actions.

    He is also very vague about where he got it. He says he found it on the internet and downloaded it, but he doesn’t say where he found it or downloaded it from, because of course he found it on an intelligent design website, and he was probably provided the link by one of his associates.

    It all reminds me of a time in 5th grade when I got in trouble for prank calling a fellow student. I swore up and down that by no means did I prank call anyone. Of course I neglected to mention that my brother did it at my behest. The principal bought it. Of course this is typical 5th grade stuff, and something for which I am now ashamed.

    Lying by omission: Dembski is a stellar Christian, isn’t he? Well, we at least know he has the ethics of a 5th grader.

  7. Austringer Post author

    And the notpology is evolving, edited as Dembski picks up on things he got wrong in the original. This follows another of Dembski’s poor moral philosophies, that of using knowledge gained from critics without acknowledging that he has done so.

  8. copy_wrong

    Dembski hasn’t allowed comments on his “notpology” posting. He does allow comments on his 4 Sep 2006 posting where he initially discusses this video. I left a comment there–amazingly it got past the moderation process.

  9. figment

    Might I suggest Copy_Wrong reproduce his comments here.

    Likewise my “reply” to him (which I rather doubt will make it past moderation) is:

    “copy_wrong” raise some interesting points. Most importantly is it ethical to use a ‘pirated’ version of the video?

    Irrespective of who did the amateurish editing or voiceover, it’s very clear that the copy used was not Harvard and XVIVO’s intended final product.

  10. Dave S.

    Still there as of 7:30 AM, November 28th. Maybe they’ll ignore comments placed on a post that old.

    And Wes picks up on another typical Dembski trait – quietly revising history as he goes along, without attribute or comment.

    The sad thing is, had Dembski allowed comments on the newest thread, most of the usual cast of sycophants would probably be lauding him for his integrity or bemoaning the fact he’s stopping use of the video even though he did nothing wrong.

  11. Austringer Post author

    “diff” picks out the changes…

    < By William A. Dembski | November 26, 2007 --- > By William A. Dembski | originally posted November 26, 2007 | updated November 27, 2007

    9c9

    < Back in September of 2006 I announced at my blog UncommonDescent that a breathtaking video titled The Inner Life of Cell had just come out (see www.uncommondescent.com//the-inner-life-of-a-cell). The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn't ready. Moreover, at the time, the video did not have a voiceover explaining the biology of what was being shown. --- > Back in September of 2006 I announced at my blog UncommonDescent that a breathtaking video titled The Inner Life of Cell had just come out (see http://www.uncommondescent.com//the-inner-life-of-a-cell). The video was so good that I wanted to use it in some of my public presentations, but when I tried to purchase a DVD of it (I sent several emails to relevant parties), I was informed it wasn’t ready (to my knowledge the video is still not available for sale in DVD or any other format if it were, I would gladly purchase it and encourage others to do so). Moreover, at the time, the video did not have a voiceover explaining the biology of what was being shown.

    Not sure what the point there is. We’ve already established buying a DVD would not make a difference for authorization to use the video. Adding more sucking-up noises isn’t going to help. But at least it wasn’t an addition of fart noises.

    12c12

    < A few months later I found on the Internet a version of the video that did have a voiceover and was in a format that allowed me to incorporate it into my PowerPoint presentations. I used the video a handful of times, including at a talk in Oklahoma this September. In consequence, some biologist(s) in the audience contacted the makers of the video, falsely suggesting to them and on the web: --- > Although the video was at the time and remains to this day widely available on the web (YouTube has many copies go, for instance, here), most simply have some background music that do not explain the relevant biology. A few months after announcing the video at UncommonDescent, I found on the Internet a version of the video that did add a voiceover, giving the relevant biology, and was in a format that allowed me to incorporate it into my PowerPoint presentations. I used the video a handful of times, including at a talk in Oklahoma this September. In consequence, some biologist(s) in the audience contacted the makers of the video, falsely suggesting to them and on the web:

    Translation of change: ‘Other people violated the same copyright; why are you picking on me?’

    Again, not sure why he bothered.

    24c24

    < Each of these allegations is false. Regarding (1), I took a version of the video that I found on the Internet, one with a voiceover that I thought would have the best educational value for my listeners. The version I used took the original soundtrack, which simply had some music, and added a voice. The voice, just to be clear, is not mine. I had nothing to do with modifying or recrafting the video. I received it, as it were, off the shelf. --- > Each of these allegations is false. Regarding (1), I downloaded from the Internet a version of the video with a voiceover describing the relevant biology. It seemed to me accurate and to have the best educational value for my listeners. The version I used took the original soundtrack, which simply had music, and added a voice. I had nothing to do with modifying or recrafting or authorizing the production of the video (in particular, that is not my voice on the video). The video I showed is the one I downloaded.

    Ah, now here’s an edit with a purpose. Dembski has keyed in on my criticism noting that he knew what the actual Harvard/XVIVO video looked like, and selected among alternatives a derivative work. He’s backing away from that admission and trying to substitute a version where he satisficed upon downloading the version he used in his lectures. And, of course, I get no credit for pointing out that there was a problem.

    45c45
    < Here is the screen capture of the final thing people saw when I presented the video: --- > Here is the screen capture of the final thing people saw when I presented the video (note that it is dim, so it might be difficult to make out without a suitable projector and lighting):

    OK, yes, here Dembski is editing to address what Abbie Smith noted, which is that few, if any, of the attendees at the OU lecture could actually state that they saw the credits at the end.

    All in all, I’m not sure that Dembski materially improved on his original with these edits.

  12. Dave S.

    Still there as of 12:23 PM eastern. Although no other comments have appeared. I’m sure they won’t delete it because they know we are watching. But I’m not so sure they aren’t refusing to post any more comments there. I just submitted the following:

    “I’m sure we can all agree that when you use someone else’s work you need to take pains to ensure you are presenting it completely, accurately and properly attributed. Especially if monetary considerations are involved.”

    We’ll see if this innocuous message gets posted or not.

    Maybe I’ll get banned from UD!! :)

  13. figment

    Third reposting of my comment (this one a little expanded based on this irony uncovered by ERV)

    Who’s got the Magic?

    “#3“copy_wrong” raise some interesting points. Most importantly is it ethical to use a ‘pirated’ version of the video?

    Irrespective of who did the amateurish editing or voiceover, it’s very clear that the copy used was not Harvard and XVIVO’s intended final product.

    Integrity is hard won and easily lost. For using Harvard/XVIVO’s work modified and without their knowledge or permission, Hasn’t Mr Dembski’s compromised his Integrity?”

  14. Dave S.

    Interesting. copy_wrong’s comment is still there, but still no further comments besides that. Looks like someone may have sent the word not to actually close comments on that thread, but not to allow any more to be posted either.

    It must die as quietly as possible.

  15. ERV

    Awesome comments! hehehe!

    The comment is probably going to silently disappear at a later date– I believe DaveScot regularly alters posts/comments that are >year old.

    hehehehe!

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