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California Science Center Issues a Press Release Full of Misleading Claims: A Point-by-Point Response

Casey Luskin

The California Science Center Foundation (herein “CSC,” as it is essentially a shell organization that is very difficult to distinguish from the California Science Center) has put out a press statement full of inaccurate and misleading information about the settlement in the American Freedom Alliance (AFA) v. CSC lawsuit. E-mail evidence disclosed during the case, as well as a myriad of other facts, directly contradicts CSC’s claims. In particular, is noteworthy that CSC’s statement makes no mention whatsoever of the $110,000 price tag they were willing to pay to settle the case and avoid trial. It seems that major detail is too embarrassing to them to be disclosed, because it implies some kind of culpability on their part.

Below is a point by point commentary and refutation of various claims in the statement issued by the CSC about the lawsuit settlement:

Statement 1: CSC Obfuscates the Reason for Settlement

CSC claims: “The settlement agreement explicitly states that no party admits fault or liability, and the settlement is a means to avoid the costs of further proceedings.”

Response: While this claim is technically correct, its importance is difficult to take seriously. Not only is this boilerplate language, common in settlement agreements and thus virtually meaningless, it ignores an important fact: What matters here is which party is paying to settle the lawsuit. In this case, $110,000 is changing hands — paid by the California Science Center to the American Freedom Alliance. While there is of course no official admission of guilt by either party in the settlement (again, this is common), it’s clear that the CSC is willing to pay a lot of money to avoid having to face trial.

Indeed, given that CSC has been litigating this case for almost two years, the cost of going to trial at this point would be minor compared to expenses already incurred. Thus, the cost of going to trial would not be a significant reason for CSC to settle. But the cost of the embarrassment and even larger financial pain of losing this case at trial would be a significant reason for CSC to settle this late in the game.

So why did CSC settle so late when the marginal cost of going to trial was comparatively small? Probably because they had just seen William Becker’s legal briefs filed on behalf of AFA in opposition to CSC’s motion for summary judgment. These briefs showed AFA had a very strong case, and CSC knew that if the case went to trial, an even more expensive and embarrassing loss could likely occur.

Statement 2: CSC Fails to Disclose its $110,000 Payment to AFA

CSC claims: “The Foundation is satisfied with the terms of the settlement, which includes a cost of defense payment from the Foundation’s insurer, to avoid the expense of further litigation.”

Response: This statement is incomplete and extremely misleading: While it’s likely that the Foundation received a “cost of defense” payment from its insurance company, the statement does not identify whose “cost of defense” was being paid. Since CSC is the defendant, it implies that the “cost of defense” was paid to CSC. That’s misleading: Under the terms of the settlement, money was paid to AFA. In that regard, It is noteworthy that CSC’s statement makes no mention whatsoever of the $110,000 price tag they had to pay to settle the case.

Misleadingly CSC only mentions “the payment by the Foundation’s insurer” and “a small payment by the Foundation.” In fact, the final settlement was deliberately put $10,000 above the limit of CSC’s insurance policy, and thus CSC had to pay five figures worth of money out-of-pocket to settle this case.

It’s revealing that CSC is apparently unwilling and unable to disclose in its statement the fact that it paid $110,000 to settle this lawsuit, because such a large payment implies that they feared their guilt would be exposed at trial.

Statement 3: CSC’s Press Release Wrongly Implies the California Science Center was Not Involved in the Settlement

CSC claims: “[A]lthough the Discovery Institute’s August 29, 2011 press release states that the ‘state-run Science Center’ paid a settlement amount, the reality is that the Science Center did not pay a dime.”

Response: The California Science Center also benefited from this settlement as it was a defendant in the lawsuit; this settlement also allows the Science Center to avoid having to face this embarrassing trial. Since the California Science Center and the California Science Center “Foundation” often publicly treat themselves as one and the same, it is hypocritical for them to attack Discovery Institute for treating them exactly as they treat themselves.

As we experienced in our own lawsuit last year against CSC, a primary function of the private “Foundation” is to serve as a shell organization allowing CSC to escape public accountability when the CSC takes actions that trigger laws regulating government behavior. It’s a convenient arrangement: When good things happen, the “Science Center” gets the credit, and when bad things happen that trigger public accountability, CSC gets itself off the hook by blaming the private Foundation.

In any case, the “Science Center did not pay a dime comment” is consistent with CSC’s prior behavior where it is trying to minimize and ignore the significant amount of money it paid to AFA. No matter how they try to split hairs and slice it, the whole Science Center / Foundation unit was impacted and hurt by the $110,000 payment.

Statement 4: CSC Misrepresents the Reason for the Lawsuit

CSC claims: “The dispute arose out of unapproved press releases that had been issued relating to a private event that the AFA had intended to hold at the California Science Center’s IMAX Theater.”

Response: That statement is highly misleading. This case arose when CSC cancelled AFA’s event. But for CSC’s cancellation of AFA’s event, there would have been no lawsuit.

Statement 5: CSC Misrepresents Discovery Institute’s Press Release

CSC claims: “The press releases, for which AFA was responsible, falsely implied that the Foundation or the Science Center were sponsors of the AFA’s event.”

Response: This is not true. Discovery Institute (not AFA) issued the offending press releases, and any fair and careful reading of them shows the CSC’s claims are inaccurate and misleading. The press releases plainly stated only that the event was sponsored by American Freedom Alliance: “The screening is sponsored and hosted by the American Freedom Alliance.” Moreover, it did not say that the event was “sponsored” by the California Science Center, but merely that it was being held at the CSC’s IMAX: “Darwin’s Dilemma will be screened at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 25th in the IMAX Theater at the California Science Center.”

The press releases made it clear that a pro-intelligent design documentary would be screened at the California Science Center’s IMX Theater, “sponsored and hosted by the American Freedom Alliance.” And yes, CSC was offended by these press releases. But they were offended not because what the press releases said wasn’t true, but because what they said was true.

Additionally, AFA was not “responsible” for these press releases because they were drafted by Discovery Institute and not seen or controlled by AFA before they were released. The contract between AFA and CSC never said AFA had the responsibility to police third-party press releases.

Statement 6: CSC Misrepresents its Reason for Canceling AFA’s Event

CSC claims: “as a result of these false and misleading press releases, the Foundation cancelled the AFA’s event” and “The cancellation was never about the content of the program.”

Response: This claim is contradicted by evidence produced in the case which shows CSC’s animus against intelligent design was a primary factor in the cancellation.

For example, in its initial e-mail canceling AFA’s event, Christina Sion, a CSC vice president and lead negotiator on the AFA contract, expressed concerns about how publicity for AFA’s event might harm the reputation of the CSC and its standing within the scientific community: “This press release has damaged our relationship with the Smithsonian and the reputation of the California Science Center.” That e-mail alone provides evidence that viewpoint discrimination was at work.

Internally, Sion also disclosed the real reason for bringing down the hammer on AFA. In a moment of candor she privately wrote that “the main problem is that [AFA] is an anti-Darwin/creationist group.” (emphasis added) While obviously Sion is wrong to label AFA a “creationist group,” the key point here is that the “main problem” is AFA’s viewpoint and the content of their program, not some alleged contract violation.

Further articulating CSC’s intolerant attitude toward ID, Sion opines that “[a] science center should not even be asked to partner w/any group associated w/debating Darwinism — it’s not our place” since “their topic of Darwinism and the nature of their controversial approach is likely not a good fit to partner w/a Science Center.”

In a striking e-mail that shows the CSC fishing for a pretext to give the public to justify the cancellation, CSC VP of Communications Shell Amega passes a command from CSC CEO Jeff Rudolph to fish through the contract to find a reason, a pretext, for canceling the event:

“Jeff just called and is wondering if they violated an agreement — like was this supposed to be a private screening or did they say it was a public screening? If they misrepresented the event, then we can cancel them.”

In case it isn’t clear, the above statement shows that CSC first wanted to cancel AFA’s event, and then sought a reason it could give publicly to explain the cancellation. In other words, CSC wanted to cancel the contract before it knew whether the contract had been violated. Shell Amega’s own e-mail contradicts her claims in the statement that AFA’s alleged breach triggered the cancellation. In another telling e-mail, Sion then jubilantly announces the manufacture of plausible deniability: “They did receive an agreement w/the following language — hope this covers us well!”

After witnessing the anger of other LA area scientists and academics over CSC’s allowing a group to rent its IMAX to show a pro-ID film, CSC curator Ken Phillips then warned his CSC colleagues against granting a forum to proponents of ID:

“I personally have a real problem with anything that elevates the concept of intelligent design to a level that makes it appear as though it should be considered equally alongside Darwinian theory as a possible alternative to natural selection. In other words, I see us getting royally played by the Center for Science and Culture resulting in long term damage to our credibility and judgment for a very long time.”

Curator Phillips is welcome to disagree with ID, but here he exemplifies a culture of intolerance against ID within the California Science Center.

For still more proof of CSC’s discrimination, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC) evolutionary biologist John Long reports that in private conversations, Jeff Rudolph was reassuring neighboring science institutions that the cancellation did in fact stem from CSC’s opposition to ID:

“Jane Pisano (our CEO) rang Jeff Rudolph the CEO of California Science Center last night and had a chat to him about the screening of the ID film at CSC’s IMAX. They had in fact cancelled the event as being not in line with their mission to educate the public about science, so it is not going ahead…”

Thus publicly CSC is offering a pretext that they cancelled the event due to an alleged contract violation on the part of AFA, but privately CSC is telling a different story, that they cancelled the event due to opposition to the content of AFA’s program.

Statement 7: CSC Bluffs about what the Evidence in the case Demonstrates

CSC claims: “The AFA then sued the Foundation and the Science Center for breach of contract and violation of the First Amendment, claiming that the Foundation’s cancellation was based upon the purported content of the AFA’s program. This was not the case, and the evidence demonstrated that the Foundation was right.”

Response: As documented above, in reality the evidence demonstrates that CSC was wrong and that viewpoint discrimination as a major factor in the cancellation. More of the evidence showing discrimination by CSC, as well as by the Smithsonian Institution (SI), NHMLAC, other LA area academics, is documented at:

Statement 8: CSC Misrepresents the Evidence on Whether Pro-ID Events Were Welcome

CSC claims: “Indeed, the fact that the Foundation booked the AFA’s event in the first place affirmatively demonstrated the lack of merit to AFA’s argument.”

Response: This claim also is contradicted by evidence revealed in this case, which shows that if the CSC had known of the pro-ID nature of the groups involved, they might not have allowed the booking. In one e-mail, CSC Vice President Joe DeAmicis reassures CSC Curator Ken Phillips that no one in Events knew about the “nature of the groups involved” before AFA’s booking:

“This screening event was booked through the Events Dept., and they were unaware of the nature of the groups involved. It has come to Jeff’s attention and he is ‘working on it.'”

Phillips feels this information is important enough to then pass on to Dan Lewis, curator of the Huntington Library:

Hi Dan, Quick update. I’ve looked into this a bit. Apparently the Center for Science and Culture (a group which I knew nothing of until you brought this matter to my attention) booked our theater directly through the Event Services Department. These are the go-to people if you want to have a prom, wedding, business meeting, etc, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that they had (and still have) no idea of the connection, the issues or the problems of making it appear as though intelligent design should even be elevated to a level where it deserves to be placed alongside Darwin’s theory of natural selection. I’ve expressed my personal views on the matter in a note to our VP for Marketing and all of the curatorial staff here at the Science Center. I’ll let you know what happens.

While reporting on a conversation that NHMLAC CEO Jane Pisano had with Jeff Rudolph, Long similarly writes: “Apparently the IMAX was booking events without CSC knowing about all of them, and when they found out they immediately cancelled the event.”

The implication of these e-mails, of course, is that if CSC’s Events Department had known of the pro-ID “nature of the groups involved,” they would not have allowed the rental in the first place. For more documentation see:

Statement 9: CSC Misrepresents Discovery Institute’s Publicity Efforts

CSC claims: “[A]lthough the AFA asserted that the offending press releases were issued by an entirely independent third party (the Discovery Institute), it was uncovered that the AFA and the Discovery Institute actually had been secretly coordinating the publicity efforts and were intentionally trying to make the publicity that led to the cancellation as provocative and controversial as possible. One email among Discovery Institute individuals talked about ‘letting the jinnie out of the bottle’ when ‘all hell will break loose.’ The Foundation was certainly entitled to cancel the AFA’s private event.”

Response: This is false, misleading, and actually quite amusing. There was nothing “secret” about Discovery Institute’s publicity efforts for AFA’s event. Two of our senior fellows — David Berlinski and Jonathan Wells — were speaking at AFA’s event, and the event was screening a film that featured four other Discovery Institute fellows (Wells, Stephen Meyer, Richard Sternberg, and Paul Nelson). Discovery Institute issued press releases and announcements for that event as we generally do when our fellows’ work is going to be featured at an event. CSC tries to characterize our publicity as some kind of a nefarious “secret” conspiracy when there was nothing secret, or even interesting, about our efforts.

CSC also claims that DI sought to make its publicity “provocative and controversial.” In reality, the “all hell will break loose” quote refers to the fact that at previous premiers of Darwin’s Dilemma, local evolutionists got very upset by the mere fact that a pro-ID film was being screened. In particular, the premier of Darwin’s Dilemma at the University of Oklahoma had happened just days before AFA booked its event at the CSC, so the “hell breaking loose” in Oklahoma was fresh in people’s minds at Discovery Institute. For examples of how heads were exploding at the University of Oklahoma when Darwin’s Dilemma premiered there in late September 2009, see “ Oklahoma’s Darwinists Are Freaked Out by Intelligent Design” or “In Oklahoma, Darwinist Choir Sings the Praises of Suppression and Censorship.”

Thus, the “letting the jinnie out of the bottle” comment referred not to an intent to issue false or misleading or even “provocative” publicity, but simply to the reasonable expectation that the Darwin lobby was going to be very upset upon learning of the mere fact that Darwin’s Dilemma would be screened at the CSC. In other word, it was simply the existence of this event, not the publicity, that provoked ire.

Discovery Institute thus did have a reasonable expectation that as soon as the Darwin lobby learned Darwin’s Dilemma would premier at the CSC’s IMAX Theater, heads were going to explode there as well. And as the evidence shows, that’s exactly what happened. In addition to the evidence already discussed:

  • NHMLAC’s CEO was apparently “horrified” that the event was taking place at CSC.
  • The Smithsonian Institute got upset and said ID is “against SI/MNH policy” and sought to ask CSC to “cease and desist.”
  • Staff at the SI, NHMLAC, USC and other academic institutions repeatedly expressed in email their animus toward ID by wrongly labeling it “creationism,” “religious propaganda,” “bad science,” an “essentially religious philosophy of creation,” and “pseudo-scientific ideolog[y] masquerading as science.”
  • NHMLAC staff expressed their collective fury by drafting a letter demanding: “We urge you to cancel this event” Because “your current supporters and donors, including the State of California, might not continue to support CSC if it became known that you had, knowingly or otherwise, eschewed the presentation of solid science and instead offered a venue for spreading the religious propaganda that masquerades under the name Intelligent Design.”
  • Other LA academics were “up in arms” over the event, including one USC law professor, Hilary Schor, who quite tellingly was “less troubled by the freedom of speech issues than why my tax dollars which support the California ‘Science’ Center are being spent on hosting religious propaganda.”
  • All this led one CSC VP to observe that “scientists sure get pissed off about this subject”
  • Again, the publicity was “controversial” due to the Darwin lobby’s intolerance of ID, not because it should have been controversial. Yet there was never any anticipation on Discovery Institute’s part that CSC would go so far as to cancel AFA’s event.

Statement 10: CSC Misrepresents AFA’s Reasons for Declining CSC’s Invitation Back

CSC claims: “And although the Discovery Institute touts the fact that the joint statement includes the Foundation’s inviting AFA back to hold its event, they ignore the fact that AFA declined such invitation.”

Response: AFA declined the invitation because the invitation was to do an identical event. Since Darwin’s Dilemma has now been out for two years, and since AFA was able (actually forced) to shift its premier to USC after CSC cancelled the original event, it makes no sense for AFA to host an identical event now. CSC tries to find some kind of nefarious motive behind our not mentioning this fact, but the reasons for AFA’s declining the invitation were simply practical, and when you think about it, mundane in the extreme.

On the contrary, CSC’s invitation of AFA back vindicates AFA’s First Amendment rights to talk about intelligent design at CSC’s IMAX Theater.

Statement 11: CSC Bluffs and Calls the Kettle Black

CSC claims: “Unfortunately, it appears that neither the AFA nor the Discovery Institute have learned from their mistakes and false and misleading press releases continue to be issued. … Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Discovery Institute nor AFA have learned their lesson.”

Response: In light of the actual evidence uncovered in this case which shows CSC’s discrimination against AFA and the pro-ID viewpoint, was well as gross intolerance against ID by a number of other scientific organizations and academics, this is surely an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. What’s really going on is that CSC is bluffing about what happened in this case.

There are two sides to every story, but our side is based upon clear evidence from the case. And that evidence tells a story very different from CSC’s version of the case.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.