“How Old Is It?”

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The promise of the administration of the National Park Service (NPS) to conduct a high-level review of its policy of selling the creationist book, “Grand Canyon: A Different View”, has gone unfulfilled for three years. A press release from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) takes aim at the near-terminal foot-dragging of the ideology-driven NPS administration in Washington D.C. A three-year promise of this sort is well past its sell date.

Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah’s flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Here’s a thought for a New Year’s Resolution for the NPS administration: do the review and clear up this issue.

While the major problem of no NPS review of the Vail book noted by the PEER press release is easily verified, there is another issue that they bring up that we here at PT are checking out.

In a letter released today, PEER urged the new Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Mary Bomar, to end the stalling tactics, remove the book from sale at the park and allow park interpretive rangers to honestly answer questions from the public about the geologic age of the Grand Canyon. PEER is also asking Director Bomar to approve a pamphlet, suppressed since 2002 by Bush appointees, providing guidance for rangers and other interpretive staff in making distinctions between science and religion when speaking to park visitors about geologic issues.

The implication is that park interpretive staff are currently officially barred from giving the ages for the Grand Canyon as determined by our best scientific understanding. That would mark a far more intrusive policy problem in NPS than just the issue over selling a creationist book. So far as we here can tell, the park interpretive staff have received no such official injunction against telling it like it is when it comes to the age of geological features in the Grand Canyon. This is likely an unfortunate bit of hyperbole in the PEER press release that could distract from their major and undisputed point about nonfeasance when it comes to the review of the policy on selling a creationist book at the Grand Canyon park bookstores. It’s not that the park staff are being told not to give the ages of the Grand Canyon strata or when the Colorado River cut them, but that they’re still not being given the tools to address questions about science and religion issues, and they still have this unresolved issue of creationist misinformation being sold right there in the bookstore hanging.

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The declining scientific content expressed by the National Park Service has been an issue for years; the latest complaints (that I wrote about, and that Wesley Elsberry has now brought up) are just recent flareups of awareness. The National Park... Read More

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we have written history from China, Egypt, Sumeria during the fundies flood. They didn;t know about the flood. Why were they left out of the loop.

Thank goodness these clowns are going out of power in a week.…

The National Park Service almost always has a silly political fight going on, like this one.

Wise people might turn to the US Geological Survey folks, to see what they say. I’ve found good maps and serious geology discussions of most of the features of the area at various USGS sites.

Here’s a science quiz from USGS, for example: http://www.usgs.gov/sci_challenge.html

Pete Dunkelberg pointed out a letter to Science that corroborates a decline in scientific rigor in park information.

John T. Longino Wrote:

Schmidt notes that on viewing the canyon we ask, “How did this happen?” The current displays and signage at the Grand Canyon do their best to avoid any such question. As we left the park, we stopped to watch the sunrise at Desert View, a popular site. The most prominent sign at the overlook addressed only the visual beauty of the canyon and the religious significance of a distant mountain to Native Americans. One paragraph began, “The landscape seems consciously designed.”

(Source) Science 28 October 2005: Vol. 310. no. 5748, p. 619 DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5748.619c

As long as they do not publically admit to looking into the issue they can claim ignorance. It is just a fact that ignorance, incompetence, and or dishonesty are their only excuses. The insanity defence is included in “incompetence.”

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. It is the same mentality that allows them to support the current creationist obfuscation scams in public schools. Remaining ignorant is their least objectionable excuse for their actions.

Dover demonstrated this point quite clearly. The guys on the board that claimed that they didn’t know what ID was, but just went along with Buckingham and Bonsell came out looking a lot better than the guys that knew something about what they were doing and had to lie about it.

Ed Darrell Wrote:

Wise people might turn to the US Geological Survey folks

The USGS, also an agency in the Department of Interior, has recently been given notice that their works will be reviewed for compliance with Administration policy. Although the new Director, Mark Myers, calls this merely review for ensuring the best science plus national security interests, it appears to be a departure from the review system that has been in place for many years. USGS publications were never supposed to advocate policy (which is reasonable). Now, maps must be scrutinized to make sure locations somehow sensitive to terrorist attack are not included. But it sounds as though the Administration wishes to muzzle any mention of inconvenient scientific data and conclusions. Did they forget the shame brought on by George Deutsch?

One way to increase our effectiveness as advocates would be to join the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), which is a private, advocacy group (501(c)3) as I recall) which advocates good science, good conservation, and appropriate staffing and spending in the National Parks. On the issue of floods, NPCA has a good slide show on the Ice Age Floods Trail in the Northwest: http://www.npca.org/explore_the_par[…]_age_floods/

In a slide show not far from that one, NPCA features the Grand Canyon; the first slide has this caption: “Despite being one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world, including designation as a World Heritage Site, the park cannot afford to hire a geologist as part of their staff. LEARN MORE >> about how you can help to fund parks like the Grand Canyon.” Here’s the link to the Grand Canyon slides: http://www.npca.org/explore_the_par[…]afari/grand/

A second organization one might consider supporting is the National Parks and Recreation Association (NRPA), which is not focused so much on federal park lands, but is often more aggressive on some issues like public information and parks interpretation. Their website is here: http://www.nrpa.org/

We also should be concerned to be certain that the bookstore, which is a non-profit operation to benefit one of the Grand Canyon support groups, carries good geology texts on the Canyon and its formation. If good information is available, people will buy it.

The Vail book has been removed to the “inspirational” book section of the store, I understand – while that should tend to please the First Amendment libertarian in all of us, we need to be sure that we meet the conditions of debate set by Ben Franklin (as I recall). Franklin said that, in a fair fight, truth wins. A key part of making sure this fight is fair is to be certain there are enough Park Service people staffing the Parks to answer questions, that they are unconstrained from giving people the best science known, and that in the for-purchase areas, good information is available at least in proportion to the amount of good literature to bad (a ratio of more than 20 geology and natural science books to 1 “inspirational” book, I would figure).

What are the good books that the bookstore should be carrying?

There’s an interesting, tangentially-related story in the Fall 2005 edition of ParkScience, a publication of the Education and Outreach Division of the National Park Service (NPS): “On the Trail of an Important Ice Age Fossil Deposit.” (http://www2.nature.nps.gov/ParkScie[…]fm?IssueID=7)

At the Gettysburg Historical Park in Pennsylvania, geologists, paleontologists and researchers successfully re-discovered the Cave at Port Kennedy, a cave which had yielded a treasure trove of Ice Age remains in the 1800s, but which was abandoned after flooding, and then the quarry in which it was located was lost in refilling. Accurate information about the science of a National Park is critical to preserving the stuff there. This is just one example where accurate science led to a contribution in knowledge (but of course, Ice Age fossils also pain creationists).

Geology of the Grand Canyon is important for mineral development, for oil and gas exploration, for water management, and for flood management, just to mention a few areas of concern. If the Canyon really was created in a short period of time, say, less than 1,000 years, the dams along the Colorado system – Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, and Hoover, to mention three of the biggest – probably are unsafe to operate. Each of the reservoirs stores enough water to replicate at least a small portion of the reputed Biblical flood at those locations, and surely, if the land can be so dramatically gouged and deformed in a short period, holding the water could have equally disastrous effects to the rock, even if it just weakens it to the point the dams fail.

There are those of us who lament the flooding of Glen Canyon especially. But the case against the dams, if it is to be made, should be made on sound science, not on bizarre, unsubstantiated claims. Creationist claims about imagined rapid origins of the Grand Canyon cheapen trivialize and cloud the very real, very serious policy debates that need to be had on the management of our natural resources, including the National Parks.

Lest we forget, when James Watt (one of Ronald Reagan’s secretaries of Interior) helicoptered along the Grand Canyon, he was bored.

For those having the time and the inclination, it’s possible to get involved by volunteering at the national parks. This can involve educational programs.

In the “Highlights of 2005” issue of Geotimes (December 2005), under “Education and Outreach,” there is a discussion of challenges to evolution at museums and parks. A group regularly visits the Denver museum with its own guide to explain natural history “from a creationist point of view.” Museum staff have met to discuss the problem and prepare for similar situations, and staff at other museums are also being trained. The article highlights the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in Oregon as an example where the paleontology is clearly presented without pandering to creationists or diluvialists. I expect the problem of creationists reinterpreting museums to get worse, now that Dr. Dino’s grand institution has been shut down.

If any arm of the government is selling a creationist tract, that is just flat-out wrong. I am also opposed to the sort of scientific muzzling that the Bush Administration carries out as a matter of everyday business.

However, I must point out an error in your article.

Wesley R. Elsberry Wrote:

The implication is that park interpretive staff are currently officially barred from giving the ages for the Grand Canyon as determined by our best scientific understanding.

Actually, both the official NPS website and the official Grand Canyon Park Visitors Guide still give accurate information as to age.

The Guide is literally handed out to visitors by the same “park interpretive staff” that you say is officially barred from giving the age of the park.

So I think this particular part of the story falls into the category of urban myth rather than fact.

While I agree that the push to legitimize creationism should be wholeheartedly resisted; we must be careful not to damage the case for science by exaggeration. I can find nothing in the official website of the Grand Canon National Park that gives succour to fundamentalist views; in fact it is clearly stated that this wonder is several thousand million years old. See: http://www.nps.gov/grca/faqs.htm#old

Although rocks exposed in the walls of the canyon are geologically quite old, the Canyon itself is a fairly young feature. The oldest rocks at the canyon bottom are close to 2000 million years old. The Canyon itself - an erosional feature - has formed only in the past five or six million years.

It’s just some of the underlying rocks that are thousands of millions years old, not the canyon itself.

Actually, both the official NPS website and the official Grand Canyon Park Visitors Guide still give accurate information as to age.

The Guide is literally handed out to visitors by the same “park interpretive staff” that you say is officially barred from giving the age of the park.

So I think this particular part of the story falls into the category of urban myth rather than fact.

If “Googler” had bothered to keep going for another two sentences, he would have seen this:

So far as we here can tell, the park interpretive staff have received no such official injunction against telling it like it is when it comes to the age of geological features in the Grand Canyon.

Cue Emily Litella for “Googler”.

PS, “Googler”: The rest of my paragraph is good, too. As the ads say, “Reading is Fundamental.”

My personal irony is that, if I could single out one event that was most responsible for my fascination with evolution and natural history, it was my 1989 hike of the Grand Canyon. There I bought 2 small books, each with nice graphics and clear information about the ages of strata, names of geologic periods.

Thank goodness these clowns are going out of power in a week…

You’re off by two years, at least; this is the executive branch we’re talking about.

I took the liberty of writing to the Executive Director of PEER and got clarification on the “gag order” part of the press release after I’d blogged about it and subsequently revisited it. The full post where I reprint his e-mail is at http://nerdcountry.blogspot.com/200[…]ngagged.html but the short version is that the press release is being misinterpreted. PEER is not claiming Park Service employees are forbidden to answer questions about the age of the Canyon.

I have also received correspondence from the NPS itself, laying out why the book is for sale and that the position of the NPS is that the scientifically accepted explanation for the Canyon’s formation is the correct one. I do not yet have permission from the Park Service to reprint that e-mail, but will do so on my blog when and if such permission is granted.

In summary, as Googler said, this particular aspect of the press release and subsequent controversy is, in fact, a myth.

Just to clarify, I hope my comment wasn’t taken to suggest that Wesley Elsberry or PT in general were promulgating the myth of the gag order, I just wanted to add in what I’d discovered. Dr. (?) Elsberry was correct in his original post when he said “This is likely an unfortunate bit of hyperbole in the PEER press release …”

Whether or not an actual gag order truly exists at the Grand Canyon National Park, there are other places where it most certainly does, such as the Ozark Natural Science Center near Hunstville Arkansas. As an instructor there I was personally given clear verbal instructions by my supervisor not to talk about the age of the (ordovician) limestones and sandstones that we walked on during hikes… I was told by the administration I could say only they are “very very old”.

No matter what you believe, truth is never served by lies. If you have to lie to protect your beliefs it’s time to rexamine them.

Tom

You’re off by two years, at least;

…we hope.

at the rate Bushco is exempting itself from law, there is always that slight possibility he will simply decide the nation would be more secure if he just stayed forever.

These bloggers: http://scienceantiscience.blogspot.[…]roversy.html http://parkrangerx.blogspot.com/200[…]ou-read.html Seem to have some insights into the issue if you are at all interested.

You’re off by two years, at least;

…we hope.

We hope that it will be at least two years before the Rethuglicans are out of power?

at the rate Bushco is exempting itself from law, there is always that slight possibility he will simply decide the nation would be more secure if he just stayed forever.

Um, surely you once knew what “at least” means. It’s a bit frustrating when attempts to write precisely are utterly ignored.

Tom Maringer Wrote:

As an instructor there I was personally given clear verbal instructions by my supervisor not to talk about the age of the (ordovician) limestones and sandstones that we walked on during hikes… I was told by the administration I could say only they are “very very old”.

I am curious why you did not follow up with a formal complaint? As a federal employee, you have statutory and regulatory protections if you wish to file a ‘whistle-blowing’ complaint, so the question is why you chose not to do so, given the facts as you stated them.

“Googler”,

One would have thought that your next appearance in this or any other thread of mine would be making an abject apology for being completely mistaken in your January 2nd accusation that I promulgated an error in the opening post.

Why should anybody pay the least attention to your error-prone annoyances? You yourself obviously have no interest in getting things right, and seem only to exist to try to make other people miserable.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on December 31, 2006 11:50 PM.

Derbyshire at National Review on Kitzmiller was the previous entry in this blog.

Science and the National Park Service: a festering problem is the next entry in this blog.

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