Dry Rot, Not Arson: National Park Service and Science

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Theodore Roosevelt Wrote:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of the signing of the bill setting aside Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park. Roosevelt was a large figure in the movement to establish the national park system, so it only seems appropriate to take up an issue about how the National Park Service is operating now.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release on December 28th, 2006, that brought up the fact that the National Park Service (NPS) was then three years delinquent in delivering a promised review of its sale of a creationist book, Tom Vail’s “Grand Canyon: A Different View”. The release, unfortunately, included ambiguous phrasing whose most likely reading yielded a false claim that NPS had issued a “gag order” to its rangers and docents in the Grand Canyon national park to stay silent on the geological age of features in the park.

I’ve been doing some more digging concerning the situation with the national park interpretative exhibits, curricula, and bookstore merchandise. While there has not been an explicit, “Don’t talk about the age of the earth or park geology” directive given to rangers and docents, there is entirely too much credulous stuff that offers to take anti-science sources seriously. Rangers and docents are officially encouraged to tell park visitors about the “tenets and explanations of Creationism”. In evidence of a state of neglect when it comes to the accuracy of merchandise in the parks, it turns out that Tom Vail’s “Grand Canyon: A Different View” is not the only anti-science tome available for sale in park gift shops; Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “Red Earth, White Lies” may also be picked up at various stores.

Various people have accurately criticized the overblown claim of the original PEER press release concerning a gag order on interpretative staff telling visitors about deep time, essentially exonerating NPS of committing arson in its approach to science. But I feel that many have overlooked other data that does indicate a general administration strategy of encouraging dry rot instead, de-emphasizing the science content associated with park interpretative programs and credulously treating creationism and other anti-science stances.

Read on for the details.

The NPS Policy Muddle

There is a clear statement in the NPS policy guidelines about the relationship between sensitivity to multiple points of view and scientific validity (section 7.5.3 “Resource Issue Interpretation and Education”):

In instances in which programming affects resources managed by other agencies, such agencies should be consulted during program planning. For interpretation of resource issues to be effective, frontline interpretive staff must be informed about the reasoning that guided the decision-making process, and interpreters must present balanced views. Acknowledging multiple points of view does not require interpretive and educational programs to provide equal time or disregard the weight of scientific or historical evidence. Resource issue interpretation should be integrated into both on- and off-site programs, as well as into printed and electronic media whenever deemed appropriate by the park manager.

This policy, if it had been followed, would have short-circuited everything that I will discuss: the Vail and Deloria books would have been rejected for sale in park bookstores, and no mention of creationism would have gone into a document on accuracy in knowledge of the resource. It will become obvious that this particular component of policy has been roundly ignored. This process may have been initiated under a previous administration; I’m not particularly interested in assigning blame, I just want the NPS administration in charge to start acting like it has an interest in fixing the problem instead of making excuses for ignoring their own experts.

Creationism as an Officially Sanctioned Talking Point

In order to find the evidence of dry rot in the NPS administration’s approach to science, one must peel back the right bit of drywall. The relevant place to look is in the NPS “Interpretive Development Program”, Module 340, “Advanced Knowledge of the Resource”.

There are two chunks that appear to have been written with antievolution-speak in mind:

III. Accuracy and current information - Why?

Interpretation that is accurate provides a verifiable and comprehensive description, is errorless, and conforms to facts. An interpreter must always be accurate. All resource meanings, with enough knowledge and understanding, can and must be interpreted accurately. For example: an interpreter can accurately describe and explain the theory of Evolution as well as the tenets and explanations of Creationism. Likewise an interpreter can accurately describe and explain theories, perceptions, and understandings from the past that effect, conflict with, and/or contribute to theories, perceptions, and understandings in the present.

Interpretation that is current incorporates recent and ongoing discussion of the resource and its subject matter. This includes questions being asked by scholars, specialists, and the general public as well as what they are thinking and saying about the work that is being done. There can be multiple current explanations, theories, and interpretations that complement and/or conflict with each other. Currency also includes understanding of the general acceptance and use of a position by the professional community as well as popular culture and specific groups of people. An interpreter uses current information to provoke or provide additional opportunities for the audience to make their own intellectual and emotional connections to the resource.

[Emphasis added – WRE]

and

B. Effective interpretation requires comprehensive knowledge, understanding, and explanation of multiple resource meanings and audience perspectives - not just popular and current ones, in order to:

1. be relevant; 2. demonstrate familiarity with diverse sources of knowledge and opinion, which engenders trust in the open-mindedness of the interpreter; 3. demonstrate respect for audience points of view; 4. encourage dialogue; 5. provoke or provide diverse audiences with opportunities for personal intellectual and emotional connections with the meanings of the resource; 6. allow audiences to make decisions for themselves. (See: Appropriate Techniques: Connecting Multiple Resource Meanings to Multiple Audience Interests and Perspectives component.) 7. provide context for NPS perspectives.

[Emphasis added – WRE]

As the saying goes, keep an open mind – but not so open that your brains fall out. Elsewhere on the NPS site, treatment of “creationism” is discussed in terms of the relationship between ranger and park visitor, as NPS reiterates that rangers must be able to make the park features relevant to all visitors. We know demographically from repeated Gallup polls that about 40% of the US population, and thus about the same proportion of park visitors to the Grand Canyon, are likely to directly reject ages that contradict a young earth.

It is one thing to counsel park rangers and docents to be respectful of visitors and their beliefs, as pointed out on the NPS site, but quite another to encourage them to explain creationism to park visitors in contravention of policy section 7.5.3 (quoted above). The presence of “creationism” within a discussion of “knowledge of the resource” and tied to an example of “accuracy” is not credibly or even arguably about visitor relations; this is an assault upon the ability of science to distinguish explanations that come with evidence from those that are contradicted by evidence, and privileging the unevidenced claims. It is contrary even to the plain meaning of the lead sentence of the paragraph within which it is embedded. That’s not knowledge, and it sure isn’t accurate.

There’s more in that document, too, that looks like it has been touched by the culture warriors of the religious right or the radical left, especially the sorts who go for part of the post-modernist rhetoric:

(5) Scientific theories are conceptual, not susceptible to direct experimental verification, and cannot be described as absolute truth as there is no external objective truth by which to measure them.

They fail to mention that scientific theories are often susceptible to direct experimental disproof. Ask someone where “ether” went as an explanation of the propagation of light waves in space. While “absolute truth” should be quibbled about, the bland claim that there is “no external objective truth” available goes well into metaphysics. Yes, with stuff like this, the “war on science” is certainly being fought within the bounds of the NPS.

To examine this and other questions, I called the Public Affairs office at Grand Canyon National Park and was directed to Leah McGinnis. I identified the source and read the passage containing the example of using creationism to establish accuracy in knowledge of the resource. She said that she was not familiar with the document and could not comment on it. I asked what role the document played in determining interpretative programs. She said that she did not know about the specific document, but that interpretative staff were delivering “science-based information” to the public.

The date of last modification of the section is given as September, 2001. I think that this is odd, to have an official policy encouraging the use of creationism that has not yet directly affected the work of the interpretative staff in the national parks. Then again, Ms. McGinnis’s perspective from the Public Affairs office may not have the complete picture of what is being brought to bear upon interpretative staff. The document’s presence and content are ominous in any event, and call into direct question the NPS administration stance on providing accurate science to park visitors, as well as violating section 7.5.3 of the policy guidelines.

Malign Neglect: Anti-Science Sections in Bookstores

In addition to the disputed book by Tom Vail, “Grand Canyon: A Different View”, that we already know about and have been anticipating high-level review of policy on sale in official park bookstores, there is another notorious anti-science tome gracing official park service bookstore shelves. That book is Vine Deloria, Jr.’s “Red Earth, White Lies”. A commenter on the “Bad Astronomy” weblog testified that this book is a legacy of approval during the Clinton administration, though I have been unable to confirm a date of approval for it. I was incredulous that NPS anytime, anywhere would approve such a polemic for sale by park bookstores, so I called one of the stores, the Walnut Canyon National Monument bookstore, and asked for stock and price information. (Yes, it is in stock, and it is priced at $18.95.)

NPS contracts out its bookstores to concessionaires and cooperating associations. So, is it just the concessionaire or cooperating association making the decision? For the Grand Canyon in particular, the bookstores are run by a cooperating association, the Grand Canyon Association. The Grand Canyon is handled like the Glacier Bay park, where the contract plainly says that NPS reserves the right to reject any merchandise offered by the concessionaire or cooperating association. (I wasn’t able to find the GCA contract online.)

(1) The Director reserves the right to determine and control the nature, type and quality of the visitor services described in this CONTRACT, including, but not limited to, the nature, type, and quality of merchandise, if any, to be sold or provided by the Concessioner within the Area.

The cooperating association relationship to NPS is even closer than a contract with a concessionaire. The space NPS provides for the GCA is, for example, within the Visitor Center on the North Rim, and a separate building within the Visitor Center Complex on the South Rim.

I asked Grand Canyon National Park Public Affairs spokesperson Leah McGinnis about the book approval process. She told me that a book submission involves NPS park review, and that for the Grand Canyon National Park, that is a five person endeavor. Each person has a set of criteria they apply to their review of the book. One of those includes the “fit with other materials and merchandise”, a clear strike against the anti-science titles noted. The “Park Service Review” person, though, has the clearest criterion relevant in this case, that the book must be accurate.

Recall some of the information from the PEER press release about the highly selective review process for materials to be sold in park bookstores:

Moreover, unlike a library the approval process is very selective. Records released to PEER show that during 2003, Grand Canyon officials rejected 22 books and other products for bookstore placement while approving only one new sale item — the creationist book.

This is an interesting bit of data, but it is tough to independently confirm. Ms. McGinnis said that she did not have data on hand concerning the number of approved or rejected book titles in previous years, and would have to go through the review records to enumerate that. If PEER got this information via their FOIA request, that would be useful to know. If PEER is right on this, for every YEC or straight anti-science book the concessionaires and NPS approves, many other books are rejected as inappropriate for sale within the official park bookstores. But whether or not the park service review rejects a lot of other books, a few other books, or simply rubber-stamps every submission, it still is the case that their own policies state that they will reject inaccurate books. Approving an inaccurate book is an error no matter what else might have been submitted.

The book approval process that NPS requires combined with the Park Service Review criterion of accuracy in materials offered for sale in park bookstores means that every anti-science title stocked and sold in park bookstores sends the clear message that NPS approves of the content as an accurate account of its subject matter. This is not a matter of “book-banning” or censorship; this is a matter of a dereliction of responsibility to conform to established policies by a government entity. Placement of a book in a NPS park bookstore means much more than a commercial vendor like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Borders stocking a title. Those firms do not vouch for the accuracy of what they sell to the public; the National Park Service does.

If you don’t agree with me about the significance of the fact of NPS review criteria for approved merchandise, you will definitely not like the rest of this post. You might as well move on to something else now. I’ll note that various legal decisions have come down to the degree of review of content that is conducted by an entity: “common carriers”, for instance, are generally not liable for defamatory content transmitted via their services, while services that do perform content review may be held liable for what they do choose to transmit. By analogy, an NPS bookstore is more like a newspaper than it is like a phone company; they have established rules and criteria for content, and (allegedly) are highly selective in what they choose to pass with approval. The fact that they do have a defined review process makes them more responsible for errors made in that process, not less.

Like dry rot, the erosion of good science within our National Parks is hastened by an attitude of neglect. When it comes to books on sale in national park venues, it seems like the books in question are being treated as if they were civil servants: it is very tough to fire a civil servant once they are lodged in position. Books, though, do not deserve that sort of consideration. Once it becomes clear that a mistake was made in the selection process for a book being sold on park premises, review and action should follow with at least competent bureaucratic speed. Three to four years of neglect for the Vail title is not competence in action. Nor should the Deloria book be privileged by its possible seniority. NPS needs to live up to its role as having given these tomes their imprimatur of accuracy, and rescind that as soon as possible.

Criticism of the PEER Press Release

A post at Without a Park to Range takes issue with the PEER press release that reawakened interest in this topic. As I did, “Ranger X” notes that the claim that interpretative staff are barred from telling visitors the real ages of Grand Canyon features is unsupported and apparently false. Another glitch is the identification of the non-profit organization that runs the bookstores in the Grand Canyon parks as “GRCA”. The actual group is the Grand Canyon Association (GCA). However, “Ranger X” also makes this statement in a thread at Evolving Thoughts:

Most of PEER’s claims are wildly unsubstantiated.

Since the primary emphasis of the PEER press release concerned the continued presence of the Vail book, “Grand Canyon: A Different View” in the Grand Canyon park bookstores, one can tote up the things PEER claimed:

* The book is sold in park bookstores. * Book selection is conducted under NPS auspices. * Books submitted for sale can be rejected as inappropriate. * 22 books were rejected when the Vail book was accepted. * NPS promised a review of the policy to allow the Vail book to be sold. * That promise is over three years old. * Park interpretative staff are not allowed to tell visitors the real ages of features.

As far as I can tell, only that last one is plainly wrong. All the rest of those, save the numeric claim about rejected books, I have independently confirmed as accurate. As I said in my previous post, the inaccurate final claim has generated a lot of attention and distracted from what PEER did get right, and from the general issue that there actually is a problem with the treatment of science in the NPS administration.

That a review was promised can be verified in the country’s newspaper of record, the New York Times on October 26, 2004:

Last December, a few months after the book appeared in Grand Canyon shops, the presidents of seven geological and paleontological organizations wrote to Joseph Alston, superintendent of the canyon, to urge that the book be removed from stores there, lest visitors get the impression that the park endorsed its contents.

Now the issue rests with the solicitor’s office of the Interior Department, which has been reviewing the issue for almost a year, said Elaine Sevy, a spokeswoman for the Park Service.

Asked what the review consists of and why it is taking so long, she said, “It’s resting with the solicitor’s office.”

Until its ruling, the book remains on sale.

PEER was being conservative. This issue has been dragging on for almost four years now.

Kurt Repanshek posted an extensively researched criticism of the PEER press release, finding, as I had speculated in my initial post, that the gag order claim was erroneous. Repanshek also went some way toward minimizing the significance of years-long inaction concerning the promise of a review of policy on the Vail book.

Now, if you are of the opinion that bookstores in the parks are providing educational services, then I suppose an argument could be made that only texts that adhere to accepted science could be sold.

That gets part of the way there. The problem is not in that the book(s) in question don’t conform to “accepted science”; the issue is that they do not conform to NPS’s own guidelines in the review process that the materials be accurate. Historical and literary works don’t need to intersect with “accepted science”, but they would still need to establish their accuracy within their field, like rejecting Holocaust denial or bizarre claims about who actually authored the works of Shakespeare. Likewise, if the book(s) in question could be determined to be providing accurate information about their subject matter, then the review should clear them for sale.

But I think that it is clear that these book(s) can’t withstand review on the accuracy criterion. In the case of the Vail book, a substantial amount of that review will involve comparing its claims and assertions to “accepted science”. There is a reason that “accepted science” is accepted: it has withstood the scrutiny of the scientific community. I find that I am really coming to dislike the term “accepted science”; it looks more and more like a disparagement.

The claim reported through Repanshek from “David Barna, chief of communications for the Park Service” that national park bookstores are like public libraries is also an irrelevancy. Public libraries do apply some selection criterion to accessioning decisions, but they don’t generally have the criteria for accuracy that NPS has in place. You don’t expect everything in a public library to come with that library’s implicit approval of the accuracy of its content, yet that is exactly what comes with a book sold under NPS approval.

Barna tells me that while some geologists within the Park Service think the book shouldn’t be sold, others on the agency’s interpretive staff believe park bookstores should carry material that addresses a wide range of topics and views.

Again, this is irrelevant. Unless the unnamed “others” can successfully defend the accuracy of the book(s) in question, it is clear that their placement and sale under NPS approval is wrong.

With hopes of ending this story’s short, but vivid, life, Barna this morning put out a news release that stated, in part, that Vail’s book “is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore. In this section there are photographic texts, poetry books, and Native American books (that also give an alternate view of the canyon’s origin).”

What was interesting to me is that trying to find Barna’s press release via Google comes up empty. Search for the sentence fragment, “section there are photographic texts, poetry books, and Native American”, returns commentary on Barna’s statement, but not a source document. Google News has nothing with that text. I thought a “news release” implied that the material was made available to the public. Otherwise, I’d call it an “interview”.

But Barna is once again indulging in irrelevancies. This blather about sections does not change the fact that Vail’s book makes definite fact claims that are inaccurate, no matter what label you want to hang over the physical space that the stock is kept (in those few spaces that can even have separate “sections” to divide up stock). To correct this, NPS needs to fulfill their promise on the review, or take the step that they apparently have made de facto policy already and remove any pretense that their own procedures in any way touch upon the accuracy of content for merchandise sold in national park bookstores.

Besides which, what exactly is so “inspirational” about anti-science?

One issue that I have not seen addressed so far is why the review process, which is conducted within the auspices of a specific national park, was “kicked upstairs” in this particular case to Washington, DC. Why is Mr. Barna involved in this at all? Shouldn’t the experts on staff at the Grand Canyon have the best “knowledge of the resource” to say whether the book is accurate when it comes to claims made about the Grand Canyon?

Repanshek notes in comments that information about the age of the Grand Canyon’s formation and geological strata is available online. He was responding to a commenter who was having trouble finding that information:

'Scholar' Wrote:

One has to search the NPS website like a hawk to find ANY mention of Geologic time.

Kurt Repanshek Wrote:

Well, Scholar, I’m certainly no hawk, but right on the park’s home page, in the lefthand column, is a link slugged “Nature and Science.” Click on that and it takes you directly to a page that discusses the park’s geology, including a boxed item that reads:

Did You Know? The more recent Kaibab limestone caprock, on the rims of the Grand Canyon, formed 270 million years ago. In contrast, the oldest rocks within the Inner Gorge at the bottom of Grand Canyon date to 1.84 billion years ago. Geologists currently set the age of Earth at 4.5 billion years.

The problem here is that the “Did You Know?” box noted by Repanshek is not a fixed feature, but rather a dynamic one that rotates its content among several alternative possibilities, and once your browser has established a session, you only get the initially randomly selected text snippet. “Scholar” could well have not seen that particular resource because you essentially have to win a weak lottery to do so.

Now, let’s look at the geology-talk on the “Nature and Science” page mentioned:

Well known for its geologic significance, the Grand Canyon is one of the most studied geologic landscapes in the world. It offers an excellent record of three of the four eras of geological time, a rich and diverse fossil record, a vast array of geologic features and rock types, and numerous caves containing extensive and significant geological, paleontological, archeological and biological resources. It is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest. However, the significance of Grand Canyon is not limited to its geology.

Three dimensions of space all get numbers and almost a set of descriptive statistics. Age? That’s just “four eras of geological time”. Nothing to disturb a YEC at all there; geological eras could just be hydrological sorting to them. You have to click through to “Natural Features and Ecosystems” to find an explicit statement of time in a static page:

Geologic formations such as gneiss and schist found at the bottom of the Canyon date back 1,800 million years.

One number to discuss time. Pardon me if I am not overwhelmed.

Cornelia Dean at the New York Times ran a story, “Parks Agency Leaves Controversial Book on Shelf”, on the damage control being put in place by Barna following the PEER press release.

In the end, no formal action was taken, and the book remains on sale because, Mr. Barna said in a written statement, “It is not our role to tell people what to believe.”

Well, Mr. Barna, NPS is not in the business of telling people what they should believe, but NPS review policies mean that the placement of books in park bookstores tells them that the expert staff at NPS believes that those materials are accurate. And that is the crux of the problem.

The group received a letter saying a review of records “did not locate any documents responsive to your request,” which Mr. Barna confirmed, saying “there’s no real record.”

So PEER’s claim of nonfeasance on the part of NPS concerning the lack of followup on the promise of a review (as also reported by the New York Times; see above) is completely accurate and stipulated officially. Thank you, Mr. Barna, for confirming that.

But there was no formal review, in part because of differences of opinion among the Park Service’s own specialists, said David Barna, a spokesman for the agency, in an interview yesterday.

When officials got together to discuss the book, the geologists and natural resource specialists would say, “Get this book out of here,” Mr. Barna said. “But the education and interpretation people would say: ‘Wait a minute. If your science is so sound, the fact that there are differences of opinion should not scare you away.’ “

Somehow, I think that the geologists and natural resource specialists were somewhat more specific in their criticisms. Barna glosses over the issue of materials meeting the criteria that are already established for materials on sale in the national park bookstores. The implied vilification of the domain experts as cowardly ideologues by Mr. Barna is at least impolite, or, worse yet, giving another manifestation of the dry rot encouraged by NPS administration concerning science in our national parks.

Here is what one of the NPS domain experts had to say, quoted with part of the PEER letter to NPS head Bomar:

On January 25, 2004 David Shaver, the Chief of the Park Service’s Geologic Resources Division sent a memo (enclosed) to NPS Headquarters calling for removal of the book, concluding –

“Our review of …NPS policies and Grand Canyon: A Different View, lead us to conclude that this book: does not use accurate, professional and scholarly knowledge; is not based on science but a specific religious doctrine; does not further the public’s understanding of the Grand Canyon’s existence; does not further the mission of the National Park Service…and finally, that this book should not have been approved for sale in NPS affiliated book sales.”

It sure looks like Shaver was directly addressing the NPS policies and criteria for merchandise.

Information Online

The US Geological Service provides a handy website about the strata of the Grand Canyon. Their dates are not bowdlerized, but then they aren’t under NPS administration either.

The Grand Canyon Association provides accurate information online, as the Winter 2005 “Nature Notes” newsletter demonstrates.

NPS itself provides some good information. There’s a set of lesson plans based on Grand Canyon geology available through NPS:

Background Information The earth is very old – about 4½ billion years – according to recent estimates. This vast span of time, called geologic time by earth scientists, is difficult to comprehend in the familiar time units of months and years, or even centuries. How then do scientists reckon geologic time, and why do they believe the Earth is so old? The evidence for an ancient Earth is concealed in the rocks that form the Earth’s crust and surface. The rocks are not all the same age – or even nearly so – but, like the pages in a long and complicated history, they record the Earth-shaping events and life of the past. The record, however, is incomplete. Many pages, especially in the early parts, are missing and many others are tattered, torn, and difficult to decipher. But enough of the pages are preserved to reward the reader with accounts of astounding episodes which certify that the Earth is billions of years old. The oldest known rocks on Earth are close to four billion years old. They are found on the shores of Great Slave Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territory and in remote areas of Greenland. The rock layers of Grand Canyon range in age from 1800 million years old at the bottom of the canyon to 270 million years old at the top. The canyon landscape we see today, however, is relatively young, having been sculpted in just the last 5-6 million years. The metamorphic rocks, found at the bottom of the canyon formed when sedimentary rocks were subjected to igneous intrusions followed by deep burial. Subsequent flooding by inland seas and windy desert conditions deposited and then reworked the sedimentary rock layers above them. The canyon seen today is relatively young, having been sculpted in just the last 5-6 million years. The Colorado River carved through many rock layers to create Grand Canyon. Lateral erosion widened the canyon.

This, though, is not exactly an easy resource to locate. Why doesn’t NPS GRCA have a resource like the USGS one prominently posted, or at least linked from the “Nature and Science” page?

Conclusion

I know that many people have decided that because PEER implied something that turned out to be false (though PEER has asserted it never intended that reading of its press release), that there is no problem and everyone can relapse into a complacent haze now. In looking for confirmation or denial of PEER’s claims, I found what I feel are significant indications of a problem within NPS administration and its attitude toward science. This is not happening in isolation. There was an earlier PEER press release about the attempt by Paul Hoffman to revise all NPS management policy documents, essentially striking references to evolution and ecology.

I was able to directly confirm most of the claims that I was able to enumerate from the 2006/12/28 PEER press release; in one case I could not get confirmation of a numeric claim, and in another I was able to determine that there was no edict given to interpretative staff to fail to say what geological ages go with various Grand Canyon features. The issue concerning the sale of inaccurate books with the implicit NPS guarantee of accuracy is still a live one.

As I said before, NPS should adopt as a resolution the completion of a review of the suitability for NPS bookstore sale of the Vail book, and other legacy anti-science titles, using the Park Service Review criteria already in place. The domain experts at the Grand Canyon should be relied upon to determine the accuracy of fact claims made in the books. Their opinion should be heeded, not dismissed with post-modernist posturing. The dry rot in attitudes toward science needs to be examined, investigated, and excised from the National Park Service. The bluff plain-talking president, Teddy Roosevelt, would surely be disappointed in the manner in which this aspect of his legacy has been treated.

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55 Comments

Thank you for that well researched and excellent summary. Despite there being no overt anti-science policy, the problem does seem exactly as bad as feared.

Not to be cynical, but I am, I don’t think anything will change—even if a million geologists marched on the White House—until the Bush administration is ousted.

It wouldn’t end “until the Bush administration is ousted”, Keanus? Think again. I have been living in the west, visiting national parks and monuments for many years now, and the amount of anti-science bullshit has little to do with your political leanings.

As Dr. E. told us, “Grand Canyon: A Different View” exists side by side with “Red Earth, White Lies”. In my experience, the latter example is more common than the former. The right has no monopoly on pseudoscience.

just my opinion, man.

Nobody seems to be providing park staff with examples of how to be respectful of other beliefs without selling out science or getting combative with irate Hovind acolytes, or wasting years of their lives learning to counter creationist arguments. I would suggest it goes something like this: Science doesn’t insist on anything. It says “the current evidence supports a millions-of-years-old canyon and no other known natural explanation”. If you prefer a different explanation involving God, that’s ok because God doesn’t care a whit about evidence. He is by most accounts infinitely powerful and is unconstrained by any need for his magical phenomena to fit with any expected pattern. Please relax and enjoy your day admiring His wondrous handiwork.

This is fairly serious journalism. Wesley, thank you.

It’s a “backwater” perhaps, in most accounts of The Controversy, but what you aptly term dry-rot is the tendency in the education of the public in general scientific literacy. This should not be ignored.

CJO Wrote:

…but what you aptly term dry-rot is the tendency in the education of the public in general scientific literacy. This should not be ignored.

This includes, as has been discussed here before, the fact that many public school science teachers avoid the subject as much as possible so as to not have to get into arguments with students and parents.

I recently met a woman who teaches middle school physical science in the Maryland public school system. She said that students who believe that the geological column is only a few thousand years old are allowed (by the administration I assume) to exempt themselves from any tests or quizzes on the subject.

I just returned from a school trip to DC, where I found some good and bad signs. On the one hand, no pseudoscience books were in the bookstore in the Natural History Museum, and the human evolution display, though outdated, was placarded as outdated and scheduled for renovation soon. Some signs were placed on the railing giving updates of the permanent displays. Even the fossil hall makes no obvious attempt to minimize the age information. However, in the National Zoo Learning Center, where orangutans are sometimes given cognitive exercises, there was an almost apologetic sign warning people that there may be information inside that they “disagreed” with, primarily because they compared/contrasted chimps, early hominids and modern humans.

I don’t have much respect for bookstores that place Behe’s and Johnson’s books in the science section rather than in the philosophy/religion section. I try to point out the error, but the average bookstore worker isn’t the one making these decisions. Some stores (Books a Million for one) have all sorts of crap in the science shelves, others are a bit more selective, and only the “sciency” sounding stuff makes it in.

jkc said:

“I recently met a woman who teaches middle school physical science in the Maryland public school system. She said that students who believe that the geological column is only a few thousand years old are allowed (by the administration I assume) to exempt themselves from any tests or quizzes on the subject.”

Where in Maryland is this happening? The unfortunate thing is our state has no statewide pro-science group like KCFS or the groups in New Mexico and Ohio. Maybe we should start one.

(side note - the formating instructions for this site are unintelligible as is pointed out by all the attached comments - at the very least examples should be provided)

I don’t have much respect for bookstores that place Behe’s and Johnson’s books in the science section rather than in the philosophy/religion section.

I usually place them in the Christian fiction section myself. Takes a while for store employees making the rounds to correct the “error”.

The crazies have the Whitehouse. Once they get cleaned out, things will start getting back to normal. And, in any case, religious fervor has gripped this country more than once, yet when the full cycle of fervor-apathy plays in the end, religion looses ground. And it has nothing to blame but it’s own excesses.

Build on hate, lies and excess and you end up with a back-lash that causes you to lose all your gains and more. And, since religious leaders don’t study history or learn from it, you can be assured the cycle will repeat.

Great post Wesley. I have it linked from my blog so that more can read it. I plan to call the NPS and complain.

Paul -

“I have been living in the west, visiting national parks and monuments for many years now, and the amount of anti-science bullshit has little to do with your political leanings.”

I’m quite astounded by this comment.

Having lived in New Mexico myself, I’m perfectly aware that some pseudoscientific beliefs (alien abductions, crystals, astrology, various holistic healing movements, etc) are politically neutral; a few may even be more prevalent among “liberals”. But, without in any way intending to defend them, these disparate belief systems are not at all like ID/creationism.

First of all, they are not associated with aggressive denial of mainstream science, they simply seek to “add something extra”. Astrologers, for example, don’t necessarily deny the age of the earth or that antibiotic resistance is an example of an evolutionary process.

Second of all, they aren’t associated with aggressive legislative and courtroom efforts to have the specific belief taught as science in tax-payer funded public schools, in violation of the rights .

ID/creationism is primarily political; here’s some text from a post I made in another thread yesterday…

My point here is not to endorse or condemn any political ideology. Lysenkoism was a politically motivated position masquerading as “science”, and the fact that all of its adherents were Soviet Communists was an important part of understanding the issue. The siutation with ID is analagous.

Evidence -

1) ID books, such as the latest Jonathon Wells book, are published by Regnery Press, a self-identified right wing publisher. The latest book is part of a whole “Politically Incorrect Guide” series by Regnery. 2) The Discovery Institute is funded by figures such as Howard Ahmanson, well-known for right wing political views. 3) Funding for or support of ID from “liberal” or “moderate” religious groups is markedly lacking. Pious figures like James Carter or the Dahli Lama have spoken out in favor of mainstream science. The differentiator appears to be politics, not religion. 4) The well-known “Wedge Document” outlines political concerns and aims. 5) ID advocates shun peer-reviewed technical journals, defensible thesis development, and other means of developing or defending a legitimate scientific position, but constantly make statements to the media - and when they do, as mentioned in “1)”, they are likely to be featured in Regnery or on “conservative” cable channels. 6) ID advocates have manipulated school board elections in an effort to have ID taught as science in public schools. 7) The Thomas More Legal Center, who represented the losing ID effort in Dover, is a self-described “very conservative” activist group. 8) The overwhelming majority of legislative efforts to have ID taught in public schools were introduced by conservative Republicans. 9) Of course some conservatives have denounced ID, George Will being the ever-touted example. 10) However, the bottom line is, “support for ID” is massively associated with one particular political ideology.

You’ll note that I haven’t tried to guess why. I have my hypotheses - pandering to fundamentalists who may not benefit economically from, or entirely agree with, the overall right wing platform, and anger at science for “not cooperating” - but no matter why, the data are the data.

Prediction - If you’re a “conservative who doesn’t agree with ID”, you’ll still try to come up with some argument in favor of teaching it as science.

snaxalotl on April 26, 2007 12:53 AM (e)

Nobody seems to be providing park staff with examples of how to be respectful of other beliefs without selling out science or getting combative with irate Hovind acolytes, or wasting years of their lives learning to counter creationist arguments.

Easy to imagine. There are an infinite number of lunatic fringe beliefs. When I first heard of “chemtrails”, it seemed like a joke. But people take very seriously the idea that jet fuel is full of toxins meant to cover the earth and poison the population to keep the numbers down. Plus the mind control chemicals of course.

The park rangers should blame it all on the geologists. “Scientists say that the canyon is millions of years old and goes all the way to bedrock after cutting through a billion years of sedimentary rock.” If someone objects, “this canyon was created in a few months after Noahs Big Boat adventure”, they should just smile and nod and say yes, there are other viewpoints.

This is a park not the faculty library or a church.

A good and thorough post, Wesley.

Regarding Red Earth, White Lies: I’m the one who first brought it up over on Bad Astronomy. An elementary bit of sleuthing reveals approximately when it must have been approved: Amazon.com shows the date of first printing as 1995, and I saw it in one of the Grand Canyon area giftshops in fall 1998.

I can think of a benign explanation for the lack of numbers in the geological info at the NPS Grand Canyon website: it may have been transcribed from printed resources so old that they didn’t have accurate age numbers. Grand Canyon National Park dates back to well before radiometric dating was possible. But obviously, that ‘explanation’ doesn’t make the NPS look any better. There’s definitely a problem here, either incompetence or anti-scientism, and it definitely needs addressing at the level of NPS senior management. As I said over at Phil’s blog, I’m unconvinced that this is a direct or explicit policy from the current president, but I do think it’s an attitude that’s been allowed to continue under his administration. In the federal bureaucracy, any behavior that isn’t explicitly smacked down is implicitly approved.

Prediction - If you’re a “conservative who doesn’t agree with ID”, you’ll still try to come up with some argument in favor of teaching it as science.

The prediction is easily falsified. I belong to a pro-science, libertarian/conservative web forum called Darwin Central, whose several hundred members overwhelmingly if not unanimously oppose the teaching of ID creationism as science.

http://forum.darwincentral.org

In October 2003 we were visiting a dinosaur trackway in Picketwire Canyon (SE Colorado). According to the best scientific information, these tracks were laid down about 150 Mya. We had a guide for this trip, and the group included about 30-40 other folks. The guide, who apparently was a volunteer who had lived in the area most of her life, and who wore a USFS jacket and worked out of a government office in La Junta, informed us of that dating. But then she added something like “If you believe in Genesis, of course, these tracks are only 5000 years old.” I was too dumbfounded to say anything, and the rest of the crowd just nodded approvingly…

The prediction is easily falsified. I belong to a pro-science, libertarian/conservative web forum called Darwin Central, whose several hundred members overwhelmingly if not unanimously oppose the teaching of ID creationism as science.

Actually, I do like that fact about the right. Yet it has been somewhat disconcerting to see so many of the conservative organs playing friendly with the IDists during the past few years. I think that NR has been more solidly pro-science post-Dover, and throughout they continued to publish writers like Derbyshire who gave no quarter to ID’s claims to be science.

I don’t find NR unbearable on that account, then, however two magazines that I once read for periods of time, American Spectator and Chronicles, can just go to hell. I know that neither has been solidly pro-ID (TAS’s P.J. O’Rourke has always had contempt for creationism, at least), yet they published little or nothing except anti-evolutionist articles on the subject, at least for a number of years.

I know that political entities must, naturally, be politic and not completely dismissive of potential supporters. However, I think that even NR went too far, but it was other conservatives who I think really moved from being politic to sucking up to the anti-Enlightenment contingent.

Glen D http://tinyurl.com/35s39o

ck1,

I believe the woman I met was teaching in rural Carroll county. I suspect, though, there is a lot a variation between urban and rural areas.

Although I’m from Maryland and would love to be part of a science advocacy group, I’m working overseas for the time being, so I can’t be much help.

Gerard Harbison -

Technically, the prediction was about that specific poster. It has not yet been falsified. However, your position is appreciated.

I did make reference to the fact that some few conservatives have spoken up against ID.

The prediction went beyond my original point (which was that not all conservatives are ID supporters, but virtually all ID supporters are active right wing conservatives). The prediction implied, as you clearly noted, that even most self-identified “conservative movement” members who know better will offer mealy-mouthed apologies for “teaching the controversy”, apparently to avoid creating a rift. I can’t offer obvious objective evidence for that one off the top of my head, but I’m sure a good study would support it.

Technically, libertarians are neither members of “the conservative movement” nor conservative in the orginal sense of the word.

There is superficial overlap between libertarian views and those of the current “conservative movement” - both oppose the role of government as an agent for the common good or the specific redistribution of resources to those in need.

However, the “conservative movement” that everyone who has lived in the US in recent years can recognize is also sympathetic to weakening civil rights, enforcing specific religious doctrines as law, intensely enforced prohibition against commonly used substances with resultant massive prison incarceration rates, and frequent if not constant resort to war. And this site exists because a large subset of them also want to teach superstitious pseudoscience, and distort and deny real science, in public schools, at taxpayer expense, for cynical advancement of their political and (ostensibly) religious ideology. All of these features are effectively the opposite of what libertarians claim to support.

It took Bob Barr until 2007 to leave the Republican Party, and few have followed him. I am consistently astounded that Libertarians appear, given their support for Republicans, to prioritize incremental and symbolic cuts in social services over fundamental issues of human rights, or if I may say, human “liberty”.

Nevertheless, I would not consider “conservatives” and “libertarians” to be the same thing, at this point in time.

But anyway, your point is well-taken.

* 22 books were rejected when the Vail book was accepted.

It sounds like somewhere in the NPS there’s a YEC at work.

(5) Scientific theories are conceptual, not susceptible to direct experimental verification, and cannot be described as absolute truth as there is no external objective truth by which to measure them.

Were you there Wesley, Were you there ? !

I’ve heard Vail in action a couple of times on TV. I’m sure he said that he was once an employee in the parks service and that his wife was influential in him becoming a Christian and a YEC. Am I right in thinking that YEC geologist Steve Austin wrote the geology section ? As far as I know there’s a review of the book over at the NCSE website.

In Northern Ireland there are probably as many YEC’s as in the US. There are quite a number of geological formations that are “millions of years old” (the Giant’s Causeway or Slemish mountain are 2 examples) but I have yet to come across any alternative view on their formation. Most sites in NI would have something like this in the information centre:

http://www.habitas.org.uk/escr/geologyni.htm#top

I still think I’m right that the left has quite a bit of anti-science nonsense. I never said that DI is less pernicious though, Harold.

By the way your prediction is wrong. As Gerald Harbison noted there are pro-science libertarians, and I am one of them, and I really hate DI/Creationism…

You read my email as equating DI/creationism with other pseudoscience, where my main point was pseudoscience simply not going to disappear with government change. Although I wish it would.

Here in Fairfax County, VA, biology teachers often indicate their approach to evolution by the presence or absence of a Bible on their desk or prominent bookshelf. Parents know that teachers showing the Bible will discuss evolution in the minimal way possible to meet state testing requirements, with most if not all of the favored creationist/ID objections noted. I know of at least one high school where the AP Biology teacher has a Bible on her desk.

FWIW, Fairfax County is one of the highest income, best educated counties in the USA and its school system is generally rated among the best as well.

Harold

I feel your clear dislike of conservatism and libertarianism makes you a less than objective observer.

American conservatism has has a clear libertarianism vein in it for the last half century, at least since Barry Goldwater. The attachment of the religious right to the movement, and the formation of a coalition between social and libertairian conservatives, post-dates Goldwater: as late as 1966, the religious right mostly belonged to the Democrat party. The religious right never had, in my opinion, a real interest in smaller government or in individual liberty; those were just useful strategic positions to adopt against a secular, statist left which held the reins of power in the 1970s and in some respects into the 1990s. As a result, the recent ascendancy of social conservatives has fractured the coalition. Alas, the Democrats are offering little to attact libertarians to their side.

Unfortunately, I see littie evidence a change in administrations will do much to change the NPS policies Wesley has documented so thoroughly. Either party is willing to sacrifice scientific clarity for a few million Southern Baptist votes - witness Al Gore’s recent statements about creation.

Paul -

I’m glad that my prediction was proven wrong, although as I said, I don’t see how libertarians can be construed as “conservative”.

Of course, I’m assuming that “libertarian” means supporting strong civil rights, opposing irrational prohibitions, and the like. I’m conceding the meaning of the term “conservative” to today’s right wingers, as well, but even in the older sense of “defending tradition and changing cautiously”, I don’t see how libertarianism can be called “conservative”.

You wrote -

“I still think I’m right that the left has quite a bit of anti-science nonsense.”

This is obviously true, but it partly depends on what you mean by “the left”. Soviet communism produced pseudoscience. Personally, I think that the term “the left” should refer to those who favor an authoritarian society with government control of economic production. These days conservative Democrat senators and staid, cautious newspapers with token “conservative” columnists are referred to as being on “the left”, rendering the term almost meaningless.

I don’t consider being a “progressive” or “liberal” American by today’s standards, as I admit that I am, to put me on “the left”. I favor a free market/ strong human rights foundation, but one that is intelligently and humanely regulated to the benefit of all residents, including the poorest and sickest.

As far as “hippies” and their political descendents, if personal style is what you mean by “the left” (and it often is what people mean), they have an interestingly mixed record. On one hand we see an adoption of all sorts of pseudoscience like astrology; on the other hand, we see early adoption of things that initially seem “unscientific”, but turn out to be remarkably insightful in the long run (environmentalism, “health” food, benefits of yoga, sustainable agriculture, early predictions about the internet, etc).

You are certainly 100% correct that getting rid of the Bush administration won’t mean the end of either pseudoscience or creationism. Indeed, “ID” (that is, the widespread use of the phrase “intelligent design by Behe, Dembski, and the like) popped up in the nineties, and the first Kansas school board controversy took place in 1999.

However, the Bush administration is the first US administration, and, I confidently hope, the last, to be overtly hostile to mainstream science on multiple issues. Getting rid of that can’t hurt.

Gerard Harbison -

A few brief replies.

“I feel your clear dislike of conservatism and libertarianism makes you a less than objective observer.”

I actually don’t dislike libertarianism, although I don’t agree with all of it. I used to be very sympathetic to it. It’s only that, in recent years, I’ve become frustrated by the failure of Libertarians to stand up to the attack on human liberties.

I do dislike “conservative movement conservatism” as exemplified by the Bush administration.

“American conservatism has has a clear libertarianism vein in it for the last half century, at least since Barry Goldwater.”

It’s debatable whether Goldwater should be considered a conservative in any sense, but alright, I’ll grant you that he’s usually described as such. Note the context of Goldwater vs. Johnson - both were strong proponents of civil rights (by the standards of their time); their differences were mainly on economic policy (and possibly foreign policy, although less so than some would think).

“The attachment of the religious right to the movement, and the formation of a coalition between social and libertairian conservatives, post-dates Goldwater: as late as 1966, the religious right mostly belonged to the Democrat party. The religious right never had, in my opinion, a real interest in smaller government or in individual liberty; those were just useful strategic positions to adopt against a secular, statist left which held the reins of power in the 1970s and in some respects into the 1990s. As a result, the recent ascendancy of social conservatives has fractured the coalition.”

Complete and total agreement.

“Alas, the Democrats are offering little to attact libertarians to their side.”

I’m not sure I agree here, given the alternative. But that’s a debate for another venue.

“Unfortunately, I see littie evidence a change in administrations will do much to change the NPS policies Wesley has documented so thoroughly. Either party is willing to sacrifice scientific clarity for a few million Southern Baptist votes -witness Al Gore’s recent statements about creation.”

Gore also said that creationism should NOT be taught in science class, and Gore is not running for office at present. (Al Gore has an overall good record on science policy, to put it mildly, but as I said, he’s not running anyway.)

I’m quite confident that the NPS policies will change almost overnight with a change of administration, even to a different Republican administration.

Gerard Harbison -

Oops. I don’t really agree that a “secular and statist left held the reins of power” in either the seventies or the nineties.

Of course, all of those terms can be subjectively interpreted.

I agree very strongly that the religious right, by definition, is hostile individual liberties and small government.

“What was interesting to me is that trying to find Barna’s press release via Google comes up empty. Search for the sentence fragment, “section there are photographic texts, poetry books, and Native American”, returns commentary on Barna’s statement, but not a source document. Google News has nothing with that text. I thought a “news release” implied that the material was made available to the public. Otherwise, I’d call it an “interview”.”

I was sent the letter in an email from GRCA staff, but don’t know if it was an actual press release or merely an official response.

At any rate, you can read it in PDF format at my site. You’ve done a thorough job here; I’m surprised you missed the link on my site.

http://parkrangerx.googlepages.com/[…]alpolicy.pdf

“However, “Ranger X” also makes this statement in a thread at Evolving Thoughts:

Most of PEER’s claims are wildly unsubstantiated.

Since the primary emphasis of the PEER press release concerned the continued presence of the Vail book, “Grand Canyon: A Different View” in the Grand Canyon park bookstores, one can tote up the things PEER claimed:

* The book is sold in park bookstores. [This is not a claim; it is a statement of independently verifiable fact.] * Book selection is conducted under NPS auspices. [This statement is semantically wrong. Auspices is defined as “protection or support”; it is the bookstore that supports GRCA, and not the park that supports the store. “Guidance” is a better term.] * Books submitted for sale can be rejected as inappropriate.[Statement of fact.] * 22 books were rejected when the Vail book was accepted. [Questionable statistic; needs evidence.] * NPS promised a review of the policy to allow the Vail book to be sold. [Show me proof.] * That promise is over three years old. [Needs evidence.] * Park interpretative staff are not allowed to tell visitors the real ages of features. [No proof for this CLAIM.]”

Drop the most and you have “PEER’s claims are wildly unsubstantiated.”

PEER also went back and edited their press release after the fact to deleted some unsubstantiated claims.

Listen, I’m a critic of the NPS, but in this case, PEER was way off. Having worked 10 summers for the NPS, I used hard science in my interpretive programs. My resource management co-workers also used hard science.

PEER needs to provide documentation. When I spoke with Ruch, he made even more wildly unsubstantiated claims, to which my phrasing also refers. He claimed he had heard from “a number of” interpreters about this incident, but that was later proven false by his own admission.

“PEER revised the original release on our website, deleting the problematic first sentence. [“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.”]

Although the information was not included in the release, that sentence was based on the fact that since 2004 (until this recent controversy erupted) we heard from reporters that the superintendent’s office at GCNP had answered media questions about the age of the canyon with either a “no comment” or by referring the reporter to Headquarters.”

That is in direct contradiction to what Ruch told me on the phone.

Anyway, PEER is a fridge group that uses distortions to advance its political agenda: http://parkrangerx.blogspot.com/200[…]om-peer.html

Ranger X

well mcdonalds just got a thank you letter from me about not using arsenic-laced chicken feed (the american Chemical Society’s newsletter gave that info to me btw)

so i guess the nps can definitely get a letter of complaint from me too

brb

Harold, actually Gore initially said that he felt schools should be able to decide whether they wanted to teach creationism or not, which was disappointing to say the least.

From a Slate article: http://www.slate.com/?id=1006378

Al Gore said through a spokesman that he favored teaching evolution in the public schools, that the decision should be made at the local level, and that “localities should be free to teach creationism as well.” But after the Gore campaign was informed that the 1987 Supreme Court decision Edwards v. Aguillard prohibited teaching creationism because it constituted religious belief, Gore retreated to the more sound position that creationism could be taught only in religion classes.

I didn’t mean to sidetrack it onto politics. My initial post was actually anti political. Beware of nonsense from any political ideology

sigh

Lets get back to Dr. Elsberry’s excellent post! Right now! Thanks Wes.

Either party is willing to sacrifice scientific clarity for a few million Southern Baptist votes -witness Al Gore’s recent statements about creation.

Al Gore is not a political party, and his statement was not “recent” in any non-misleading sense.

There are people of all political persuasions, including libertarians – as witnessed by the very statement above – who are willing to mislead in an attempt to improve their political position. But the above equivalence radically and dishonestly misrepresents the relative treatments of science by the two parties. The Bush administration’s sins against science go way beyond winning Southern Baptist votes – they are practiced regardless of election season, and generally hidden from the sight of the electorate. The abuse of science is not done to win votes – rather, the winning of votes is done to enable the abuse of science. While much of the abuse is done by creationists, dominionists, and other religious ideologues, those persons are selected and placed into positions of authority precisely because of their hostility to science and human welfare generally, as that hostility favors the interests of the primary beneficiaries (and, in lesser amount, benefactors) of the Republican party. And it’s not just religious ideologues who are in that position of favor with those benefactors/beneficiaries – those non-human “persons” that exert tremendous control over our society – it’s also so-called “libertarian” ideologues who are irrationally hostile to government regulation and oversight and other forms of collective action that favor the interests of real humans when they conflict with the interest of these non-human “persons”. Of course, these so-called “libertarians” will generally insist on their ideological purity, that they really are humanists, that they are not the friends and supporters of the anti-human actions of these non-human “persons”, that in their “theory” those entities could only do good, or what is “natural”, and that the bad things they do are strictly a result of interference by the non-natural (somehow) bogeyman, “government” (labor unions are another case of real humans acting collectively that offends these “libertarians”) – but their very sincerity in their (counterfactual and counter-human-interest) beliefs makes them all the more valuable to the interests of the behemoth non-human “persons” that we are forced to share the planet with. (It would be nice if we could determine what is causing large number of individual bees to lose their identity with the hive, thereby resulting in the dissolution of the hive, and apply it instead to the individuals whose actions, in concert, result in that monstrous emergent phenomenon, the corporation.)

My initial post was actually anti political.

No, it wasn’t, it was extremely political, far more than the comment you responded to, which simply pointed out an obvious minimal requirement for change.

Lets get back to Dr. Elsberry’s excellent post! Right now! Thanks Wes.

The post is right there for all to see, and comment on as they see fit. Fawning over the author does not “get back” to the post in any meaningful way.

Paul -

Seriously, if the subject of the thread is National Park Service policy, and your initial comment was that “the left” is also associated with pseudoscience, how can you say that politics is a sidetrack?

The subject of the thread was politcal, and your comment was political (and perhaps defensive).

To summarize my positions -

1) I pointed out the relevant fact that ID/creationism is massively associated with “the conservative movement”. That fact is true and relevant to any discussion of ID, regardless of one’s particular political views. 2) I conceded that depending how one defines “the left”, it may or may not be reasonable to say that some pseudoscientific positions are associated with them, but that in the US, in the last few decades, there has not been any serious, concerted effort by anyone other than right wing supporters of ID/creationism to deny and distort science in public schools, or to introduce pseudoscience to the science curriculum in public schools*. I stand by that, and add that the pseudoscience they wish to insert is sectarian and divisive, and violates the rights of students, parents, and taxpayers. I can assure you that I would oppose the introduction of any pseudoscience into science classes, by anyone, I’m just stating the facts here. (*A nitpicker might talk about “abstinence only education” or “climate change denial” here, but if you think about it, my statement is still true.) 3) I conceded that, although not a Libertarian myself, I sympathize with and support many of their positions, but I was critical of Libertarians for not living up to their name, and not standing up for human rights under the assault from the Bush administration (with the much-appreciated but very belated exception of Bob Barr). I strongly stand by that comment. 4) I stated my opinion that the current NPS policy of subtly encouraging creationists will end when the Bush administration goes away, and I stand by that rather obvious opinion. 5) I conceded that I consider myself a “progressive” and find little overlap between my views and Bush administration policy (as opposed to the fair amount of overlap between my views and what Libertarians claim to stand for). However, I can assure you that I oppose pseudoscience regardless of its source.

Discussion of eugenics should be done at After the Bar Closes. Further comments on that topic entered here will be shifted to the Bathroom Wall to join those already there.

“Ranger X”,

While the link to Barna’s PDF on your website is appreciated, it does not address the point I was making. An NPS response that is offered to select commentators is not a “press release”.

“Guidance”, on the other hand, is synonymous with “auspices”. The cooperating associations, such as the Grand Canyon Association, enter into an agreement with NPS and the materials offered for sale in their bookstores are reviewed for approval by NPS, as confirmed by NPS spokesperson Leah McGinnis.

The fact that a review of the Vail book was promised is substantiated by a New York Times article from October 26, 2004 that refers to a review that was, at that point, almost a year old. This source confirms both the existence and age of the review in question. I did, in fact, include that link in my post above.

What differentiates a false claim from a true claim is that a true claim can be independently verified. Just because a claim is true does not suddenly convert it into something that is not a claim.

I did note in my article that the figure of 22 rejected books could not be independently verified.

Ranger X Wrote:

Drop the most and you have “PEER’s claims are wildly unsubstantiated.”

If we only consider the claims that PEER got wrong, why, yes, those would be the unsubstantiated ones. I’m not sure that the observation tells us much, though.

Let me repeat myself:

Various people have accurately criticized the overblown claim of the original PEER press release concerning a gag order on interpretative staff telling visitors about deep time, essentially exonerating NPS of committing arson in its approach to science. But I feel that many have overlooked other data that does indicate a general administration strategy of encouraging dry rot instead, de-emphasizing the science content associated with park interpretative programs and credulously treating creationism and other anti-science stances.

You seem to have a need to berate PEER. However, that is not the primary issue here. I’ve already noted that PEER got the claim about interpretive staff wrong. My research began because of the PEER press release, but I haven’t relied on their say-so to reach my conclusions about the treatment of science by the NPS. Whether PEER is accurate or unreliable doesn’t change what the evidence says is going on within NPS.

your comment was political (and perhaps defensive)

His comment was also an illogical non sequitur attack on a strawman. Keanus wrote “I don’t think anything will change—even if a million geologists marched on the White House—until the Bush administration is ousted” – that obviously, to any intelligent person not blinded by his own political ideology, does not imply that things will change solely by virtue of the Bush leaving the White House; it’s a necessary, not sufficient, condition. Yet paul, acting on his apparent “pox on both equivalent houses” ideology, wrote “It wouldn’t end “until the Bush administration is ousted”, Keanus? Think again.” What would be called for to challenge Keanus’ statement would be a reason to think that it would end prior to Bush leaving the White House, but of course paul offered no such reasons, instead providing irrelevant claims about the politics of people other than Bush.

Substantially repetitive bashing between commenters here will get shifted to the Bathroom Wall, too. Enough already.

I didn’t bash anyone, I pointed out fallacies of argumentation. Feel free to point out where I, in turn, made an error, rather than bashing me.

as late as 1966, the religious right mostly belonged to the Democrat party.

1966. 40 years ago. That’s impressive.

BTW, despite what Rush Limbaugh tells you, it’s Democratic Party, Gerard. Not ‘Democrat Party’.

Try and keep up, lest you come across as a ‘less than objective observer.’

OK, you want an error of yours identified, fine: I did not specify the object of bashing.

Do not try again.

Wesley R. Elsberry -

I appreciate your vigilance against bashing.

I must say that I thought the discussion here between me, Gerard Harbison, Paul, and Popper’s Ghost was civil on all sides, by almost any standard.

Of course, I’m assuming that I didn’t miss anything that was whisked away.

I presume that the now-relocated comment on eugenics was independent.

Bashing per se isn’t the problem. After a while, though, stuff that doesn’t substantially advance the discussion doesn’t need to take up space here. Yes, the eugenics bit was independent.

Very good analysis, Wes! The blog post I did on this, False Gods and False Worries: Lessons from the PEER Grand Canyon Fiasco, gives a fairly detailed chronology of the whole episode, starting back in 2002 and ending with PEER’s revised news release. It hopefully makes it easier to keep track of what happened when, for those (like me) who find themselves getting confused on the background.

Mr. Elsberry,

As the Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Association, I can affirm to you that the comments by PEER regarding the declination of multiple books and the sole approval of the Vail book have absolutely no basis in fact. During the one year period in question, there were literally hundreds of books approved and declined. Certainly, Mr. Vail’s books was not the only book approved there were more than 200 approved that same year.

As educators we believe that providing people with divergent viewpoints and then encouraging them to read and learn more about a subject in order to form their own conclusions is an appropriate educational model.

I enjoyed reading your post.

Brad Wallis

Thank you, Mr. Wallis, for the information on the book approval/disapproval numbers. It was unfortunate that Ms. McGinnis did not have access to information of that sort.

By the way, I defended my dissertation in 2003, successfully even.

As educators we believe that providing people with divergent viewpoints and then encouraging them to read and learn more about a subject in order to form their own conclusions is an appropriate educational model.

NPS policy would concur, but would limit the divergent viewpoints approved for sale in NPS-affiliated bookstores to those that are accurate. I can’t say as that’s a bad thing. No point in spending a lot of time and effort bringing people up to speed on “divergent viewpoints” that are known to be complete poppycock when there is so much actual information and real divergence of viewpoints within science.

So, I agree with the principle stated, but Vail’s book is still a mistake for NPS bookstores to carry, no matter where it might be put. It is not accurate, does not fit with other materials about the resource, and has other problems with NPS policy and guidelines.

Mr. Elsberry,

As the Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Association, I can affirm to you that the comments by PEER regarding the declination of multiple books and the sole approval of the Vail book have absolutely no basis in fact. During the one year period in question, there were literally hundreds of books approved and declined. Certainly, Mr. Vail’s books was not the only book approved there were more than 200 approved that same year.

As educators we believe that providing people with divergent viewpoints and then encouraging them to read and learn more about a subject in order to form their own conclusions is an appropriate educational model.

I enjoyed reading your post.

Brad Wallis

As educators we believe that providing people with divergent viewpoints and then encouraging them to read and learn more about a subject in order to form their own conclusions is an appropriate educational model.

So your “educatinal model” consists of mixing obvious lies with the truth, pretending they’re somehow of “equal” merit, and then telling students to look elsewhere for the answers to their questions? We have another phrase for that sort of thing: “dereliction of duty.”

What if the Flat Earth Society offered their own take on the geology? Would your “educational model” allow for their point of view? Or would that depend on how much money they gave to the “right” politicians?

One more thing, Mr. Wallis: as owners/custodians of Federal property, who are taking money from guests and letting them go about on your property, you have an obligation, as hosts, to give your guests decent information for their money. You’re not being a very good host, if you let creationists spread their lies about your property, on your property.

Web Results

Numeric Age for Rocks Exposed within Grand Canyon http://www2.nature.nps.gov/geology/[…]ks/grca/age/

Interesting. The Google “Backward Links” function for that page comes up with no hits whatsoever.

There is a palpable sense of orphanage about it. Try to move up the hierarchy of its menu at the top, and you get an error. And if you feed back in the title as the search term for Google, with restriction to the “nps.gov” domain, Google doesn’t even return it among the hits in eight pages of search results that I see.

Exactly how did you find that page?

It is a nice resource page, last edited in 2005, and I actually own a copy of the timeline mentioned at the bottom of the page. It is too bad NPS hasn’t seen fit to incorporate this material more prominently within its domain.

See near the bottom, though:

Addendums

Previous versions of this article were published in Nature Notes (http://www.grandcanyon.org/canyonvi[…]Winter05.pdf and http://www.grandcanyon.org/canyonvi[…]Spring05.pdf), published by Grand Canyon National Park in cooperation with the Grand Canyon Association, and in Boatman’s Quarterly Review, published by Grand Canyon River Guides.

For more information on the geology of each of the formations exposed in Grand Canyon see http://3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/colorado[…]on_strat.htm.

Grand Canyon: Yardstick of Geologic Time, published by Grand Canyon Association is an interpretive publication that helps people put the age of Grand Canyon rocks into the context of geologic time. It is available from Grand Canyon Association at http://www.grandcanyonassociation.o[…]eatured.html

And my original post references two of those URLs already.

“grandcanyon.org” is owned by GCA, the cooperating association, not NPS. USGS is a separate government entity from NPS.

Spider.Earth uses both url and directory structure to locate relevant documents regardless of broken links or links derived from dynamic content pages.

i like your pandas. (:

they are pretty shibby, you know? i think that you should continue this website for eternity.

: also, please add some glorious pictures of llamas. that would absolutely make my day. but anyways will all my appreciation, would you be nice enough to email newer pictures that you up-put on your website.

good day mate.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Wesley R. Elsberry published on April 25, 2007 9:55 PM.

Hexley: Evidence of Evolution’s Satanic Origins was the previous entry in this blog.

Wiley Interscience: Where Legal Threats are Apologized For is the next entry in this blog.

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