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PEER Overstates "Faith-based Park" Problem:

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is "a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals dedicated to upholding environmental laws and values." Among other things, PEER serves as the voice of government employees who object to "anti-environmental" policies and practices within government agencies.

One of PEER's campaigns is challenging "Faith-based Parks." Specifically, PEER is concerned that the Bush Administration has pushed the National Park Service to reject scientific analysis and explanations in an effort to cater to religious fundamentalists. Among other things, PEER claimed that the Bush Administration was pressuring NPS employees to accomodate creationist explanations of the Grand Canyon's history, and tell the public that the canyon in thousands, rather than millions, of years old. PEER claimed in a press release that:

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.
The charge is plausible -- after all, one administration employee sought to edit NASA's website so as to protect religious sensibilities -- and, if true, quite objectionable. The problem, as the Skeptic Society's Michael Shermer documents, PEER's central claim does not pan out. It is true that one of the books the NPS offers for sale at the Grand Canyon National Park's bookstore is a creationist account of the Canyon's history. Yet this book is sold in the "inspiration" section of the bookstore, along with Native American creation myths and other spiritual materials. It is not sold or represented as a scientific account, nor have NPS employees ever been instructed to give anything other than a scientific explanation for the Grand Canyon's age and history.

After extensively researching PEER's claims -- and forcing a partial retraction -- Shermer is understandably distraught (in part because he initially cited PEER's charge uncritically). Perhaps the NPS shouldn't sell the offending book in its book stores, but this is hardly proves PEER's initial claims. As Shermer explains, the controversy over selling creationist books "is an old one now, and completely irrelevant to the claim that NPS employees are withholding information about the age of the canyon, and/or are being pressured to do so by Bush administration appointees." PEER's claims to the contrary -- and protracted efforts to defend the charge and deflect Shermer's inquiries -- were an "egregious display of poor judgment and unethical behavior," Shermer concludes. In the end, it seems that PEER's hostility to the Bush Administration caused it to overstate the facts. There are enough examples of political manipulation of scientific claims without the need for PEER or others to invent new ones.

JoeSmith:
Doesn't take "extensive" research to cast the whole thing into question. Just look at their website. While the home page of the website for the Grand Canyon National Park does state that it was carved out over "millenia," the site also mentions evidence of human civilization that is 12,000 years old and "gneiss and schist found at the bottom of the Canyon date back 1,800 million years."
1.19.2007 12:44pm
WHOI Jacket:
Countdown till Doonesbury issuing a retraction/correction....
1.19.2007 1:09pm
therut:
And people wonder why some feel the enviromentalist and scientists support groups and agenda pushing organization are nutty.
1.19.2007 1:19pm
RBG (mail):
Growing up in a fundamentalist family, I always found it kind of odd that National Geographic would often include fairly strident anti-creationist remarks in their articles while practically fawning over the creation myths from other religious traditions. I mean, it's not as though the adherents of those traditions don't often believe their own myths as strongly as our fundamentalists believe theirs, often with far more deleterious social effects. It always struck me as a little condescending, perhaps with a tinge of racism: "It's cute for those ignorant third-worlders (or Native Americans) to have their myths, but we won't tolerate it among our own kind."

Even though I've outgrown fundamentalism, this brouhaha strikes me as no different: As Eugene notes, "this book is sold in the 'inspiration' section of the bookstore, along with Native American creation myths." Where, I ask, is the outrage?
1.19.2007 1:53pm
ajftoo:
This post seems awfully generous to PEER given the blatant lies they've been promulgating.

And, WTF is this?:

The charge is plausible -- after all, one administration employee sought to edit NASA's website so as to protect religious sensibilities -- and, if true, quite objectionable.


Last I heard, the Big Bang was a theory. Seems appropriate to label it as such.
1.19.2007 2:03pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
RBG: The post was Jonathan's, not mine. As to the National Geographic's quoting others' creation myths, I take it that it was quoting them because they were anthropologically and historically interesting, not because it approved of people's believing them today. I've loved Greek mythology ever since I was a small child, but I wouldn't have a high opinion of people's believing it as fact (rather than repeating it as literature that they cherish for its cultural significance but do not believe to be true).
1.19.2007 2:12pm
solon (mail) (www):
There is a certain amount of irony in the link about NASA. The person who changed the NASA site is a former Texas A&M student who does not know how argumentation fields work. From the link:
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."


While the word "theory" contains a general meaning, in scientific terms, it is a accepted conclusion shared by many in the scientific community. To state, like many do about Evolution and the Big Bang, that these scientific ideas are just "theories" misrepresents what a theory is in the scientific community. To say the least, this is intellectually dishonest.

So, ajftoo: don't assume the meaning of theory applies in all fields and all contexts. Labeling these as "just theories" is a linguistic slight-off-hand that tries to cover up evidence and support within the Scientific Community because it does not fit the ideological beliefs of a religious community.
1.19.2007 2:19pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

RBG: The post was Jonathan's, not mine. As to the National Geographic's quoting others' creation myths, I take it that it was quoting them because they were anthropologically and historically interesting, not because it approved of people's believing them today. I've loved Greek mythology ever since I was a small child, but I wouldn't have a high opinion of people's believing it as fact (rather than repeating it as literature that they cherish for its cultural significance but do not believe to be true).
I have also noticed how National Geographic (and other liberal publications) go out of their way to be polite and respectful of non-Western religious beliefs. I just wish that they took the same non-judgmental, very kind and gentle approach with Western religious beliefs.
1.19.2007 2:22pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):
I can't help but think that there is an effort afoot to "personalize" every disagreement that occurs in the government as being the direct result of some intervention by President Bush. This story being a classic example. Does anyone fail to see that the verbiage in the pamphlets handed out at the freakin' Grand Canyon is a little below the President's pay grade?

These goofy missteps happen all the time in the government (including during the Clinton Administration). It is only when it is a Republican president that the press (and others) decide to cherry-pick human stupidity and weave it into a "web of deceit and abuse." This is a corruption-at-the-very-highest-levels!!! mountain being made out of a molehill. Sheesh!
1.19.2007 2:23pm
WHOI Jacket:
Henri, what else can you say but Sho'nuff.
1.19.2007 2:32pm
David W Drake (mail):
Although I haven't been keeping up with the controversy, it is ironic to me that there would be Christian religious objections to the "Big Bang" theory, as it seems to track Genesis 1:1.
1.19.2007 3:05pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Although I haven't been keeping up with the controversy, it is ironic to me that there would be Christian religious objections to the "Big Bang" theory, as it seems to track Genesis 1:1.
I wasn't aware that there were any Christian religious objections to the "Big Bang" theory. There are Young Earthers who insist that everything is really very young (say, a few thousand years old) that is made to look really old, but that's not really an objection to "Big Bang." Remember the climatic sequence of the movie Dark Star!
1.19.2007 3:24pm
ajftoo:
Solon,

My point is that it is accurate, in fact it is only accurate, to refer to the "Big Bang theory."

I would be willing to goof on Deutsch for his religious beliefs, but his directions to the web editor were completely appropriate given his position. And, in no way does that incident make PEER's lies plausible as the esteemed Mr. Adler claimed.

I'm not assuming that the meaning of theory applies in all fields and all contexts, I'm asserting that it does. You may disagree, but you'd be wrong.
1.19.2007 3:29pm
solon (mail) (www):
Ajftoo-

The connotations of the word theory is vastly different in the scientific community than it is in the vernacular. By inserting "theory" into the "Big Bang," something that would not be done for Gravity, it is a political move to undermine the scientific community.

The same thing occurs with the evolution sticker, which is why a federal court struck down the use of the disclaimer "Evolution is a Theory, not a Fact" on biology textbooks. Anti-Evolutionists attempted a linguistic ploy to undermine the case for evolution without trying to debate the issue of evolution.

While you are correct that it is a "theory," my point was that the word "theory" possesses different meanings according to its context. And like the evolution case, to use the phrase the "Big Bang is just a theory" as Deutsch stretches and diminished the word "theory" so it no longer represents what the word means in the scientific community. It would be better, and certainly more ethical from a debate position, to engage the position rather than create a straw person argument over the meaning of "theory."
1.19.2007 3:59pm
BobNSF (mail):
It's so refreshing to see conservatives calling for equal treatment for all creation myths, including Genesis.

As for the Grand Canyon, I wasn't aware that it was even mentioned in the Bible. (ahem) What's the connection between the big hole in the ground and the creation stories of cultures that didn't know the big hole in the ground even existed???
1.19.2007 3:59pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
I can't help but think that there is an effort afoot to "personalize" every disagreement that occurs in the government as being the direct result of some intervention by President Bush. This story being a classic example. Does anyone fail to see that the verbiage in the pamphlets handed out at the freakin' Grand Canyon is a little below the President's pay grade?


Agreed, I find it amusing that anyone seriously believe that the President of the United States is issuing orders to his subordinates over the pamphlets handed out at the Grand Canyon. It's almost as ridiculous as political attack ads (yes both sides do it) directed at a member of Congress because of some obscure appropriation that was stuck in an omnibus spending bill. Better to stick to general disagreements over policy.
1.19.2007 4:20pm
WHOI Jacket:
Because it all makes so much sense! Bush's diabolical genius/gross incompotence (which day of the week is it?) is all prevasive. I mean, if he can change the pamphlets put out by the Park Service, then what's to stop him from giving you a parking ticket next week.

The larger a boogeyman some people have, the more justified they feel that their reactionary stace has become.
1.19.2007 4:36pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

It's so refreshing to see conservatives calling for equal treatment for all creation myths, including Genesis.
If you define "myth" as something that you can't test, but makes you feel like you are finding a deep truth, that includes an awful lot of what is taught in primary and secondary science classes about origins of the Earth and origins of life. "Big Bang" at least has quite a bit of impressive math equations associated with it--and now, string theory, which is, depending who you talk to, either intrinisically untestable, or has failed most of the tests that it has been given.
1.19.2007 5:03pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
A PEER news release:


...In a statement issued by the National Park Service (NPS) Chief of Public Affairs, David Barna, on January 4th, the agency contends that park rangers have been instructed to "use the following explanation for the age of the geologic features at Grand Canyon…The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old."

The statement adds, "Since 2003 the park bookstore has been selling a book that gives a Creationist view of the formation of the Grand Canyon, claiming that the canyon is less than six thousand years old…We do not use the Creationist text in our teaching nor do we endorse its content."

While this is the first time that the Park Service has gone on record distancing itself from the book, Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail....

The Barna statement notes "This book is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore" but omits the fact that this "inspirational" section was created after PEER exposed the fact that the book was being sold as a "natural history."



http://www.peer.org/news/news_id.php?row_id=805

Adler and Shermer both have a legitimate beef against PEER, but they're also a little bit off the mark, especially for blaming PEER for attacking a book in the "inspirational" section when (assuming PEER is right) that section was created post-hoc in an effort to evade responsibility for selling the book.
1.19.2007 5:13pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Mr. Schmidt --

Two quick points: a) PEER initially made far stronger claims than those just related to the book, and b) this later release was not issued by PEER until after Shermer started asking questions abou their claims.

JHA
1.19.2007 5:42pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
From the PEER link given by Brian Schmidt above:

"Our only point is that the Park Service should stop selling the book with a government seal of approval," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Nonetheless, we are delighted that the Park Service has, after three years, finally chosen to publicly and unambiguously acknowledge that the Grand Canyon is the product of evolutionary geologic forces."

I sure hope not. "Evolutionary geologic forces"? What, the Grand Canyon was carved via natural selection?

I presume Ruch means only that the Park Service says the Canyon is older than a "young Earth" creationist would have it. But, really, if the point of this site is to uphold science, using "evolutionary" as casually as that is no way to do it. Yeesh.
1.19.2007 6:00pm
dearieme:
There's no such thing as "The Scientific Community", as Mrs Thatcher probably should have said. At least there is none with a well-informed view about Big Bang. Meantime, why were these odious people lying about the Parks Service?
1.19.2007 6:05pm
dearieme:
My question was unnecessary: Mr Shermer has explained it with great vim.
1.19.2007 6:11pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Our only point is that the Park Service should stop selling the book with a government seal of approval," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "Nonetheless, we are delighted that the Park Service has, after three years, finally chosen to publicly and unambiguously acknowledge that the Grand Canyon is the product of evolutionary geologic forces.


Another reading of this would be that the Park Services hasn't really changed what it's been saying all along about the age of and forces which created the Grand Canyon and after having been caught lying about it, PEER is trying to embellish a controversy over a book in the book store to pretend otherwise. Which puts Jeff Ruch in the same category of nutters as Anisa Abd el Fattah whining about the "Jewish Lobby."
1.19.2007 6:18pm
BobNSF (mail):

If you define "myth" as something that you can't test


I see no need to muddy the waters as to what a myth is.


1 a : a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon b : PARABLE, ALLEGORY

2 a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society b : an unfounded or false notion
1.19.2007 6:19pm
RBG (mail):
Sorry, Eugene. I thought I confirmed the author of the post, but obviously not. I did not, of course, have the myths of the ancient world in mind, but rather the myths still held dear in many parts of the world today, whether in more primitive cultures or indigenous religions in places such as Japan and Korea.

This whole controversy brought to mind an essay in the Wall Street Journal from July 2004 that discussed the wide array of virulently anti-Bush books that were being sold in the bookstore at the National Archives. Funny that some folks think that Bush cares enough about creationism to insist that National Parks bookstores carry them but has somehow overlooked the screeds attacking his administration being sold in government bookstores a few blocks from the White House. Yet, as Mr. Last said at the time:

[I]t's possible that George W. Bush is an illegitimately installed fascist monster leading America's military-industrial complex on a nuclear crusade for world domination. But what kind of dime-store dictator can't even crush dissent at his own bookstore?
1.19.2007 7:01pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
Lava Lands National Monument is a beautiful park in northern California. However, when we visited in 1997, there was a terrible film in the visitor center that said something like, "The local people know that they were created on this spot 800 years when Crow stepped out of a crack in the earth ..."

I doubted at the time that many of the local people really believe that, and I am fairly sure that they shouldn't because it isn't true.

Kind of like saying, "Europeans know that the universe was created in the nightfall preceeding October 23rd 6,012 years ago."
1.19.2007 7:13pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Mr. Adler-

While the second PEER release came out after Shermer started putting the heat on them, it also came out before you criticized them for attacking a book that is merely located in the "inspirational" section.

While I don't think PEER looks good regarding the claim that geology was being suppressed (unless their alleged sources come in from the cold), they seem vindicated regarding the book, and they've done a service to science by getting that book out of the science section of the park bookstores. The attack against them is somewhat miscalibrated.

Also, what proof do you have for your statement that not giving an official estimate was PEER's central claim? It would be useful to see what the first release looked like before they redacted this claim, but my overall impression is the central claim focused on the book.
1.19.2007 7:33pm
EricH (mail):
As a poster noted above (and even though this current example is a fraudulent one), bureaucrats do 'stuff like this all the time without following the orders of the evil Bush or the evil Clinton (or whatever perceived nefarious enemy is running the government).

Reminds me of Hannah Arendt's line: Democracy is rule by the many, autocracy is rule by the few, and bureaucracy is rule by no one.
1.19.2007 7:48pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Mr. Schmidt --

Read Shermer's account and get back to me. As he notes, PEER issued a press release with a headline and lead that focused on the claim that the Bush Administration was preventing Park Service employees from disclosing the geologic age of the Grand Canyon. Moreover, the issue about selling the book was old hat (and, as many posters note, is hardly likely to have been ordered by high level officials), and hardly something that should be the source of such outrage.

JHA
1.19.2007 8:31pm
douglas2:
Contra the claim that the book was initially in the science section, Networdblog interviewed Brad Wallace from the bookstore:

Three years ago, the Associated Press reported that this book was placed in the science section and was then upon public pressure moved to the inspiration section. This is false, this book has always been in the inspiration section from when it was first approved for sale.

Some people want the federal government to stop a private party from selling a book because it is bad for children. The ends justify the means, don't you know...
1.19.2007 8:43pm
wm13:
This post says "There are enough examples of political manipulation of scientific claims without the need for PEER or others to invent new ones." But how do we know that? Now that this claim has been investigated, it basically collapses. How do we know that the same wouldn't happen to every other claim of political manipulation?

For myself, I find it difficult to trust anyone, especially anyone who puts out press releases.
1.19.2007 11:27pm
Eli Rabett (www):
There is a variety (fairly widespread) of young earth believers who hold to 14K years ago and dis the good Bishop Ussher as well as Al Gore. Anyhow, that's not the only place I've seen the claim
1.20.2007 2:29am
Harry Eagar (mail):
Wasn't this a little tempest several years ago? And, though I have no links or citations, wasn't it revealed as a hoax then?

I distinctly remember a campaign against fundies interfering with the sacred canyon, and much longer ago than this week.

Anyhow, 30-some years ago, I took my kids to the Field Museum in Chicago and was dismayed to see a "Pyramid Power Kit" in the gift shop. Dismayed enough to write a letter to the museum, which was never answered.

Since then I have made it a point to inspect museum stores for crackpottery and guess what? It's all over.

The store managers will stock anything they can sell. It appears that museum directors either 1) don't look in the stores; or 2) consider that gift shop managers have free speech rights, too.

I would expect 2 to be welcomed by libertarians.
1.20.2007 2:49am
msmith (mail):
..Since then I have made it a point to inspect museum stores for crackpottery and guess what? It's all over...

Yep, doesn't seem much to be worried about. Checked into it a bit and (not surprising) entire offices and staffs and lengthy regulations on National Park Service brochures. Nothing I could see specifically about Christian ethnographic concerns/policy, although of course a lot about native ethnography/ belief systems. Probably just makes sense.

At least the National Parks Service document says evolution is "the only plausible scientific explanation." Still room for non-scientific plausible (?) explanations presumably. Maybe good enough for the intelligent design etc. folks. Or maybe not.

National Parks Service
Department of the Interior
http://tinyurl.com/2pz88j

Unit Three Background
The concept of evolution has an importance in education that goes beyond its power as a scientific explanation...

........Evolution is the only plausible scientific explanation that accounts for the extensive array of observations summarized above. The concept of evolution through random genetic variation and natural selection makes sense of what would otherwise be a huge body of unconnected observations. From the cumulative evidence presented by scientists, it is no longer possible to sustain scientifically the view that the living things we see today did not evolve from earlier forms or that the human species was not produced by the same evolutionary mechanisms that apply to the rest of the living world.

Excerpts from:
National Science Foundation, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, National Academy Press, 1998, ISBN 0-309-06364-7
1.20.2007 9:57am
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
Mr. Adler,

I had read Shermer's piece before, but at your kind suggestion I re-read it and you're right, the geology suppression was the central claim.

That leaves the claim reported in Networld that the book was always located in the inspirational section. Assuming Networld isn't lying, then we have a factual dispute between PEER and the Park Service guy handling bookstores. It's worth noting that there are multiple bookstores at the Canyon, so it might have been placed in different sections at different stores, despite whatever orders came down from the administration.

FWIW, I think a statement by Park employees, complaining that the Park Service won't expressly dissociate itself from the Creationist myth book it's selling, may have been misreported into saying they're not allowed to give an official estimate of geological age. While this would be unacceptable sloppiness, it's not blatant lying.

Also worth noting that the book is sold on the official, Park Service-affiliated website, which doesn't have an Inspirational category to segregate the book into. The description there:


Laden with beautiful photographs coupled with Biblical quotes, this book is a creationist view of how the Grand Canyon came to be. Compiled by a Colorado River guide, its 104 pages include 23 essays by some of the leading modern-day theologians and creationists.



While not placed in a science or natural history category, the book also isn't categorized as Inspirational.

Finally, without having read the books about the Hopi creation myths sold at the park, I'm willing to bet money that they don't pretend to be scientifically-verified accounts of what happens, while Vail's book is the opposite. That makes stocking Vail's book more problematic.
1.20.2007 3:15pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Lucky they have the book.

Otherwise it would be considerably more dificult to change the subject from PEER's lying and Skeptic's admission of BDS.
1.20.2007 4:03pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
The book is why this whole thing started. It would be lucky if they never stocked the book, and the mess would have been averted.
1.22.2007 3:08pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I suppose the book forced PEER to lie about what the rangers were required to say?
And Skeptic mag and about a jillion others to jump all over it to demonstrate that BDS is not a fantasy.
1.22.2007 3:40pm
Brian Schmidt (mail) (www):
I agree that PEER's not looking good on the geology claim, but if they're right about getting Vail's book out of the science stacks, then they've done more to help science and the park than the critics here have done.
1.23.2007 11:13pm