Tuesday, January 16, 2007


"Terry lane is now officially deemed a Google-dodger."

Grand Canyon
There is a factoid on the Internet that pops up once in a while on message boards and blogs about the Grand Canyon and the park service. Recently, it became part of an Australian columnist's latest work:
There is a good America. A great America. But it is not Bush's America. Or his father's. Or the America of Reagan, Nixon and Kissinger.

Here's an amusing example of the divide between good and bad America. A recent press release from the organisation Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility draws attention to the fact that rangers in the Grand Canyon National Park are forbidden to answer visitors' questions about the age of the canyon because the truth will upset Bush's fundamentalist supporters. However, Bush's National Parks Service refuses to withdraw from sale in the park bookshop a book that explains how the canyon was formed by Noah's flood.

Mr Rudd might care to explain how it is in our national interest to have an alliance with a government that is a self-evident force for stupidity as well as cruelty.
I've read this several places, always asserted without the slightest effort to support the position. Sometimes people even claim they just came back from the national park, breathless from the run and had to dash to a keyboard to type in this horrible fact. Now, given that this is by columnist Terry Lane, who was so willing to believe the sad tales of Jesse MacBeth that he didn't bother to take the slightest effort to research the validity of these tales he wrote about it in a previous column.

When caught short, he offered to resign because he'd failed to do his job as a journalist and study the case before presuming it was true - a case of confirmation bias, where you believe something because you want it to be true or it fits what you believe to be true, rather than based on any study. It confirms your opinions, so you figure it to be accurate. Terry Lane's way of putting it was "I fell for it because I wanted to believe it." The Age, the paper Mr Lane writes for, refused to accept the resignation, and Mr Lane plugs on.

It appears he's done it again. Here's an excerpt from the Grand Canyon National Park website in their History and Science section:
Geologic formations such as gneiss and schist found at the bottom of the Canyon date back 1,800 million years.
And from the History and Culture section:
The oldest human artifacts found are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period.
Odd, I thought they were prohibited from saying such a thing. I live about 1,500 miles from the Grand Canyon so I can't drop by for a visit any more than Terry Lane can, but thankfully on the website there's a phone number for information one can call as well as several email addresses. So I called and got hold of the public affairs director Maureen Oltroge. I asked a few questions and this is what she had to say (this is summary, not quotation, I did not record the conversation but have tried to keep the summary as accurate as possible):

First off, is the rumor that that park employees and those who work on the park lands are not allowed to talk about the estimated geological age of the canyon true?
Incorrect, and further the PEER writer [the material quoted by Terry Lane] never called the park to research this allegation.
She then referred me to the website, which I quoted above. I asked her how often she was asked about these rumors:
Quite often, both at the Grand Canyon offices and at the National Parks Service office.
Have you ever had a major news source interview you or ask about this rumor?
Several local and national news services, I believe the most recent was at the Washington office from ABC.
Have you ever heard of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility?
Yes, and I am very disappointed in them.
Since President Bush was elected in 2000 have there been any official changes in park policy, anything you've been ordered to do from the executive department or congress?
There has been no official order for the park to do anything at any time since 2000, although policy is set at the National Park Service.
The regional director at the National Parks Service LaTonya Parks is out of the office as of this writing so I couldn't contact her.

I understand you have a book in the bookstore that gives the Creation Science explanation of the canyon, is this true?
Yes it is, this book is in our inspirational section. The book was approved three years ago.
She referred me then to Brad Wallis who is in charge of the book stores, so I called him, and he was glad to help, again this is as accurate a summary as I can manage rather than exact quotes:

How many books do you have in the bookstore? Of them, how many are from a different perspective than the CS one?
We have in our biggest store from 800 to 850 books. Of them 300 are science based or scientific in nature, and none are from a young earth/Creation Science perspective.
He went on to reiterate that this book was in the inspiration section, and that this section has poetry and other works in it. He also pointed out that there are also books with the Native American stories of how the canyon and the world were created, as well as theories postulated by early explorers as to the canyon's origin. I didn't think to ask if the tall tale of Paul Bunyan's axe dragging on the ground was included in these origins.

Mr Wallis also pointed out that there is no one clear official scientific answer to how the canyon was formed. There are five major theories, and no one is certain because the best work is still largely estimation based on events that happened long, long ago. As I've stated before, there's no Science Pope who has the final say on these things. If you want to look into this more closely, the Grand Canyon Park had a symposium in 2000 which produced the book The Colorado River Origin and Evolution which looks into these theories in greater scientific depth. Mr Wallis wanted to make something very clear:
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.
Was this decision made due to outside pressure or official orders?
No, the decision was made locally there was no outside pressure whatsoever. This book is not published by the Grand Canyon publishers, we have an in-house publisher which has put out at least fifty titles over the last sixty years.
In other words, almost every single part of these rumors is 100% false. There is a Creation Science book on their shelves - just like there is a book relating Native American creation stories - but that is the only shred of truth in the entire story. PEER should be ashamed of themselves for this, and both Gary Trudeau and Nathan Terry Lane more so for perpetuating the myth.

Lane's Research?
Now, why would people say that the Grand Canyon National park prohibits guides and workers there from talking about the age of the canyon? Lane's column gives a hint: Bush is stupid and a fundamentalist Christian to boot, he's a Jesus freak and we all know they hate science. The presumption is of course President Bush would do such a thing, he's one of those dumb "Christianists" that Andrew Sullivan talks about and besides he probably believes the world is only 5,000 years old. This sad presumption is about the only kind of permissible bigotry left in the PC world.

Tim Blair wrote that Lane's column seemed unusually delayed, then when it finally came out, he quoted part of the section on the Grand Canyon. Commenters at Tim Blair's site responded:
Not true. I have heard park rangers at the Grand Canyon do the whole speech on how the canyon was formed, timelines included, Noah’s Flood excluded. I have also heard park rangers in Yellowstone explain how the whole caldera that makes up most of Yellowstone has been erupting for the last 200 million+ years. All of this since Bush was selected, not elected. In fact, the very first sentence on the official National Park website for the Grand Canyon states: “The Grand Canyon is more than a great chasm carved over millennia through the rocks of the Colorado Plateau.”

BTW, I know many fundamentalist Christians and not a one would be upset to hear a Park Ranger talk about the Grand Canyon being carved over millenia.
I also know a few Lefties who would be really upset and ready to sue should any Park Ranger question the normal globalwarmongering “science” that has become the dogma of the Left.
-by Diggs [not wenwen as I originally attributed!]

This is what I found at the website for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that Lane cites:
As a service organization assisting federal & state public employees, PEER allows public servants to work as “anonymous activists” so that agencies must confront the message, rather than the messenger
This was from a post in their “activist blog”:
Now a days, under the kakistocracy of the Bush administration, protests by environmental agency employees, evidence of natural disasters and even decades of worldwide agreement can’t seem to convince King George that climate change is a force to be reckoned.
Not exactly an objective source, eh, Terry? BTW, how’s Jesse MacBeth doing these days?
-by RebeccaH

Geez, what a load of crap! Lane is truly a dick. I didn’t even have to google anything to know he’s wrong. The National Park Service has multiple flaws (I’ve dealt with them on several occasions), but they are certainly not insane, as this claim is.

wenwen, thank you for those excellent links!

For those who live overseas and may not understand the American park system, it’s quite simple. The parks, major sites, and supporting infrastructure are maintained by the National Park Service. Virtually all of the concessions and services are operated and maintained by vendors who have some sort of a contract with the NPS. (Not unlike the services Haliburton and other contractos provide in Iraq, come to think of it). The NPS provides most of the facilities through contracts, and the vendors operate them.

And it has been that way for a long time.

PEER used to be a relatively decent organization.....looking at their website, it appears that they have been overtaken by the howlin’ moonbats with terminal cases of BDS.

This is the kind of thing that provides endless amusement to me when I travel abroad. I mean the kind of nonsense about the US that Europeans and their worshipers around the globe believe.

I met a couple of clients from the UK in Dallas a couple years ago. One of them was concerned about being shot driving from the airport.

We ate in a steakhouse called “Trail Dust” where they show westerns on tv screens around the restaurant. There was an old west shootout playing on one. I told him it was the security camera from the parking lot.
-by moptop

Just one last link to demonstrate the abject lameness of Lane. A Daily Kos diarist published a debunking of this story 10 days ago and it was really hard for him to have to defend the Bush administration from an obvious slander. If you hit the Kos link- be sure to read the blog he links to back up his claim- intresting discussion on this topic at National Parks Traveller. Lane and those who edit and publish him are seriously unprofessional.
-by wenwen

The rabid writings of their columnists have turned them into broadsheet versions of the National Enquirer - minus the humour.
More like the Weekly World News—again without the humor. And also without Bat Boy.
-by Andrea Harris, Administrator
It's one thing for some snide commenter to spew nonsense of this kind on a message board or claim it to their friends. It is another entirely for a professional journalist to repeatedly just vomit leftist rumor and factoid without bothering to research it and see what's true and what is not. An opinion piece is simply what someone believes to be true about a fact, but even in that kind of writing, it is improper to state some unsubstantiated rumor as fact.

As a commenter noted, the press release he used as his source is from an incredibly slanted, activist organization that is trying to shape public policy but is essentially unaccountable. This was all Mr Lane chose to go by, he either didn't bother checking or did and ignored what he found. I can't decide which is less professional, but at this point, who's surprised by this kind of work in a major media source?
*UPDATE: two corrections in the text thanks to helpful comments!
**UPDATE: Blithering Bunny in Tim Blair's comment section pointed out that Skeptic online magazine bought the PEER report hook, line, and sinker, without checking to see if it was true as well. When this error was pointed out, they then did the research required to find out, interviewing several people at the Grand Canyon National Park. More to my point, however is this line:
Unfortunately, in our eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more), we accepted this claim by PEER without calling the National Park Service (NPS) or the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to check it.
Unfortunately, indeed. This is just one more piece of evidence of confirmation bias mentioned above: it said what they wanted and figured to be true, so they didn't bother to check. Those crazy Christians were ruining everything again, it was further evidence of too much religion "as if we needed more." Skeptic Magazine was a healthy voice of doubt and examination of scientific claims, such as Anthropic Global Warming, but their tone has changed over recent years and this is just one more step in that direction. The editor of Skeptic magazine (and writer of this article) Michael Shermer is no friend of Christianity, having in the past been on Penn&Teller's cable show recently to argue that the Bible was myth.
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for noting my two comments (the first two quoted in your post) but you attribute them to "wenwen". They are from "Diggs".
Yours truly,

Anonymous said...

PEER should be ashamed of themselves for this, and both Gary Trudeau and Nathan Lane more so for perpetuating the myth.

Psst! Terry Lane is the sloppy Australian columnist. Nathan Lane is an actor. Although for all I know he's perpetrating it too.

Don't know where Garry Trudeau comes in. I must have missed that part.

Good job on that thar "research" thingy. They oughta teach that in journalism school!

Angie Schultz

Christopher Taylor said...

heh thanks for the corrections folks and the kind words!

Wylie Hawkeye Wilde said...

What did you expect from "The Age"- its the Aboriginal word for "Dingo Shit".

Another View said...

Are they all worried about a BOOK? Will the BOOK refute science? Will science change dates again?

President Friedman said...

Great article, C_T. You even got linked by Conservative Grapevine, congrats! You've been working hard on this blog for a good while now. I check here almost every day. Thanks for the perserverance, I hope it starts to pay off for you soon.

Tara R. Bümdier said...

Whew! A veritable orgy of conservative verbal chunder: "Hey! We got one! He's wrong, ergo they're all wrong about everything! Kill!" I can just hear y'all cocking your assault weapons in unison with a dose of Viagra. Maybe Lane should be arrested and held without trial for five years for repeating this well-loved but evidenly unfounded rumour.

The blogger even gets Tokyo Rose's reincarnation Tim Blair in on the spew-fest. Funny, no one has much to say about 90 per cent of Lane's article.

But, seriously folks, why would the Grand Canyon Bookshop have an "Inspirational" section? Only in America.

As for facts, leave us recall the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who said: "The truth is more important than the facts."

Anonymous said...

Arrested and held without bail for 5 years?...No. But how about just being a responsible journalist instead of reprinting any pile of refuse you choose to believe without first checking facts?

But seriously, Tara, what is so horrible about Grand Canyon Books having an inspiration section? Many people are inspired by the beauty they see in nature whether it relates to a higher power or internal self-awareness. It's a good thing we have you to point out this horrible atrocity in America. *rolls eyes*

Tara R. Bümdier said...

Betcha there aren't any evolution books there. Can't think of anything more inspirational than Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion". Free to really contemplate whatever created this multiple realitied universe without some slack-jawed yokel intervening to blank out the genitals 'cause some uptite old patriarch with a beard said so back in the hearsay ages.

Responsible journalism hardly exists anymore. Australia's own Andrew Bolt is one of seemingly endless right wing commentators for whom ideological refuse is a way of life. He represents a government whose ministers wouldn't resign if they were caught with a smoking gun and the corpse at their feet. Somehow they'd turn it into a socialist/liberal plot. By comparison, Terry Lane spread what amounts to a minor rumour and will probably be heard from no more.

That's the way of it on this uninspired bitch of an earth.

Christopher Taylor said...

Methinks the lady doth protest overmuch