The age of the Grand Canyon, again
Posted by metaphorical on 21 January 2007
An earlier post needs an addendum. On 30 December I wrote about the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon.
the Park Service continues to sell a religious-based, scientifically absurd book at its visitor centers, apparently at the insistence of fundamentalist political appointees back in Washington. So reports Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, “a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals.”
The use of the word “apparently” was fortuitous. In fact, I used it twice and in each case, it represents the difference between regret and apology.
Moreover, the park service employees are apparently not permitted to tell park visitors the same things the official NPS website tells virtual ones.
Along comes Michael Shermer to contest both allegations, and more. Shermer, like me, called attention the report by PEER, in his case in the electronic edition of Skeptic magazine.
The first sentence of the release reads:
Washington, DC — Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees.
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. As a testimony to the quality of our readers, however, dozens immediately phoned both NPS and GCNP, only to discover that the claim is absolutely false.
I only went as far as checking the NPS website, where I likewise found the Park Service happily offering hard scientific fact. But I didn’t take the further step of picking up the phone, which I now regret.
Shermer also went to great lengths to look into the question of whether Bush administration political appointees are pressuring the park rangers to ignore scientific fact.
Shermer even lets the NPS off the hook for selling the creationist book (the one part of the PEER press release that seems to be based in documentable fact.
The reference to the creationism book being sold in the Grand Canyon bookstore — Grand Canyon: A Different View by Tom Vail — is true. It is sold in the “inspiration” section of the bookstore, alongside other books of myth and spirituality.
Personally, I’m not inclined to be so generous. The creationist book is presumably meant to be a literal historical account, not a myth; it was surely written to rebut scientific accounts, not augment them “spiritually; and it doesn’t belong in a national park giftshop, regardless of which shelf it sits on. Would that PEER had limited its outrage to that.