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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Grand Canyon Controversy

I have been receiving a number of e-mails about the controversy in the Grand Canyon and the supposed religious agenda of the Bush administration. The controversy stems from the sale of the book "Grand Canyon a Different View". The book is a creationist tract that supposes the Canyon to have formed in the global flood of Noah. Despite the scientific absurdity of the claims, the book was originally sold in the science section of the Grand Canyon National Park bookstore. The initial uproar over this book being peddled as science led the Park to move the book over to the 'spiritual' section. The book is still being sold there today.
In the past month, an organization called "Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)" sent out a press release about the book and about the censorship of Park employees regarding the age of the Canyon.
I am no big fan of the Bush administration and its attacks on science, but this press release (and the response to it) have gotten under my skin. Sadly it's PEER who is guilty of some misinformation. Let's look at the offending parts of the press release:

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.

This is false. The Grand Canyon website has a series of FAQ's (frequently asked questions). One of the questions is "How old is the Canyon" and another is "Are the rocks exposed in the Canyon the oldest rocks in the world?". Here are the answers:

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


No. Although the oldest rocks at Grand Canyon (2000 million years old) are fairly old by any standard, the oldest rocks in the world are closer to 4000 million years old. The oldest exposed rocks in North America, which are among the oldest rocks in the world, are in northern Canada.

If there is censorship going on and a hush-hush about the age of the Canyon, someone forgot to look at the webpage.

The second accusation/claim is:

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is "no comment."

We take students on a tour of the Canyon nearly every year (including the Bush years) and never has a Park Ranger shied away from discussing the age of the Canyon.

In my opinion, we do a disservice to the community by making false claims to forward an agenda (either political or scientific). There is a book in the spirituality section of the Grand Canyon bookstore that has some nonsensical science and that is true. My feeling is that if people want to buy nonsensical books in order to lift their spirits, have at it. As long as the book is classified correctly (i.e. NOT science) I see no reason for trying to ban the book. Book banning should be the sole realm of despot leaders and religious fundamentalists.


Joe Meert


At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree and as a former park ranger, the press release really bothered me. After some investigation, I came to similiar conclusions. One of the biggest points is that GRC, the cooperating association selling the book, is a private, non-profit, not a governmental organization.


At 2:26 PM, Blogger nsfl said...

Good job debunking the hysteria. Such rhetoric on either side (left or right) always annoys me.

Also, see the Lesson Plan section of the education part of the NPS Grand Canyon website. They explicitly stick to mainstream science in referring to times and geology.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger dogscratcher said...

Good stuff, but on the other hand the GCA website is selling the Vail book under the heading of "natural history."

Grand Canyon: A Different View
Tom Vail


At 1:37 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Good catch. Naturally, that modifies my position. Vail's book is not a natural history book!


Joe MEert

At 3:24 PM, Blogger dogscratcher said...

"Naturally, that modifies my position."

Isn't it great being a scientist? As new evidence comes in, you have the option of modifying your view.

It still puzzles me why PEER would emphasize the alleged "muzzling" of the staff without providing any evidence for it in the press release, while the letter they sent to the NPS director emphasizes the book.

At 3:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, but you know how those scientists are always rejecting their earlier claims. Can't they get anything right??? Now, the bible, it never changes :)


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