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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Update: Grand Canyon Employee's NOT catering to Creationists

From "Huffington Post"

A Grand Canyon park interpreter wrote:

"This is incorrect. I have NEVER been told to present non-science based programs. In fact, I received "talking points" demanding that Grand Canyon employees present programs BASED ON SCIENCE and that we must use the scientific version supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Sciences. As an interpreter I have shared the "creation" story of the Hopi people and the Paiute people because it is culturally relative. I used these stories as a tool to introduce the scientific story. Be confident there are good people running government, too."

One of our readers directly challenged Jeff Ruch, the Executive Director of PEER:

When I challenged that PEER guy to show me some evidence and provided him evidence to the contrary, he didn't have much. I would say PEER did more than jump the gun. I'd say they are spreading misinformation.

Another Grand Canyon park interpreter offered this explanation:

Ruch's attempts to insinuate a conspiratorial link between the NPS and organized religion are misguided and founded in fervent anti-Christian opposition, not reason or the law. Ruch's anti-Judeo-Christian bias is evidence by his lack of opposition to GCA's selling of Native American creation myths. His misinformation campaign aims to tarnish the reputation of the NPS to leverage his position that creationism books should not be sold in the GCA bookstore. I've emailed a few of my contacts at GRCA, and so far, all deny any conspiracy and all freely give the canyon's age in education programs (as does all official GRCA print material). I'll post updates as information becomes available. Until then, don't believe everything you read.

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. In any case, the story 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.

Embarrassed and angered by all of this, I promptly phoned Jeff Ruch myself and inquired what evidence he has to support this claim. He initially pointed to the creationism book and the fact that the NPS has failed to address numerous challenges to the sale of same in their bookstore. When I pointed out that this is irrelevant to the claim in the press release, he then reminded me of the biblical passages that have been posted at places along the rim of the canyon. Again, I admonished, this is not evidence for his central claim. We went round and round on the phone until I finally gave up and hung up, convinced that he simply made up the claim out of whole cloth...

...We are issuing an amended release today that 1) deletes reference to what interpretive staff can and cannot say and 2) features the NPS official statement that they provide geological information to the public.

Then why did PEER issue that statement in the first place? In my opinion, this is why:

PEER is an anti-Bush, anti-religion liberal activist watchdog group in search of demons to exorcise and dragons to slay. On one level, that's how the system works in a free society, and there are plenty of pro-Bush, pro-religion conservative activist watchdog groups who do the same thing on the other side. Maybe in a Hegelian process of thesis-antithesis-synthesis we find truth that way; at least at the level of talk radio. But journalistic standards and scholarly ethics still hold sway at all levels of discourse that matter, and to that end I believe we were duped by an activist group who at the very least exaggerated a claim and published it in order to gain notoriety for itself, or worse, simply made it up.

To that end, shame on me for not fact checking this story before publishing it on eSkeptic and www.skeptic.com. But shame on you too, Mr. Ruch, and shame on PEER, for this egregious display of poor judgment and unethical behavior.

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