Biosphere Part IV 
Author Message
 Biosphere Part IV

     "The whole  experience was  marked by a  feel of  paranoia," says
[ITALICS]World  Monitor[italics]  producer Ed  Fitzgerald.  "The  critics we  
talked  to
demanded  meetings  in  open  places,  public parks.  We  had  to  ask
ourselves several times if we just  felt we were being followed or  if
we were." His  reporter, Gloria Goodale, adds:  "We were told once  by
letter and once  in person [by Carl Hodges] that they had some kind of
record of our  confidential interviews and conversations  with critics
of the Biosphere.  It was  scary." As in  the case  of the CBC,  
[ITALICS]Monitor[italics] also received a flurry of legal threats prior to

[BOLD]"It's Really a Sort of Iffy-Iffy Thing"[bold]
     The business and  "scientific" offices of the  Biosphere facility
are  dramatically less  impressive  than the  glass  dome itself.  All
Southwestern stucco  and wood  trim, they  have the  tacky  feel of  a
southern  California  automobile club  office.  And, predictably,  the
people of the  Biosphere are also markedly less  spectacular than what
you might expect  to find at the  site of what is  supposedly a world-
class scientific experiment.
     I will admit that I  toured the facility after reading  the Texas
newspaper expos s, and therefore was  predisposed to find an eccentric
group of goofballs. But  after two visits to the Biosphere,  I find it
almost  impossible  to  imagine how  other  journalists  wouldn't have
suspected something awfully awry after the most superficial brush with
the Biospherians.
     An atmosphere of  secrecy, almost of paranoia,  begins right over
the  telephone. Routine  press  inquiries  go  weeks,  months  without
answer. Phone receptionists are trained to put no calls through to any
of  the Biosphere  managers--  even  calls to  the  PR department  are
shunted off to message takers and not returned for days, if ever.
     Once a visit to  the dome has been secured, you  might as well be
in  Baghdad. All  interviews are  conducted in  the presence  of  a PR
"minder," who,  with watch  and walkie-talkie in  hand, makes  sure no
chat  becomes too  intimate, or  probes  too closely  about who  these
people  are  in their  off  hours. In  fact,  all questions  about the

personal lives of the  Biospherians are taboo. It is  no accident that
of the dozens of published accounts on the project-- all sympathetic--
not one describes the family, friends,  or homes of the Biosphere crew
or management. The  few who are authorized  to speak to the  press are
almost  all core  group members.  With no  attempt at  exaggeration or
interpretation, let it be said they are almost uniformly humorless. As
cold as  the fish  in their  artificial ocean.  Not a  crack of  human
frailty or emotion is  revealed. The answers that  are given are  rote
and  flat  in  tone,  worlds   away  from  the  hyperpoetry  of  their
promotional brochures.
     On my second visit to the facility I'm told I will have a spccial
treat-- an  interview with  none other than  Mark "Green"  Nelson. Now
director  of space applieations  for the  Arizona project,  Nelson is,
next  to John  Allen, the  group's  top ideologue.  Tightly wound  but
coolly controlled,  Nelson appears  to be in  the habit  of conducting
one-way  interviews. In  his  early forties,  wearing  jeans, a  plaid
shirt,  and a brown  corduroy jacket, Nelson  speaks in a  rapid near-
monologue, spiced  with technical terms,  that melds into a  volley of
scientific  name-dropping: "top level  visits from NASA. . .  our NASA
colleagues. . .  joint  projects  with  Yale School  of  Forestry. . .
collaboration with the National  Center for Atmospheric  Research. . .
ERL consultants. . . our consultants from Smithsonian," and so on.
     I ask about  the scientific underpinnings of his  own group-- how
he responds to the CBC charge that his own Institute of Ecotechnics is
nothing more than a London letter drop.
     "I have no contradiction with the facts  [of the CBC piece], only
the  interpretation,"  he  answers.  "So  you  go  to  some  professor
somewhere  and  he   says  I've  never  heard  of   the  Institute  of
Ecotechnics.  That's  what's  wrong.  You  go  looking  for  something
expecting it  to be  one way  when its  really another." Nelson  says.
"It's  designed to  be more  of a  think tank. . .  it helps  conceive
projects. . .   bringing   together   leading   artists,   scientists,
researchers,  breaking  down   the  cubicles.  It's   a  brainstorming
institute. No paid  employees, a minimal existence. We  started in New
Mexico and moved to London. We are an action-orientcd bunch."
     "It's  been reported that  you, Johnny Allen,  Margret Augustine,
and the core  group here indeed  goes back to  a certain ranch in  New
Mexico,"  I continue.  "And  that you  are a  small group,  not really
scientists. My question is: who is this small group of people and what
is their relationship to Biosphere 2? You and Johnny Allen and Margret
Augustine do go back to the ranch, don't you?"
     "There is  no group of people,  is the problem," Nelson  begins a
lengthy answer  that seems to  contain not a single  complete sentence
within it. "I think, well, there is a group of pcople and some of them
involved  with the Institute of Ecotechnics and indeed some of them go
back-- we founded  that institute in 1973. In fact, we started working
together some years before that. Margret and [co-architect] Phil Hawes
have an  independent architectural group--  no, but the thing  is that
there  a number  of  different organizations  and a  lot of  them have
parallel interests. For example, we contracted with Margret and Phil--
fantastic  architects--  to  do  some  of  the  architecture  we  have
developed  in projects in Australia and around  the world. So there is
an association  that goes way back.  One thing about the  Institute of
Ecotechnics is that we're trying to break down the differences between
science and art. . . The artists are a very important part of the life
of humanity. . . they tap  into our dreams of the future.  So what are
the other questions on your hit list?"
     "I'm just trying to have you answer whether or not this is indeed
the same group that was together in New Mexico," I reply.
     "There are  some people  like me,  Margret,  Bill Dempster,  that
track back 20 ycars. Other people got involved in another project five
or 10 years ago. Now if there's a  group-- it's really a sort of iffy-
iffy thing.  I guess you are only interested if  you are going to do a
hatchet  job on  SBV-- you  know trying  to find  a mysterious  agenda
that's behind the project."
     The truly  mysterious aspect  of Biosphere 2  is just  how little

effort is  made to disguise  their real agenda.  Sure, lip service  is
paid in every press interview  to save-the-Earth ecology and the theme
is hammered home by hired earthly consultants like ERL's Hodges or the
Smithsonian's  Walter Adey. But  there can  be no  question whatsoever
that  Biosphere 2 has been conceived  in full accordance with the same
febrile  survivalist  notions  that  powered John  Allen's  dinnertime
harangues  on  the  Synergia  Ranch:  escape from  a  dead  Earth  and
colonization  of Mars.  If in  "poking through  the ruins"  of  a dead
civilization Allen  can find a few  hungry scientists and a  gaggle of
complacent reporters to  construct a facade of concern  for the Earth,
so much the better.
     But  every one  of those  same  reporters who  have written  such
humdinger  accounts of valiant  efforts to  better understand  our own
planet have been given the same booklet I was-- [ITALICS]Space
Biospheres[italics]-- the
same  publication that  is  aggressively hawked  to  the thousands  of
tourists who {*filter*} tbrough the Biosphere Gift Center each month.
     Within its 90 pages, penned by John Allen and Mark Nelson, repose
some of the  most crackpot doggerel that has ever passed itself off as
serious  science or philosophy. "I read that booklet," says University
of  Texas researcher  Dr. Basset  McGuire, who  has been  working with
enclosed life systems  for 35 years, "and  I found no science  at all.
What I found looked like a religious tract."
     And  it is  a dark  religion.  In its  introductory chapter,  the
pamphlet  openly  declares:  "The  major  motivation  behind  creating
Biosphere 2  and developing  the capacity  to create  other microscale
viable  biospheric  systems  is to  assist  the  Biosphere [i.e.,  our
current life  system] to evolve  off planet Earth into  potential life
regions of our solar system."
     The  last third of the  book emphasizes the "historic imperative"
of specifically  colonizing Mars, given  the "inevitable doom"  of the
Earth, which is  described as a "local  blind alley." So much  for the
     And, for  those honest  space enthusiasts  who  might agree  that
Earth, after all, will  disappear one day, and mass  migration to Mars
might save humanity,  they would be well-advised to  not start packing
their bags  quite yet-- even  though the  booklet assures us  that the
first  Mars  colony  can  be  established by  1995.  Though  a  minute
description  of how  the first  settlement will  function  is included
("Strategic  command. . . meetings will operate under [ITALICS]Roberts Rules
[ITALICS]Order[italics]"),  it  is  made  clear  that the  "first  Mars  
Base...will  be
corporate  in form...[and]  the population  can  range from  64 to  80
people. If more  population arrives they will have to  begin their own
communities." In other words, they  will have to find their own  Texas
billionaire and build their own Biosphere.

[BOLD]Why Big Goldfish Bowls Are Right-Wing [bold]
     Before lift-off, however, important earthly science is presumably
to be done under the Arizona  sun. Mark Nelson, co-author of the  Mars
tract, assures  me that  Biosphere 2 is  "real science,"  albeit mixed
with the "new discipline called Biospherics."
     But experts in related fields interviewed by the [ITALICS]Voice[italics]
see little
if  any scientific  value  in  the endeavor.  From  Texas, Dr.  Basset
McGuire says the current state of the  art in enclosed systems is more
or less on  the scale of "goldfish bowls."  Standard scientific method
requires, he says,  "that you run  replicates. You don't run  just one
experiment because that way you have no way of what the variability of
the experiment is. How can you learn  if you have no control? The real
pity is that this will be taken by the public at large as real when it
isn't. It could impact funding for real research."
     Forest  ecologist  Dr.  Donald  Dahlsten  at  the  University  of
California at Berkeley agrees that  the lack of control models renders
Biosphere's scientifc value "trivial."
     "If they came to me and asked me to do this project  I would say,
`Are  you kidding?'" Professor  Dahlsten continues. "I'd  ask, What is
your  background  on this?  What have  you  done to  bring you  to the
conclusions  you  are  about  to  test? I  mean  all  that  scientific

background is not there."
     Defenders  of the Biosphere, Mark  Nelson among them, answer that
traditional  science  is  too  narrow  in  its  criteria.  They  refer
constantly to the Gaia Hypothesis,  developed by a British  researcher
in the  1970s that posits  a sort of macrohomeostasis--  a notion that
natural life  systems find their own balances. Such thinking underlies
much  of  the Biosphere's  "scientific"  recipe:  take three  or  four
thousand variables, enclose them in  a glass container, throw in eight
humans,  shake 'em up like  a Margarita for two years,  and in the end
you'll get a nice, smooth blend.
     Admittedly this is  a gross simplification of the Gaia Hypothesis
as  applied to  the  Biosphere. But  science  historian David  Kubrin,
author of the pro-Gaia book [ITALICS]Earthmind[italics] and a sworn enemy of
scientists, claims it is "ridiculous"  to affirm that the Biosphere is
a productive application of Gaia.
     "The Gaia hypothesis  applies to an entire  atmosphere and really
beyond that.  How  our atmosphere  as  a whole  seeks  and achieves  a
natural balance with  surrounding elements, like an  ever-hotter sun."
But the  hypothesis  has  no  applicability,  Kubrin  argues,  in  the
confined, limited space of Biosphere 2 where each individual ecosystem
is allotted no more than a couple of hundred square feet. "In any case
I  would approach with  great suspicion,"  Kubrin adds,  "any supposed
ecological experiment that  relies so heavily on  technology, computer
models, and software systems."

Brian Siano,                                Delaware Valley Skeptics
Rev. Philosopher-King of The First Church of the Divine Otis Redding


Sun, 06 Feb 1994 08:04:50 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. New Inquisition Part IV: Book Burning

2. Part IV _The Grande TOE_ aka The big toe theory

3. Did Six Million Really Die? Part IV

4. Did Six Million Really Die? Part IV

5. Did Six Million Really Die? Part IV

6. Biosphere Articles Part 1

7. Biosphere Articles Part 3

8. Biosphere Articles Part 2

9. Biosphere Articles Part 5

10. Biosphere Articles Part 4

11. Biosphere Articles Part 6

12. Biosphere Articles Part 7

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