Biosphere Articles Part 3 
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 Biosphere Articles Part 3
Part 3
     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-- Space
Biospheres-- 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 ecologists.
     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
Roberts Rules of Order"), 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.

Why Big Goldfish Bowls Are Right-Wing
     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 Voice 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 Earthmind and a sworn
enemy of traditional 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."
     Former UC researcher Veysey, who lived with the group in
1971, concluded recently that the Biosphere project "has all
kinds of implications. . .  the Biosphere is a demonstration
project that fits in with the political thinking of the right
wing. A more liberal kind of person might wonder why you should
sink all that money into something for the survival of only a few
people."

Science for Sale
     Who, then, in the American scientific community was willing
to sign on to such a scientificaliy questionable project
motivated by apocalyptic visions? Who was willing to have his or
her name listed in promotional brochures alongside the
pseudoscientific shell companies and institutes run by John
Allen's followers? Apart from the University of Arizona's ERL--
which at times has become as much as a subsidiary of the
Biospherians-- there are at least a dozen other reputable
scientific institutions that have willingly suited up with John
Allen, in exchange, of course, for paid consultancies or research
grants. For the right amount of money, or at least for the
illusion of being provided with the freedom to conduct essential
research, otherwise credible scientists, including many who
should and actually do know better, have closed their eyes to who
their real funders are. The most prominent among them:

     Dr. Ghillean Prance, director, the Royal Botanical Gardens
at Kew, England: Truly one of the jewels in John Allen's crown of
consultants, Prance is a world-class scientist who has designed
the Biosphere's Rainforest Biome. Having had a brush with the
synergists during their Heraclitus folly of a decade ago, Prance
wrote to a Peruvian biologist, in reference to the Institute of
Ecotechnics: "I hope you will disassociate my name from the
operation."
     ln a 1983 press interview Prance went on to say: "I was
attracted to the Institute of Ecotechnics because funds for
research were being cut and the institute seemed to have a lot of
money which it was willing to spend freely. Along with many
others, I was ill-used. Their interest in science is not genuine.
They seem to have some sort of secret agenda, they seem to be
guided by some sort of religious or philosophical system."
     When I spoke with Prance by phone in late winter for this
article, he didn't seem to have as much a change of heart as he
did a change of ethical standards. "They are visionaries," Prance
said referring to the Biosphere management. "And maybe to fulfill
thcir vision they have become-- somewhat cultlike. But they are
not a cult, per se."
     "And is that vision a doomsday scenario?" I ask.
     "l'd say the core group still does have that vision. I think
they have expanded into other areas, but I don't think they have
lost that original vision. But, you see, I am interested in
ecological restoration systems. And I think all sorts of
scientific things can come of this experiment, far beyond the
space goal that's behind it. When they came to me with this new
project, they seemed so well organized, so inspired, I simply
decided to forget the past. You shouldn't hold their past against
them."

     Yale University: After Mark Nelson told me the Biosphere
was involved in a joint project with the Yale School of Forestry
and Ecological Science, I phoned Dr. Gordon Geballe, the school's
assistant dean. "I want to say this up front," Dr. Geballe began,
"Yale University is connected to the Biosphere Project in two
ways. One direct was which is the research project you ask about.
The indirect way, which I want to communicate to you is entirely
separate is that we got a major gift of $20 million from Edward
Bass of Fort Worth, Texas, a Yale graduate, who is also a major
funder of the Biosphere. And both things are completely
separate."
     Is it a research chair that Bass has endowed with the $20
million, I ask?
     "Frankly, we are not quite sure how we are going to utilize
the gift," Geballe answers. "Right now it's something called the
Yale Institute of Biospheric Studies, and it is something that we
are in the process of discussing."
     Meanwhile, the Yale School of Forestry has at least three
faculty members and six students working with Biosphere 2 in a
joint $40,000 project on "carbon budgeting." I asked Geballe if
there was concern from Yale that it might have associated itself
with a group that some say is a cult of nonscientists.
     "It's certainly not a cult," he answers. "They are sort
of. . . um. . . um. . . let's see. . . they are not organized
typically the way scientists are organized now. They are more
organized the way industrial research is. We don't call GE a
cult. This is a for-profit, venture capital site and they have
every right to hold on to as much information as they want."
     But one difference, I continue, is that GE is staffed with
bona fide researchers, whereas the group you're associated with
appears to have evolved from a theater troupe and its top
scientists are essentially "self-credentialed" from an on-paper
institute run by the group itself.
     "I won't answer that question directly," Assistant Dean
Geballe responds. "But I will tell you how I weasel around it. I
interpret them as inventors. And there is no credential for a
bona fide inventor. The question is do they get something done?
And the fact is there is a reality out there which means they do.
Yale itself is not part of the invention process. We are only
studying what's going on and we are grateful they feel this is
important to do at this time."

     The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR):
Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, with a staff of 800 including
more than 100 scientists, NCAR is funded primarily by U.S. tax
dollars appropriated through the National Science Foundation.
About $100,000 of that taxpayer money is now being sunk into the
Biosphere project, matched with an equal sum put up by the
synergists. One NCAR staffer closely connected to the project
said he has "serious doubts" about the viability of the Biosphere
"but if you were to publish them with my name it could seriously
affect the possibility of [NCAR] carrying out the collaborative
research.
     "My understanding is that the whole project got off the
ground as part of an eco-cult intent on surviving the next
holocaust. It's clear that the original idea and the impetus
behind it are not scientifically directed toward making the
projcct work. They have an unrealistic notion based on the so-
called Gaia Hypothesis but what they are doing is really a
distortion of that theory."
     NCAR is finally going ahead with its project, even though it
was delayed for months when the synergists gave them non-
disclosure forms for their work that the Center's lawyer found to
be "totally unacceptable." John Allen can now list the U.S.-
government financed NCAR as a consulting agency to Biosphere 2.

     The Smithsonian Institution: This taxpayer-funded national
institution has two intimate links with Biosphere 2. The
Smithsonian is being paid up to $400,000 in exchange for the
services of its Marine Systems Lab director Dr. Walter Adey--
and, of course, the use of the prestigious Smithsonian name.
Further, Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, the Smithsonian's assistant
secretary for external affairs, sits on the Biosphere's Project
Review Committee and chairs its newly created Research Review
Committee.
     Smithsonian spokesperson Bill Schulz says he has "heard
what's been passed around" regarding the possible cult
connections of the Biosphere group but that "even if it were a
cult it would not be damaging to the Smithsonian. What Dr. Adey
does is legitimate science and that's what the Smithsonian
endorses. We got involved with Space Biospheres Ventures because,
I understood, Dr. Adey thought it was a worthy scientific venture
and we were joining other well-respected scientists."
     The Smithsonian's Tom Lovejoy, a tropical wcologist, sits on
the Biosphere Scientific Reviww Committee not only with Dr.
Prance, former astronaut Rusty Schweikert, and a sprinkling of
other consultants, but also with John Allen himself and several
of his nonscientific groupies: Mark Nelson, Marie Allen, Kathelin
Hoffmann, and Ed Bass. "There's more than one way to do science
and I believe that this is a legitimate exercise in learning by
doing," Lovejoy tells the Voice in an interview.
     "And is it a concern they might be a cult?" I ask.
     "All I can say is they llsten to me, says the assistant
secretary for External Affairs of the Smithsonian. "What they did
before doesn't really bother me. As long as there is something
orderly and valuable in what they are doing now."
     "And how did Lovejoy get involved wilh the Biosphere?"
     "Ed Bass asked me to join," he answers. "I have a long-
standing relationship, a friendship with him."

So What?
     "I'm not surprised that the Smithsonian is involved in this
project, the whole place is one big {*filter*}house," says Drexel
University professor David Noble. "I worked there 10 years as a
curator and the thing they got most e{*filter*}d about was when I got
Lucasfilms to donate R2D2 and C3PO to an exhibit. I mean here was
Lucasfilm, just so honored to be asked to participate in such a
prestigious forum. That is until they became horrified to see
with what frenzy the Smithsonian was pursuing them trying to work
out all sorts of merchandising and commercial licensing deals
with related products." After his stint at the Smithsonian, Noble
went on to found, with Ralph Nader, the National Coalition for
Universities in the Public Interest. As one of the nation's
experts on privately sponsored research, Noble is totally
nonplussed that such an impressive array of scientific
institutions has allowed itself to front for what appears to be a
cult of space nuts.
     "The hunger for money is real," Noble says. "Ecologists,
especially, are having a hard time getting money, they're losing
ground to bioengineering types. And the problem is not individual
corruption, but rather systemic. When you want something bad
enough, you make it look like something else."
     As to claims like those of Prance that he can carry on
legitimate scientific research in spite of the Biosphere's more
ethereal goals, Noble only scoffs. "The miracle of our society is
that everyone gets bought but everyone claims to be independent.
The funding source, the money, always shapes the scientific
agenda. In the end, the funder has complete control over your
scientific work if for no other reason than he can pull the
funding plug at any time. So no matter what you are doing, you
are constantly shaping and recasting your work to please the guy
with the bucks."
     "In the case of publicly funded institutions like the
University of Arizona, or the Smithsonian, the buyer is getting
more than he bargained for. The Biosphere doesn't just get Adey,
but they get his whole institution and lab and infrastructure and
prestige, which are all underwritten through public largess. They
are buying not just propaganda value, but the whole taxpayer
supported structure. A public resource becomes a private one. Why
don't you go to the Smithsonian and ask them to loan you or lease
you Adey, his lab, his experience. Y'know what they'll tell you?
They'll tell you, `{*filter*} you!"'
     This question remains: what exactly are the creators of the
Biosphere after? The best answer is, with the exception of their
public-relations palaver about the ecology, to take them at face
value. Ed Bass, apart from being an Allen loyalist, no doubt does
view Biosphere 2 as a commercial enterprise-- it's unlikely the
experiment will produce any of the patentable, commercial spin-
off technologies its management predicts, but it's not an
impossible notion. Dozens, probably hundreds, of young, often
desperate researchers, have been attracted to the project. And
according to documents secured by the Voice, some have been asked
to sign contracts that cede to the Biosphere's parent company
"worldwide, royalty free irrevocable" rights to any preexisting
"idea, concept, invention, patent or discovery" of theirs or
their employees that might relate to the work of the Biosphere--
i.e., to the universe.
     "Imagine, Ed Bass has plunked down $100 million into a for-
profit corporation," says just one of those ex-consultants who
rejected the buy-out contract language. "What's he looking for?
He has created a sort of magnet, one that he hopes will attract a
bunch of new young Einsteins from all over the world who will
give up their innermost secrets, knowledge, and talents. You've
got to figure that once in a while he'll hit pay dirt. It's the
law of probabilities."
     As many as 10,000 people a month are already paying up to
$80 per head to visit the Biosphere, which is now touted in local
hotel guides as one of the not-to-miss attractions of the Tucson
area-- a sort of eighth wonder of the world. Around the Biosphere
there is open discussion of heightening its theme park
attributes, and discussions have been held with the same firm
that promoted Disney World. There is already a whole line of
Biosphere T-shirts, mugs, pencils, and pamphlets overflowing the
gift shop shelves.
     And whether or not the first crew of Blospherians stays
inside the enclosure the full two years or even only two weeks it
matters very little. The structure itself is so spectacular that
it promises to be a tourist and press draw for years to come. And
in the case that the human crew has to prematurely bail out-- as
is likely-- one can already expect the "scientific"
justifications being made for how much has already been learned
and how much more successful the following enclosure will be the
following month or the coming year. Linda Leigh, one of the eight
Biosphere crew members, already tried out the future party line
when she told the Voice: "If it lasts 100 years and we learned
nothing it is a failure. But if we learn anything at all after
any period of time, it will be a success."
     John Allen and his followers, in any case, have already
achieved their vision quest, No longer anonymous drifters on a
New Mexico ranch no one ever heard of, today they are the
captains, commanders, architects, and directors of their fantasy-
come-true. Whether they actually make it to Mars or not seems
immaterial. They have made it into The New York Times and on to
the nightly news, favorably compared with NASA. And inside their
own community-- now the center of so much media and scientific
idolatry-- and certainly within the scaled-off atmosphere of the
Biosphere itself, they have already entered the promised New
Civilization that until now existed only in the Dreams of their
undisputed leader and master. If nothing else, John Allen is on
the brink of pulling off a piece of theater so big, that 20 years
ago not even his fertile imagination could have conjured it.


New Sig File Under Construction-- Light and Compact for your Usenet Pleasure.
"The recent problem with the satellite retrieval managed to prove one thing;
DeVries graduates really _do_ work for NASA."



Wed, 09 Nov 1994 10:50:22 GMT
 
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 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Articles Part 1

2. Biosphere Articles Part 2

3. Biosphere Articles Part 5

4. Biosphere Articles Part 4

5. Biosphere Articles Part 6

6. Biosphere Articles Part 7

7. Biosphere Articles Part 8

8. The Biosphere II articles

9. The Biosphere Articles

10. Looking for Biosphere II articles

11. Biosphere Part II

12. Biosphere Part III


 
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