Biosphere Articles Part 2 
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 Biosphere Articles Part 2
Part 2

Did Someone Say Mars?
     California writer/lecturer Terrence McKenna, an expert on
natural psychedelic substances, is one of the hundreds of
authentic researchers and scientists who over the last two
decades has been lured into collaborating on one of the synergist
projects. In 1980 McKenna and his brother, a professional
botanist, received an invitation on stationery from the French
subsidiary (!) of the Institute of Ecotechnics inviting him to
make use of a research vessel-- the Heraclitus-- which would be
stationed in the Amazon port city of Iquitos for the next two
     "It was a trip we were planning anyway," McKenna tells the
Voice. "So we went down there to Iquitos with this great fantasy
of drinking white wine while sitting in our pressed whites with
our French colleagues on their research vessel."
     lnstead, McKenna found the oddball Heraclitus, a curious-
looking concrete-hulled 82-foot replica of a Chinese junk
captained by Bill Dempster-- today the Biosphere's director of
engineering systems. "It was a crazy scene," says McKenna. "And
after five minutes it was clear they knew nothing, but nothing
about science. They said they wanted to work with us but that we
were barred from coming to the boat between two and three in the
afternoon because that was time for theater exercises."
     Theater wasn't the only holdover from the New Mexico ranch.
"They invited us to dinner and it was really weird," McKenna
continues. "First they all howled before eating. Then they had
two rules. The first is that you never talk during dinner. The
second, you never tell anyone from the outside what the first
rule is. So we just sat here chattering until we caught on."
     After about a week of such antics, McKenna told the
Heraclitus crew that he wanted to get out in the jungle and begin
his work. He was given a speedboat and two crew members to
accompany him. "When you are out in the jungle like that, you
want to know who it is you are with," McKenna remembers. "I knew
something was off-center so I just confronted them and said, `I
know you are not who you are, but who are you?'"
     McKenna says the answer he got left him shocked and
stupefied. "The two people with me were a couple," he says. "The
woman was an Australian aborigine named Moondancer. The guy was
an Englishman named Nava. Turns out that Nava had been a very
important member in their core group, he had been the man who
negotiated the purchase and then managed their sheepfarm in
Australia. He basically said he was being punished and had been
reduced to being just a speedboat crew member because he had
married someone outside the core group. Here we are sitting
around the campfire in the Amazon in 1980 and I said 'Core group,
what core group? What's the bottom line?' And he looks at me and
says: 'The bottom line is, we are going to Mars.' I said,
'Whoaaa! Hey, you must be smoking too many of these little brown
cigarettes.' But, man, they were serious."
     Harvard-educated researcher Wade Davis [The Serpent and the
Rainbow] had also spent some time on board the Heraclitus, and
wrote a letter back to a friend describing the atmosphere
surrounding the project as "oppressive. . . almost
totalitarian. . . hippie fascism. Most importantly they seem to
have no knowledge nor interest in botany." In 1985 Davis
denounced Allen's group publicly and told the press he had been
lured into working with them for money. The allure seems strong.
     Another veteran of the Heraclitus adventure-- constantly
touted by Biosphere managers as proof of their expert background
in ethnobotany-- is Dr. Al Gentry, of the Missouri Botanical
Garden and current Secretary of the Organization for Flora
Neotropica. "I work out of Iquitos frequently and some years ago
someone from the Institute of Ecotechnics came to me and asked me
to go out on their boat to do some ethnobotany on the Amazon. I
said sure," Gentry recalls in an interview with the Voice. "I
went to see them on the boat a few times where they were doing
some theater. We did do some plant collecting in the Amazon. But
mostly, I would say, they tried to pass themselves off as
something they were not. There was one person I would be the most
critical of, one guy who was passing out cards in Iquitos saying
he was a Ph.D. when he wasn't, Robert Hahn." Hahn is today
director of marketing for the Biosphere project.
     Since then, Gentry says, the synergists have twice tried to
associate the Missouri Botanical Gardens with their global
projects. "They kind of wanted to use our name for a Puerto Rico
project and when the Biosphere came along they were again trying
to associate us. But no way. When I saw on TV that they were
doing this space dome thing, I just couldn't believe it."

     The tactic of hustling up respected scientists to window-
dress scientifically hollow projects-- the highest expression of
which is the Biosphere-- has been refined since the synergists'
origin. Professor Veysey's 1971 account of his stay on the
Synergia Ranch describes John Allen's attempt to organize a
conference on ecology. His followers were given stiff deadlines
for pulling expert panels together and were sent on frenzied
searches for information based on "milking local sources," Veysey
wrote. "These forays sometimes led them to libraries. . . where
in the span of a few hours they would try to become familiar with
the scientific literature. An important part of the challenge was
to be able to locate the most trustworthy information. . .
proceeding from scratch."
     Numerous researchers and academics have told the Voice of
similar attempts to be contracted or just straight-out used by
the Biosphere core group as scientific cover for their science
fiction. Physician and natural medicine researcher Dr. Andrew
Weil described a 12-year, on-and-off courtship by the synergists
which, he says thankfully, was never consummated.
     "I was first approached back in 1979 when I was at the
Harvard Botanical Museum," Weil tells the Voice in an interview
conducted at his Tucson home. Kathelin "Honey" Hoffman, now of
the Biosphere's "Scientific Research Committee," came to him
"like a ball of energy" about the Heraclitus project and-- in
Weil's words "pumping me for a lot of information on plants."
Weil was invited to the Synergia Ranch, witnessed one of the
howling dinners, talked for hours with John Allen and was "pumped
for more" of his expertise. Weil says for years he was enticed
with grant offers from the synergists, exploited for his
knowledge, and then left in the cold, mostly because he had made
a public statement suggesting the group might be a cult. "I feel
that I was just ripped off, constantly pumped, enticed with
promises, and always left dangling. And as the years went by I
was really disgusted to see all these academics, who should know
better, just jumping through hoops for them."
     When the time came to build the Biosphere, the group
realized that a mere university library of the sort used during
the days of the Synergia Ranch conferences would be insufficient
to fill in the scientific gaps of a $100 million project. John
Allen needed bigger patsies. He found an entire university
research lab-- the Environmental Research Laboratory of Tucson's
University of Arizona-- at his disposal. Or at least, he found a
lab management willing to compromise its honest scientists.
     An estimated $5 million in Biosphere funding was thrown at
the cash-starved ERL, which became chief scientific consultant to
the dome project. At least $400,000 of that sum was routed
through Oasis Systems, a private company that the University
allowed ERL director Carl Hodges to establish for himself and
select associates. Needless to say, Hodges-- himself with no
advanced scientific degrees, being much more an administrator
than a scientist-- became a zealous defender of the Biosphere.
"They are visionaries and scientists, they have excellent
science, they have in-house people trained in almost every
field." Hodges says in an interview with the Voice. "This is an
incredibly significant project."
     At any given time, as many as 40 ERL scicntists were
deployed on the Biosphere project, concentrating their work
primarily in the areas of intensive agriculture and oxygen/carbon
     But soon a number of ERL scientists found themlselves aghast
to be connected with scientific managers who knew nothing of
science. Biosphere directors simply claimed credit for the real
work done by the hired expert drones.
     "lt works like this," says one former ERL scientist who quit
the project in disgust. "The SBV people came to us and showed us
their original drawings for the Biosphere, probably done by
Margret Augustine. Really, they were laughable, idiotic designs.
No value of any kind. After they chose Pearce Systems as an
engineering firm I suppose Pearce gently moved Margret into
accepting his own design to make it functional."
     Another source, a key contractor with Pearce, confirms that
"co-architect" Augustine's original draft plans were "primitive,
a sketch." At least hundreds of thousands of dollars were given
to Pearce to present several feasible options on the original
     "About six highly efficient counterproposals were given to
the Biosphere people," says the source, who sat in on the design
meetings. "All I can say is that Margret and Allen, after
spending all that money, quickly looked at Pearce System's drafts
and said, `Thanks very much, but just do the original version we
gave you.' They didn't really listen to Pearce's engineering
arguments. So what Pearce Systems did was deftly translate
Margret's sketch into something as performance-driven as
possible, but certainly not all that it could or should be. For
example, Augustine had this vision of a dramatically vaulted
structure, a very complex one, for their intensive agriculture
area. Pearce wanted to eliminate some of that complexity to make
the agricultural area more efficient. But Allen and Augustine
said no. They wanted it to look just like Margret's drawing."

Never Let Science get in Your Way

     Other contract consultants soon sickened of having their
best scientific opinions-- the ones they were being paid to
offer-- be simply ignored, or in some cases, shouted down by John
Allen. ERL scientists Merle Jensen and David Stumpf as well as
ERL administrator Wayne Collis-- all of whom resigned from the
project-- told the CBC that research review meetings were often
marked by an atmosphere of "verbal {*filter*}" perpetrated by John
     "Two instances stand out," Stumpf tells the Voice. "Back in
'85 at one of the introductory meetings al ERL, I presented some
first cut information about the human plant oxygen/carbon dioxide
interrelationship, indicating that CO2 buildup could be a serious
problem. John Allen vigorously interrupted, telling me, `I don't
know why you're approaching the science this way. . .  everything
will balance properly.' It was apparent that conflicts between
our traditional approach and the Biosphere 2 New Age approach was
going to be a problem.
     "Approximately a year and a half later," Stumpf continues,
"during the yearly Biosphere 2 conference, I presented a poster
on ERL's computer models. And the next day I gave a short
presentation of our results to a gathering of approximately 50
staff and sscientists. We had determined that our first computer
modelling efforts indicated that seasonal variations in CO2 could
be dramatic and possibly too low in the summer for plant growth.
I didn't get very far into the talk when Allen stood up and began
to attack the model as ridiculous, unrealistic, unnecessary, and
a waste of time. As his na ve critique continued, I was given no
opportunity to reply.
     "Traditional science was not the correct approach for these
people, it was not giving them the results they required. More
ominously, ERL director Carl Hodges, instead of defending the
efforts of his scientific staff, sided with John Allen."
     "Let's put it this way, Allen and his people are driven by a
vision and they don't let anything get in their way," as one ERL
scientist at the meeting put it.
     Indeed, Hodges apparently shares John Allen's disdain for
open debate and criticism, one of the pillars of scientific
method. After Stumpf appeared on screen for the CBC, he was
repeatedly threatened with legal action by Hodges, whose
attorneys drafted several recantations to be signed. Stumpf
steadfastly refused. But Jensen and Collis both signed
disclaimers after their TV appearance, indicating they had no
intention of doing any harm to Biosphere. When contacted by the
Voice to speak about his experience, Jensen said, "I'm a college
professor with a limited income. I can't afford to talk to the
     But through independent sources the Voice has obtained a
1987 memo from Jensen-- a Ph.D. from Rutgers with 19 years of
time spent on the ERL staff-- written to ERL management that
underlines the tension between authentic scientists and the
Biosphere hustlers. ln his memo, Jensen complains that "Safari"--
one of Allen's cofe group members-- called him in regard to his
"recommending five books in Horticulture which she can read in
order for her to qualify for a degree in Horticulture from the
Institute of Ecotechnics. I personally will not be party to such

higher education and science that has given rise to a complete
disregard to the fundamentals and principles of plant
science. . .  ERL has indeed a challenge to not only pioneer the">food support systems for Biosphere 2 but [to also] maintain its
     Following in the best authoritarian traditions established
by Allen back on the Synergia Ranch, the CBC itself was
threatened by legal action before it even aired its 1989
documentary. The CBC did go ahead with thc program, even
mentioned the threats in a coda, but has been scared out of
circulating its documentary in the U.S. Earlier that year, the
Christian Science World Monitor Television magazine did a short
segment questioning the scientific basis of Biosphere and also
immediately came under threats-- legal and otherwise-- from
Allen's group.
     "The whole experience was marked by a feel of paranoia,"
says World Monitor 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, World Monitor also received a flurry of
legal threats prior to broadcast.

"It's Really a Sort of Iffy-Iffy Thing"
     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 exposs, 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
     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
     "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."

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 10:50:05 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere Articles Part 1

2. Biosphere Articles Part 3

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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