The Latest on Biosphere II 
Author Message
 The Latest on Biosphere II

        (Note: This is the latest article from the VillageVoice on Biosphere
II. NOT included is a sidebar detailing the actions taken against a
documentary fillmaker who ran afoul of the Biosphere crowd. That'll be coming

        (By the way, I _did_ get at least five or six requests to re-post the
Biosphere articles. They'll be coming soon.)
Biosphere 2: The Next Generation
All the Smithsonian's Horses and All the Smithsonian's Men Won't
Put the Arizona Bubble Back Together Again
by Marc Cooper
The Village Voice, May 5, 1992

     TUCSON-Seven months after the sealing  of the Biosphere 2,
managers of what some  have called the most important scientific
experiment since the moon launch are scrambling to bolster the
project's nosediving credibility and offset a mounting wave of
negative press coverage.
     The $150 million three-acre terrarium 20 miles north of here
houses eight humans and 4000 plant and animal species that were
supposedly sealed off from the earth's atmosphere last September
26 for a two-year study. But confidential documents secured by
the Voice reveal that the project's highest-ranking manager, CEO
Margret Augustine, has privately admitted to Arizona state
investigators that she is not, as she has publicly claimed, a
professional architect or the "co-architect" of the Biosphere.
     Ordinarily, such a blemish on an individual corporate
officer would hardly call into question the overall credibility
of a private company. But in the case of Biosphere 2, this new
revelation both confirms and dramatically symbolizes what project
critics have been arguing for months: that the Biosphere 2
experiment is dominated by unqualified cult members and can offer
no serious contributions in the fight to save the environment.
Last year the Voice revealed the Biosphere is not a monumental
research project but the decades-old brainchild of a survivalist
cult that believes the Earth is dead and that it is humanity's
"imperative" to colonize Mars. Though scores of bona fide
scientists have been drawn to the project by generous grants,
Biosphere 2 is more theme park than research, more science
fiction than science.
     The new revelations on CEO Augustine's background also come
in the wake of a cascade of public relations crises that have
shaken the spectacular glass and steel structure to its
foundation. A chain of high-level defections, embarrassing news
leaks, bitter legal entanglements, and growing internal strife
and dissension since the September 26 closure of the bubble have
forced the cult's chief financial backer, Texas millionaire Ed
Bass, to pull together a prestigious "Scientific Advisory
Committee" whose task will be to evaluate the effectiveness of
the experiment. But this new attempt at internal damage control
appears to be running far behind the project's ability to
constantly generate one crisis after Another.

To Be Or Not To Be

     The new documents secured by the Voice confirm that last
October 10, barely two weeks after the Biosphere's closure,
project CEO Margret Augustine was queried by the state of Arizona
after its Board of Technical Registrations received a
confidential complaint that Augustine might be illegally
practicing architecture without a license. Arizona law says that
anyone who "practices, offers to practice, or by any implication
holds himself out as qualified to practice as an architect"
without being a duly registered and credentialed architect is
guilty of a misdemeanor.
     The original complaint cites a passage in a 1990 book,
Structures by Nigel Hawkes, in which Augustine is referred to as
"architect" of the experimental bubble. Augustine's lawyer
responded to the state's query saying that his client does not
practice as an architect and that the publishers of Structures
would be requested to correct their error. The lawyer's letter
also claims that "Ms. Augustine was surprised" to be referred to
as an architect. Accompanying the letter was a sworn affidavit
from Augustine categorically stating "I am not an architect, nor
have I ever practiced as an architect." In her affidavit to the
state board Augustine also argues that the reference to her as an
architect in Nigel Hawkes's Structures is not "representative of
the body of articles written about me or about Biosphere 2."
     But Augustine's protestations of "surprise" won't bear even
the most superficial scrutiny. In dozens of news accounts of the
Biosphere Augustine is consistently referred to as "co-architect"
of the experimental bubble. And why not? That is the precise term
used by Augustine to describe herself in the preface she wrote to
Space Biospheres, the nearly incomprehensible tract handed out to
every reporter who visits the site. Moreover, in another
coffeetable book, Biosphere 2: The Human Experiment-- authored by
Biosphere cult leader John Allen in collaboration with other
project managers-- Augustine appears as the central element in
the chapter "Architecture." After describing how Augustine and
cult mentor Allen conducted "round-the-world site studies" since
1975, the book gushes that in designing the project "Augustine
drew on a combination of sources. . . as great architects have
always done in seeking inspiration for their creations."
     All this is in apparent contradiction to Augustine's sworn
statement to the Arizona investigators, but it is perfectly
consistent with a 1989 interview she granted to CBC correspondent
Paul Griffin. When confronted about her lack of credentials,
Augustine insisted, "Yes, I am an architect." Her resume lists a
degree in architecture from the Institute of Ecotechnics, exposed
last year by the Voice as a cult-run maildrop. "I do have a
degree," Augustine told the CBC, "and I have been in practice for
some time and that's what I'd like to say."
     When queried by the Voice as to her contradictory
statements, Augustine refused an interview. Despite repeated
calls and fax requests, Biosphere management also refused to
comment for this story.
     James Dixon, investigations manager of the Arizona State
Board of Technical Registration (which oversees the accreditation
of architects), says his office has closed the case on the
original complaint against Augustine, but "there is another
complaint about her currently under Investigation."

A Galaxy Of Goof-Ups

     Any possible legal action against Augustine in the near
future could prove to be a knock-out punch for the Biosphere,
already staggering under a barrage of negative body blows since
its September 26 enclosure.

    In early November the Voice revealed that just days before
     closure, the Biosphere management had secretly installed a
     chemical-driven "sc{*filter*}" inside the bubble in order to
     mechanically reduce abnormally high levels of carbon

    On December 19, Biosphere management issued a strange
     statement acknowledging that 10 days previous some 600,000
     cubic feet of fresh air had been pumped from the outside
     into the supposedly sealed bubble atmosphere suggesting an
     annual leakage rate of 50 per cent. Project sources tell the
     Voice that the belated public acknowledgment of the "sip of
     fresh air" came only because two of the eight "Biospherians"
     inside the bubble were so outraged by the attempted sc{*filter*}
     cover-up that they threatened to quit if management did not
     admit the fresh air intake.

    On January 4, again in a belated admission, management
     acknowledged that when Biospherian Jayne Poynter left the
     bubble for several hours last October after cutting off a
     fingertip, she returned to the earth-isolated atmosphere
     with a duffel bag stuffed with worldly goods: plastic bags,
     reference books, maps with plant locations, photographic
     film, spare computer parts, and a refill supply of
     hydrochloric acid needed for testing procedures.

    In February, a local newspaper reported that the eight
     sealed-in Biospherians had grown "hungry and thinner" as
     they "struggled to raise enough food." After a newly formed
     Scientific Advisory Committee visited the site on February
     10-12, and grew concerned that crew members had lost as much
     as 15 per cent of their body weight, the internal">food
     ration was increased. Meanwhile, it was reported that
     pollination inside the bubble became problematic because the
     honeybees were smashing into the glass walls and killing
     themselves, and that a number of hummingbirds had died from
     the cold after internal temperatures were lowered to combat
     rising CO, gas levels.

    In March, the Phoenix Gazette published a searing three-part
     investigation into the activities of Carl Hodges, director
     of the University of Arizona's Environmental Research Lab
     and once the "chief scientific consultant" to the Biosphere.
     Hodges was described by reporter Victor Dricks as a man with
     "limited scientific credentials" who "operated between the
     letter and the spirit of state conflict of interest laws."
     Though a 1991 review by three members of his own faculty
     concluded that Hodges was not qualified to run the research
     lab, Biosphere had showered him, his lab, and his
     proprietary companies with more than $5 million in
     consulting contracts.

A Biospheric Beirut?

     The Biosphere's internal structure-- bound by more than two
decades of cult domination by leader John Allen-- is now showing
signs of disarray and dissension. "Lots of scapegoating, lots of
yelling and screaming by management had become a near daily
experience by the end of last year," says one well-placed source.
There is "an atmosphere inside the project of everyone being
afraid." Whereas in the past Allen had directly enforced cult
discipline through verbal and sometimes physical abuse, now
Margret Augustine has that role.
     "Margret always had a bad temper," says one source close to
her. "John would for the most part back her up. But if she got
too irrational, too shitty, Johnny would tone her down. He'd tell
her to back off and she would. But it's no longer like that. What
tipped the scales were the Village Voice articles. After they
came out, Margret started blaming John for everything, and her
browbeating has been so constant that the change in John's
personality has just been astonishing. With Margret in charge
now, it's full-time hysteria."
     Current Biosphere employees say that after the Voice,
relying partially on project sources, revealed the secret
installation of the air purifier last November, the on-site work
atmosphere was hemmed in with security measures. Employees and
consultants, for example, were forced to sign new and
increasingly restrictive non-disclosure "gag" agreements, while
some workers were questioned by private detectives hired by
management. A number of project sources believe that phone lines
in and out of the project are being monitored, though the Voice
could not confirm that.
     And though they have denied any formal dissension in recent
through-the-glass press interviews, Linda Leigh and Dr. Roy
Walford-- the two Biospherians who threatened to quit unless
management admitted pumping air into the project-- have been
spearheading resistance to Augustine's management, according to
reliable sources. (Of the eight Biospherians. Leigh and Walford
are the two that have the least established history with the
Biosphere cult and the most established scientific credentials.)
The project teems with rumors that Augustine is looking for an
excuse to open up the bubble and fire Walford and Leigh-- or that
the two Biospherians are plotting to remove Augustine.

Dr. Lovejoy to the Rescue. . . Again

     Facing the collapse of his $150 million investment, Ed Bass
called upon his longtime friend-- and vice-president for external
affairs at the Smithsonian-- Dr. Thomas LoveJoy to help shore up
the project's image. For the second time in the history of the
Biosphere, Lovejoy has constituted the "Scientific Advisory
Committee," pulling in high name-recognition individuals from a
number of prestigious institutions that now risk having their
names linked to the cult-managed Biosphere. ln a recent written
statement, Bass set the desired spin in motion, saying, "I have
no doubt about the scientific validity of Biosphere 2. We have an
independent, outside scientific advisory committee. The committee
is reviewing all aspects of the project."
     Wrong on two counts. First, the advisory committee will
primarily be reviewing "scientific" data from the project and
will not concern itself with the more fundamental question of
just who it is that runs this project and why.
     Second, this is by no stretch of the imagination an
"independent, outside" committee. A majority of the eight members
have a prior history of collaboration with and support for the
project. Besides Bass buddy Lovejoy, the committee includes:

    Dr. Ghillean Prance, director of the Royal Botanical gardens
     at Kew, who designed the rain forest section of the
     Biosphere. He has been a paid consultant to the project,
     though years before he had warned colleagues not to get
     involved with the management group, which he termed
     "cultlike." Today, a revisionist Prance calls the bubble one
     of "the most exciting experiments that's taken place this

    Dr. Stephen O'Brien, chief of the laboratory of viral
     carcinogenesis at the National Cancer institute, who visited
     the Biosphere a number of times before being asked to join
     the committee and had once hosted an on-site conference in
     collaboration with project management. "I would applaud the
     courage of the backers as well as the investigators [of the
     Biosphere] in making an attempt which is controversial at
     best and modestly courageous," O'Brien says.

    Dr. Gerald Soffen, the director of university programs at
     the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, who is a longtime
     partisan of the Biosphere. He penned a fawning blurb for the
     jacket of John Allen's Biosphere 2: The Human Experiment.

    Professor Eugene Odum, director emeritus of the University
     of Georgia's Institute of Ecology, who has visited the
     project several times. When contacted by the Voice, Odum
     offered a rambling defense of the Biosphere, saying it was
     primarily a commercial venture and exclaiming "What
     difference does it make?" when asked if he thought the
     opening of the bubble to admit fresh air last December had
     violated the experiment's integrity.

    Robert Walsh, former VP for technical affairs, Allegheny-
     Ludlum Corp., a long-time friend of John Allen who did not
     want to be interviewed by the Voice.

    Dr. Rob Peters, director of the global change program at
     Conservation International, who is the committee secretary.
     He said it was too early to speak to the press, as the
     committee would not have its report ready until July at the

    Professor Keith Runcorn, FRS, head of school of physics
     emeritus of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who could
     not be located by the Voice.

A Toasty Summer

     But Peters and LoveJoy confirm that the committee is
conducting its review mostly in absentia. There has yet to be one
meeting of the full committee, and Lovejoy says that will
probably happen in the first week of July, immediately prior to
the release of the committee report. In the meantime, the bulk of
the evaluation is seemingly being carried out by a rump core that
will spend a few days, or at most a few weekends, onsite. Most of
the review consists of sifting through data reports mailed and
faxed to them by Biosphere management.
     Critics say that given the management team's already well-
established record of withholding crucial information, the review
committee and the public in general would be foolish to trust any
"hard data" emanating from inside the bubble.
     "Having worked with these people for two years, personally I
wouldn't believe a word they say," says Rocky Stewart, senior
designer of the Biosphere's software and monitoring system who
resigned in protest last September. "I walked around that site
for two years looking for science and never found any. I've seen
too many instances of them lying and covering up. I see no reason
why they should be trusted by the scientific community. They have
full control over the data collection, the data storage, the
system, the software. This new scientific committee is going to
be fed data that's selected. I sat in on one of those review
committee meetings, they came into the Nerve Room with us, asked
us a few questions, and were handed the data that was prepared in
advance for them. I would challenge Dr. Lovejoy and the rest of
that committee to prove how they are going to validate that
     As the Biosphere project heads into its second semester, it
still faces the serious challenge of its first summer in the
Arizona desert. And the problem won't be Just the 100 days of 90-
plus temperatures that will keep the Biosphere's cooling systems
laboring around the clock to keep temperatures inside the glass
dome under 140 degrees.
     Over the past winter, with its short, cloudy days, the
greenhouse gases increased to 10 times the normal level. That
figure was kept from going ballistic only thanks to the secretly
installed CO2 sc{*filter*}.
     But come summer, the Biosphere could be facing a CO2 deficit
as photosynthesis accelerates. The Biospherians have already
stepped up composting, one possible source for carbon dioxide
generation. But experts theorize that summer-time consumption of
CO2 will run faster than replenishment from the compost heaps.
Several project sources speculate that Biosphere management might
use the July release date of the scientific report as
justification for temporarily suspending the experiment, just
before the desert's most grueling dog days. "Wouldn't that be
convenient?" jokes one.
     But if the bubble stays closed, between the controversy and
the unforgiving Southwestern summer sun there's bound to be
plenty of sweating going on inside. Says former project
consultant-turned-critic David Stumpf: "There's going to be so
much light inside there the plants are going to be sucking up CO2
like mad. Under that Arizona desert sun, it's going to be one
toasty experience this summer."

Warning! Beware of weird, horrible cult which: Uses promises of money, a job,
and other favors to recruit people; indoctrinates beginners in an armed
camp until they're thoroughly brainwashed; employs terror,
assassination, {*filter*}, and threats thereof; is particularly interested
in the young, and those who follow orders without question; holds
against their will members who wish to leave; and goes by many names,
e.g., The Service, military, Armed Forces, ROTC, JROTC, recruiters,
Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, Green Berets.

Sat, 05 Nov 1994 13:27:03 GMT
 [ 1 post ] 

 Relevant Pages 

1. Biosphere II

2. CBS on Biosphere II

3. The Biosphere II requests

4. The Biosphere II articles

5. Biosphere II

6. Biosphere Part II

7. Looking for Biosphere II articles

8. Biosphere II in the news

9. Biosphere II in the News

10. Biosphere II

11. BIOSPHERE II -- what do we really know?

12. Biosphere II in the News

Powered by phpBB® Forum Software