Well isn’t that nice

Chairman’s office got back. In a frankly snotty manner. And the wrong title. Press releases also pretty snotty.

If you don’t want to be misinterpreted, National Trust, you may want to not write things which can be misinterpreted, like, for example “the debate continues today”. Just a thought. Especially when you yourselves supplied the transcripts of the exhibition which people have been criticising. Also, not making any friends when you whine that people took your transcripts that you supplied out of context. Seriously, you wrote it, you exhibited it, take some responsibility for it.

Dear Ms Clarke

Thank you for your e-mail setting out your concerns in relation to the interpretation at the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre. I am fully aware of this matter. I understand that you have spoken to numerous colleagues who have been in touch with you and have sought to respond to your comments. We have today announced our intention to review the interpretive materials in the small section of the exhibit which has generated so much comment. I hope that this step will address your concerns.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Jenkins

 

You’re a professional journalist, Mr Jenkins, surely you understand the value of killing bad press quickly? Shouldn’t you be dealing with the issue, not bitching at people for trying to get hold of someone sufficiently competent to understand the magnitude of the mistake the organisation has made?

And, no, a ‘review’ does not address my concerns.

You’re still on the side of the bigoted and sectarian, until you make it clear that you are not.

I hope they’re proud of themselves

Finally, finally, after I’ve chased round the houses for two hours after work, he phoned back. And still, still, after everything I’ve said, all he’s going to do is ‘feed it back’. Because everything is a corporate decision and nobody signed off on the exhibition and nobody has the authority to change it. Cowards. Foolish, stubborn, stupid cowards.

Just in case anyone else is confused, here is a step-by-step breakdown of the problem:

The National Trust opened an interpretive centre at the Giant’s Causeway. This was largely funded by the Northern Ireland Executive, ie: the British taxpayer. Funding had to be approved by the relevant Northern Ireland Assembly Ministers (this becomes relevant).

Within this interpretive the National Trust have included an exhibit on the historical theories about the Causeway’s formation.

PROBLEM #1: Unfortunately, they have entitled it “The Debate Continues”. This title in and of itself is inaccurate, misleading and bad science. The debate about the formation of the Causeway was settled well over a century ago. No matter what other context exists in the centre, no exhibit should have this title. The exhibit needs to be altered to deal with this.

The contents of that exhibit involve enactments of various correspondences between scientists and theorists as to how the Causeway formed. All good. Actually, I find it incredibly stilted and tacky, but I’m a trained historian with a pile of drama qualifications and very much not the target audience there.

PROBLEM #2: However, the exhibit concludes with the following: 

The Debate continues today

Like many natural phenomena around the world, the Giant’s Causeway has raised questions and prompted debate about how it was formed.

This debate has ebbed and flowed since the discovery of the Causeway to science and, historically, the Causeway became part of a global debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed.

This debate continues today for some people, who have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science. Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth was created some 6000 years ago.

This is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible and in particular the account of creation in the book of Genesis. Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective. Young Earth Creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth.

As we have seen from the past, and understand today, perhaps the Giant’s Causeway will continue to prompt awe and wonder, and arouse debate and challenging questions for as long as visitors come to see it.  

For further information on this exhibit, please speak to a Ranger.

The bolded sections contain phrasing used by Young Earth Creationist groups, in their ongoing attempts to counter and prevent the teaching of accurate science. Apart from the ‘debate continues today’, the wrongness of which has already been covered, the phrasing “current mainstream science” is a direct lift from such campaigns.

There is no “current mainstream science”. There is science or there is not-science.

There is no reason to include these words. A better phrasing, if such things must be included at all, would be ‘some people, who do not understand science’. However, since the debate was settled quite some time ago, it should not be there at all.  No matter how many people have complained to the staff about its absence. The number of which complaints, apparently, nobody was keeping a record of. Can’t have been that many, then.

 If it absolutely had to be there, well,  Young Earth Creationism did not undergo it’s current revival until long after the question had been settled. It should have obtained no further mention after the section with Dr Richardson.

The last section is just surreal. There is no debate, and if you’re challenged by questions about a great big lump of volcanic rock then you really, really, need to find another job. Unless your questioner is under five, in which case, good luck with that.

These two problems, themselves, are enough to fundamentally insult my intelligence and everyone else’s. Sadly, there are more problems arising from them. They mostly involve the National Trust making very, very stupid mistakes, ones which the Ulster Museum and Belfast Zoo, and every other educational and heritage body in Northern Ireland have managed not to make.

MISTAKE #1: Talking to the Caleb Foundation and other Creationist groups. This is a bad idea, because what happens when you engage with these groups is that any concession made, up to and including just talking to them, is taken and spun as a victory. 

It’s like giving attention to a toddler throwing a tantrum, only this toddler is a group of grown adults who use their religious belief to justify horrifying attitudes about education, science, women and, well, anyone who isn’t a middle-aged-male Young Earth Creationist.

Just please note, by the way, that the Caleb Foundation are a deeply bigoted and sectarian organisation. Several of the Ministers concerned with the Causeway funding decisions are openly affiliated with them. I leave you to your own conclusions.

Strangely enough, once this mistake was made, and especially once the National Trust included their catchphrases in their exhibit, the Caleb Foundation proceeded to claim that the National Trust had conceded the point and had given credence to their beliefs. They proclaimed this on the BBC news and UTV and Radio Ulster and in the Newsletter yesterday started encouraging their mates to pile in and get all the other exhibits in all the other education and heritage sites changed.

This leads to the next mistake.

MISTAKE #2: Not immediately and categorically confronting these assertions in the same arena in which they were made.

They have attempted to dissociate themselves. But they’ve done it on their own web spaces and Facebooks, not the national TV news, radio and newspapers. I didn’t see it on the National Trust’s spaces. I saw it on BBC Newsline. Need to see the National Trust on there too, because otherwise they look awfully mealy mouthed. And cowardly.

You can’t let the story get this far out of control and then cry that people aren’t listening to your denials. You just start looking incompetent on top of the already awful impression that you’re happy to be supporting a bigoted and sectarian organisation. Actions. Words.  Difference between.

That of course, is the next mistake.

MISTAKE #3: Not taking action. This can be solved, almost instantly, by correcting the display in question and confronting the claims being made by the Caleb Foundation. Just admitting that there’s been a horrible, stupid mistake, and fixing it. Actions.

Yes, there’ll be ructions. Yes, there’ll probably have to be a 24 hour guard on the site to stop the YEC folk picketing visitors, but you know, the National Trust will no longer look like it supports bigotry and sectarianism. 

That leads on to the grand finale.

MISTAKE #4: Reacting with incredible defensiveness. Not answering the questions people ask. Answering the questions you want them to ask instead.

So far, the Trust has told complainants they’re wrong, that they’re not interpreting the exhibit properly, that no miss really we don’t support the Caleb Foundations, you’re totally welcome at our sites, we’re listening to what you say! But they haven’t confronted the claims, they haven’t fixed the display and they certainly haven’t given anyone any reason to think they’re listening. 

Shutting down comments on the blog post and threatening Facebook commentors with rules they haven’t actually broken and ignoring direct questions on Twitter, that gives people even less reason to believe they’re acting in good faith.

So there we stand. I grew up going to National Trust properties. I love and adore the Causeway. I’ve been in tears over this several times this past week, because I can’t go to places I love, because I’m not welcome anywhere where these people go unchallenged.

I had money set aside this year (the first year I’ve HAD money) to get a subscription. I’ve given it to the Ulster Museum. 

I hope the National Trust are proud of themselves.

 

Still on the National Trust thing

Broken record, I know.

I spent the best part of 45 minutes yesterday on the phone with someone who is Assistant Something of Operations in National Trust Northern Ireland. They don’t publish org charts, so I’ve no idea who he actually is/what he does. And by the time I was finished I was too wound up to ask again.

He hadn’t read my response to the non-response, either.

He doesn’t know who Caleb Foundation are, what they’re associated with or, apparently, that they’ve been claiming a victory for YEC. Didn’t believe me when I pointed out that this is the start of the pressure to change every single exhibit. That worries me. Immensely. This is something that a simple google search turns up. This is a lack of due diligence on the part of the National Trust.

Another thing didn’t know, or wouldn’t admit to – the proportion of visitors who complained about the age of the Earth, who wanted the YEC included. I think it should have to be a fairly high percentage of independent persons before it gets given space, surely? The kind of percentage that you would have to hand? For when that other percentage of your patrons who find it really offensive ask why its there?

He tried to tell me that the transcript of the display doesn’t say what the transcript of the display that the National Trust posted does say. I had to explain that “The Debate Continues” is, generally speaking, read by people with a handle on the basics of the English language as saying a debate continues. I had to explain that using the words “mainstream science” is a known phrasing of the worst kind of science deniers. I had to explain that by keeping that display up, in that phrasing, they are promoting those views.

He kept saying “I’m sorry you feel that way”. I kept restraining myself from banging my head off the window, because I am a nice person and do not want to traumatise the guys across the way. Unlike the National Trust, I don’t go in for actively hurting people.

It isn’t feeling. It’s fact. These things are well documented and thirty seconds with Google can find them.

He kept going on about how the National Trust welcomes everyone. I kept pointing out that no, it doesn’t. Right now, it doesn’t welcome me. It actively excludes me. It doesn’t matter what the ideals are. Actions are currently speaking considerably louder than words and those actions are divisive and exclusionary.

I was honestly starting to wonder if I was going mad, somewhere around the five minute mark. Around the twenty minute mark, I started wondering if I was even still speaking English. I don’t think its a difficult point to grasp. 

Until that display is altered (or for preference pulled completely, because at this point its all got a bit too highly charged) then the National Trust is promoting an anti-science, anti-education viewpoint, strongly associated with bigotry and sectarianism. I am an educated, female, (very lapsed) Catholic. I am most certainly not welcome within organisations associated with those views in Northern Ireland. The National Trust have allowed themselves to be associated with these organisation. Therefore I am not welcome at the National Trust.

Until the National Trust go on the BBC and UTV and categorically state that the Caleb Foundation are in no way assiciated with them, that they do not support anything they believe, the National Trust is promoting an anti-science, anti-education viewpoint, strongly associated with bigotry and sectarianism. I am an educated, female, (very lapsed) Catholic. I am most certainly not welcome within organisations associated with those views in Northern Ireland. The National Trust have allowed themselves to be associated with these organisation. Therefore I am not welcome at the National Trust.

I’m going to York this weekend. So many things I can’t go to now, because I’m not welcome any more. My boyfriend comes over in a few weeks. So many things I can’t take him to, because I’m not welcome any more.

 

He said he’s going to go away and think about it.

New National Trust reply

Enquiries
10:45 AM (4 minutes ago)

Reply
to me
Dear Dr Clarke,

Thank you for your email dated 7th July.

We are grateful to supporters who contact us with their comments and observations, as this is helping us to review and develop our policies, and to address any issues of concern.
I have forwarded your email to the relevant department so that your comments can be read and considered. If your feedback calls for a reply I am sure you will hear from them shortly.
Your support for the National Trust’s work is much appreciated.

Kind regards
Samantha Growney
Membership Department

That looks a lot like a form letter, doesn’t it? Like the kind of form letter I specifically asked them not send.

National Trust reply

9:09 PM (46 minutes ago)

Reply
to meni.customersen.Press

Hi Mary,

 

As mentioned earlier on Twitter, we have passed your email of questions across to the various people across the organisation equipped to answer them and will come back to you in due course.

 

Please be aware that as previously mentioned, we will do our best to respond as soon as we can, but this may take some time.

 

Thanks

 


t The National Trust

 

 

——————————————————————————

Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nationaltrust

Follow us on Facebook at http://facebook.com/nationaltrust
——————————————————————————

 

So, there is nobody in the organisation willing to answer very simple questions, all of which should have formed part of the original assesments in designing the exhibits.

Lovely.

Questions for the National Trust

This is the text of the email I have sent to the National Trust Twitter feed email address and copied to the appropriate other departments.

Before I ask anything, please note: I have read the press releasesSeveral timesPlease do not redirect me to them, suggest I read them, or include in your reply any phrasing contained therein.

So. The questions which I have already asked on Twitter and had either inadequate or no reply to.
  1. Why do you feel it is appropriate to include Young Earth Creationism within the Giant’s Causeway exhibition at all, and given this bizarre decision, why did you characterise it as part of a continuing scientific debate about the formation of the Causeway? 
  2. Are you going to include this at your other scientifically important sites (Murlough Bay, etc), and if not, why not? Consistency is important.
  3. Why did it take several hours to confirm on the main feed that the Causeway can be accessed without entering the centre or paying for access, and why has the official Causeway site twitter never answered this question?
  4. Why also is this not made clear on your website?
  5. Are you aware of the bigotry and sectarianism associated with these beliefs in Northern Ireland and with the Caleb foundation in particular? Are you happy to support them?
  6. Are you aware that by supporting them you are strongly implying that Northern Ireland’s Catholics are no longer welcome on National Trust sites?
The questions raised by your lack of response:
  1. Did you not understand the offence this would cause to your visitors and members who are not Creationists and expect the National Trust to present the actual history and science associated with the Causeway?
  2. The previous exhibits on the site have never included creationism. I have been going there at least once a year since I was five, including times when the interpretive centre was merely scorched rubble, I would have noticed. Why is it suddenly important to include it now?
  3. Is it by any chance associated with the fact the Minister responsible for allocating the funding was at the time a Creationist with a track record of trying to pressurize organisations into promoting Creationist viewpoints?
  4. Why did you not follow the excellent example of the Ulster Museum in this situation and stick to the science?
  5. Why have you been so slow and horribly patronizing in addressing the complaints made about this exhibition? (tip: everyone complaining at this point has read the transcript and is still complaining. This is what we call a sign.)
  6. Why is there no-one from Head Office available today to deal with telephone complaints about this? I attempted to speak to someone earlier today and was persistently fobbed off by the Membership Office, who insist there is no senior member of the organisation on call on weekends. This strikes me a highly unlikely and suggests that Head Office is attempting to ignore the problem until it goes away.
  7. Are they trying to ignore the problem until it goes away? Is this actually your policy?
  8. Did you intend to tell me that I’m not welcome at your sites? That’s the impression I have been left with.
Please answer these in full and in point order as soon as possible. Preferably today.

 

Dear National Trust,
You have my phone number. I suggest someone in the organisation with authority to properly address these questions do so within the next five hours.

ETA: No response. It was nice visiting back when I was still welcome.

 

Incandescent Fury

The National Trust, curators of Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO heritage site, have decided that their shiny new visitor’s centre (funded by the taxpayer by the by) should, as well as charging an extortionate entry fee, also give credence to the Young Earth Creationists.

I am not entirely sure I can convey how this got me so incredibly angry. I mean, our Minister for Culture was until very recently Nelson McCausland, a man who thinks the Free Presbyterians aren’t miserable and cheerless enough and got in a fight with the Ulster Museum because they wouldn’t put anti-evolution viewpoints into their (excellent) science displays. His replacement’s only redeeming feature is that she at least knows science exists.

Maybe it’s that when my little cousins, my fabulous, smart, baby cousins with their incredible intelligence and their desire to know everything, ever, are taken there, as I was, they will be presented with the assertion that science as they have been taught it, as it exists, is a matter of debate.

I’ve been going to National Trust properties since before I could walk. So have they. Those big boards with their acorn motif are as much a part of my mental landscape as blue Ulsterbuses and ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. I’ve learned from those signs. I’ve read those signs out loud to them and explained the big words. And been pedantically corrected about the proper name of the Brontosaurus.

There is a rich and gloriously demented mythology that goes with the Causeway. It is embedded in the name. Finn McCool is woven into my landscape, everywhere I was as child. I’ve never known a time when I didn’t know these stories. I remember learning the shape of the giant sleeping on the Cooley Mountains on the way to Warrenpoint when I was still in a car seat. I can see his outline on Slieve Foy from my childhood window. He pulled up the land where Lough Neagh now lies to throw at the Scottish Giants and made the Isle of Man when the throw fell short. He threw stones at the Ice Giant from Cooley and the Big Stone lies on Mourne where it hit him at Cloughmore. He built a causeway to go fight the piece out with Bennandonner.

He was big on throwing bits of scenery about, Finn was.

I know when I found the science. I remember the first time I saw the animations of how the rocks were formed. I was fascinated. I drank it up like water. That exhibit, the first National Trust exhibit, was wonkily projected and horribly drawn and probably ran on a dodgy Commedore 64, but it was intellectually satisfying. I drove my parents crazy, soaking up everything about geology I could get and then having nightmares about volcanoes.

Vulcanology is a bad hobby for a nervy child who lives where three sets of (long dormant) volcanic mountains meet.

Now, they have a much bigger, fancier exhibition. And they have a long piece on the theories of the Causeway’s creation. That’s fine. Geology really didn’t figure out what was going on with the plate tectonics until about 40 years ago, what I was taught, is nothing like what my mum was taught, is nothing like what my grandmother was taught. Fossilised bamboo makes a reasonable guess, in 18-something.

But at the end, they bring in the Young Earth Creationist view. A deeply, painfully, wrong idea that last had scientific credence around 12th century BC. A view imported from the scariest of scary anti-intellectual right-wing American fundamentalist Christians and latched on to gleefully by the most anti-intellectual right-wing fundamentalist Northern Irish evangelicals.

And they present it as a valid part of the ongoing scientific debate. It isn’t. It just isn’t.

What is is, though, is a manifestation of the influence of sectarianism in my society. Creationism isn’t neutral. It goes hand in hand with a lot of other beliefs, many of them horribly bigoted. So letting that voice in, treating it as a valid scientific view, is allowing a voice to people who would shun my baby cousins for having been born, because they’re brought up Catholic, because their families are mixed, because they came along before the wedding, because they are little girls with blazing scientific curiosity and a thing about penguins.

It is a betrayal of trust.