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.