Sunday, January 14, 2007

Geological Museum and NHM Field Report

And whilst on the subject of climate change, I spent part of yesterday mooching around the Natural History and Geological Museums....

Strictly speaking, the Geological Museum doesn’t exist as a separate entity any more. It was incorporated into the Natural History Museum a few years ago and renamed The Earth Galleries but fuck that.

For most of its history the Geological Museum stuck closely to the uniformitarianism roots of the British pioneers of geology and placed as little emphasis on natural catastrophes as possible. As a consequence it was a dry, desperately dull place filled with hundreds of display cabinets, containing thousands and thousands of meticulously annotated chips of rock that only bearded men in Aran jumpers (including myself for a time) could ever possibly derive gratification from.

Tip: Geologists are easily mistaken for WW2-era U-Boat commanders. They are not the same thing and are only rarely seen wearing the Knight's Cross

The crushing dullness of the Geological Museum was compounded by the fact that the adjacent NHM wangled first-call on all the best dinosaur fossils for its own galleries.

Which made the Geological Museum a lovely place to go to get away from the crowds in London as nobody ever went there.

A few years ago this all changed. The specimen cabinets were relegated to the deceptively trendy sounding ‘Gallery 66’ and the Geological Museum was turned into B-Grade theme park; filled with pointlessly interactive exhibits, loop videos of things exploding and loads of fake gem stones. The average age of the target audience was reduced from about 37 to about 4 years old. Hutton and Lyell must be spinning in their graves.

Though, it must be said, the Geological Museum is now a lot more popular than it ever was before its lobotomy.

Anyway, in true Field Trip style, I recorded all my most important observations from yesterday's visit to the Geological Museum and NHM in a little notebook, complete with detailed sketches and photographs – the highlights of which include…

The two most amusing animal names of the day

Best Global Warming Fudge

After walking through a series of exhibits that explained that global climate is the poorly understood product of the interaction of many awesome cosmological forces such as

  • Solar cycles
  • Variations in the Earth’s orientation and orbit
  • The development of Life
  • Mountain formation
  • The creation of low-cost Irish airlines

it became quite clear that the geological evidence indicates that we are currently living in an ‘interglacial’ period and that global temperature is set to fall drastically in the (geologically) immediate future.

This apparent mismatch between geological data and what people are being told by the mainstream media every half-hour or so has been neatly dealt with by placing a sign at the very end of the exhibits relating to climate change…

'If increasing greenhouse gases cause the predicted rise in temperature there will be devastating effects on the environment – deserts will expand and melting ice will flood low-lying land.

However, the Earth is due to enter another glacial phase in the next few thousand years so natural and induced climate changes may cancel each other out, for a while at least.'

Best dinosaur related merchandise of the day

Carnage Action Dinosaurs


Nodding Dinosaurs

Unsurprisingly, most of the dino-related products on offer these days are low-grade tat manufactured in China - including a series of 'missing-link' fossils created in the palaeontological equivalent of a chop shop that initially went down very well with evolutionists in recent years

Most bizarre instruction of the day

First, pretend your hands are two small mammals

Sneakiest use of the F Word of the Day

For the better part of 150 years mainstream geologists have gone to superhuman lengths to emphasise how gradual the forces that shape most of the Earth are. This dates back to clashes with 19th century believers in the literal word of the Bible, particularly the Book of Genesis and the 'world was created in seven days' thing.

So, perversely, geologists found themselves celebrating and promoting the sheer mind-numbing dullness of their subject and playing down the significance of more compelling stuff like volcanoes, earthquakes and floods …especially floods.

The problem with that approach is that there is an awful lot of evidence that much of our world really was shaped by catastrophes. Take fossils for example. More often than not fossils are found in thick deposits that bear all the hallmarks of the sudden, dare I say catastrophic, death and preservation of the creatures contained within them.

The history of scientific catastrophe denial really is a very nice example of data being twisted or flatly ignored whenever it doesn't suit a prevailing paradigm. And one that comes to mind whenever I hear some knob on the television talking about scientific consensus or scientific 'truth' as if such concepts are ever sacrosanct.

So hats off to the curator who drew up the card for this exhibit...

and steered clear of euphemisms such as ‘inundated’ and actually used the F Word, even finding a way to capitalize it too...

Noah's rejects?

Catastrophes are undergoing a period of rehabilitation at the moment. Not because there is so much evidence to support their occurrence – that’s always been there, and arguably why some creation myths (the scientific consensus of their day) got going in the first place. Nope, scientific catastrophism is becoming popular because there’s money in it. Whether it’s NASA plugging asteroid impacts to keep its space program going or environmentalists blaming Katrina on global warming (sorry, climate change), catastrophes scare people and where there’s Fear there’s Loot, and Influence. Any similarities with religions playing exactly the same game are, I’m sure, not entirely coincidental.

For example, the difference between these two claims...

'God sent Katrina to punish America for its sinful ways'

'Katrina was the natural result of our unsustainable and wasteful behaviour'

is what exactly?

By far and away the scariest exhibit of the day

And on the subject of scaring the living crap out of people…

The best laugh of the day came at the end of waiting in a twenty minute queue in a darkened passageway that led to a room containing a life-sized animatronic T-Rex flailing around and roaring in a really scary way. The effect on unsuspecting and impressionable small children is entirely predictable.

I’ve uploaded a (far too) short eight-second video clip onto Gootube. You can just catch the sound of traumatised children whimpering in shock and fear in the background in the last couple of seconds.

Now that’s what 21st century science is all about.



Wolfie said...

"However, the Earth is due to enter another glacial phase in the next few thousand years so natural and induced climate changes may cancel each other out, for a while at least."

By which time the human race will be long gone having modified our environment so that it no-longer supports life. By which point the earth will just say "next!".

I hate the way its all become a theme-park as well, sigh.

Daniel said...


This entertaining and interesting post has considerably brightened up a rather dull morning.

Stef said...

@Daniel - you can thank Climate Change for that

or pixies

both are good