NEGATIVE BIOFEEDBACK

FINAL VERSION For his article on Biosphere 2, Marc Cooper did not investigate science or an ecological research project--a task he has no scientific qualifications to do in any event. Instead he set out, by his own admission, "predisposed to find an eccentric group of goofballs." What we are asked to believe in his rambling soap opera is more than even daytime television would tolerate. What we are asked to ignore are the facts.

Hundreds of scientists and journalists with scientific credentials have visited Biosphere 2, investigated its research merits and scientific bona fides, and written hundreds of articles, largely favorable. Cooper's ad hominem thesis, sources and "evidence" derive mainly from several 1985 Texas expose-type articles. Unfortunately, he fails to mention that these articles are now ignored even by the newspapers that originally published them. A Texas Monthly article which reported the allegations baseless is conspicuous in its absence from Cooper's media survey. . . . Laurence Veysey, the "most authoritative" source cited by Cooper, met SBV staff member John Allen for a few weeks 20 years ago and published his interpretations of Mr. Allen's philosophy without checking any statement with Mr. Allen. Now, not having seen nor spoken with Mr. Allen for 20 years--nor ever setting foot on the Biosphere 2 project--this "expert" extends his presumptions to anything in which Mr. Allen participates. The fact that five friends and business associates at the Santa Fe ranch described by this source continue to be friends and business associates is "proof" that subsequent endeavors are extensions of a "cult" rather than normal continuation and evolution of successful friendship and business relationships. New business associates become "recruits" who supposedly join the "cult." And so on, such that his definition is self-perpetuating and inescapable.

Undeterred by fact or reason, Cooper takes highly credentialed science journalists to task for their favorable evaluations of the Biosphere 2 project, solely because they do not uphold sensationalist articles based upon such testimony. His charge against the science writers--amazingly--is gullibility. Every evaluation contrary to his own preconception is approached as an obstacle to be discredited, usually by ad hominem accusations which proceed from his conclusion--rather than supporting his conclusion or disproving or even addressing contrary viewpoints in any way.

Thus he takes on the opinion of Biosphere 2 scientific consultants--whose expertise and credentials not only exceed Mr. Cooper's by an immeasurable degree, but who in some cases are among the leading research scientists in their fields. He equates paid and bought in his arguments to impugn their motives. (Is Mr. Cooper paid; is he therefore bought?) He disqualifies their "bought" testimony and gives copious space to critics, most with personal grudges, and the remainder of which have never even seen Biosphere 2. On this basis, he "proves" Biosphere 2 research is bad and that these scientists have sold out to questionable science. But whose conclusions of good versus bad science should we listen to: Mr. Cooper's or their own?

Balancing voices of the many unaffiliated credentialed experts of favorable opinion--also quoted in numerous media articles--have no place in Mr. Cooper's "research." Absent too is any fact-checking or research documentation from the Biosphere 2 project that would give a balanced representation of its participation and standing in the overall scientific community worldwide. A considerable body of such documentation exists in the form of published Biosphere 2 peer-reviewed research papers, reports, and scientific and professional conference presentations. Mr. Cooper received a nine-page bibliography outlining this available material; he cites none.

Mr. Cooper's blunders over another major issue. Space Biospheres Ventures (SBV) conducts the Biosphere 2 project as an enterprise. SBV does not claim to be a disinterested scientific organization like a university science department. Like any enterprise, SBV needs to focus research and development toward products that contribute to cash flow and viability. SBV aims to produce environmentally valuable products--like air treatment systems, already patented contrary to Mr. Cooper's unchecked statement--and demonstrate that ecological responsibility is also economically feasible. The Biosphere 2 project has used no public funds (again contrary to Mr. Cooper's assertions), has made no sweeping or untruthful claims, has not solicited media coverage or glory, has harmed or disparaged no one. One what grounds Biosphere 2 staff and principals deserve to be so personally and vehemently attacked is the true mystery of Mr. Cooper's piece.

SBV staff do not claim to be scientists unless they are scientists. Biosphere 2 is a complex, multidisciplinary endeavor requiring many skills. Kathelin Hoffman (artist) and Marie Allen (manager) serve on the Project Review Committee--not the "scientific review committee" as Cooper erroneously and repeatedly describes it. The Biosphere 2 crew includes ecological managers, an engineer and technicians along with scientific researchers for the simple reason that people from many different backgrounds have useful contributions to make to Biosphere 2--and the larger biosphere it models.

Mr. Cooper goes beyond audacity in his insistence that Margret Augustine is not really the CEO and President of SBV or the Project Director of the Biosphere 2 project. Males of appropriate age apparently fit his stereotype of "leader" better than capable 38-year-old women.

Clarification of the purpose of the Biosphere 2 project is in order for readers who never would have guessed it from Mr. Cooper's account. Learning how to live in harmony with the biosphere--on Earth or on new horizons in space--is the Biosphere 2 project's expressed unhidden agenda. Toward that end, Space Biospheres Ventures has dedicated every effort to build the best possible laboratory for ecological research, development and education. Scientists and journalists are welcome to make their own evaluations and predictions. Time and experimentation will demonstrate the truth of any predictions, but more importantly provide an opportunity to learn--from our successes and mistakes. SBV will be content to be judged by the objective achievements of Bioshpere 2 . . . Kathleen A. Dyhr

Director of Public Affairs
Space Biospheres Ventures

Marc Cooper replies: There is nothing in Dyhr's letter which factually rebuts the main thesis of my report: Biosphere 2 is run by a cultish group of recycled theater performers who have much greater interest in establishing a corporate colony on Mars than they do in creating a more livable Earth. Let the reader note that while Dyhr attacks two of my sources (out of more than three dozen) as unreliable, she never says exactly what it is they told me was untrue. In any case, my characterization of SBV as a cult was based primarily on its own "scientific" publications provided to me by Dyhr. It is flat wrong to allege that I criticized bona fide scientists for the sole act of having accepted funds as consultants. What I did question were the individuals and institutions, both public and private, who, knowing full well that SBV is far from what it represents itself to be (or who ought to know), close their eyes, extend their palms, and dutifully zip their mouths. In exchange for funds from SBV to help float their own pet projects, they lend their credibility to Biosphere 2--a project I still fully contend is more science fiction than science, more theme park than ecological experiment.

To the Editor:
Marc Cooper can truthfully attack me for believing going to Mars is part of the human destiny, as well as maturing to a more responsible relationship with the Biosphere; that the future is built by constructive people in every generation; that art and science can work well together; that almost anyone can learn to run his/her own business whether or not they have a Harvard degree; and that competence is determined by performance not paper. To all of these charges, I give my full assent.

However, it is entirely false that I ever ran any mystical program as Mr. Cooper asserts. When Laurence Veysey--Cooper's "most authoritative" source--visited Synergia Ranch for five weeks 20 years ago, I had written a play entitled The Guru for Kathelin Hoffman, who then as today is the owner and director of the Theater of All Possibilities. The Guru is a comic satire on the authoritarian guru figure of the '60s and early '70s. It played to good-sized and laughing audiences in Santa Fe, Atlanta, Coconut Grove, and London that same year. Mr. Veysey names his fantasy figure in his book after the guru figure in my satire: "Ezra." Neither are his fantasy projections limited to lifting the character's name--Mr. Veysey came in search of spiritual gurus, and he found them. I suppose it helped sell his book which was, after all, subtitled Anarchist and Mystical Countercultures in America. Never having been much of an anarchist, I guess that left only one category for me--casting me as a mystic character call "Ezra" out of one of my 30 plays. Veysey admits in his text that he never checked a single point with me, nor does he state that I was not even there for three of the five weeks he was at Synergia Ranch. The 1985 Fort Worth Star-Telegram article which Mr. Cooper cites so heavily not only relies on Veysey's account but also his technique--extracting quotes from other of my plays and interspersing them throughout the article, without context, implying they are my beliefs. Neither quoted by dramatic counters to these heavy-handed characters. Think what this method could do for Shakespeare scholarship!

It is also false that I ever said anything about a dying civilization or expressed gloomy views about civilization's destiny. Following the insight of Buckminster Fuller, I do think there is another new civilization emerging, what Fuller called "Synergetic Civilization," that is more planetary in scope. Far from gloomy, I have a profoundly confident attitude toward what James Henry Breasted, the great scholar of ancient Egypt, called "the unsinkable buoyancy of the human spirit."

Contrary to Mr. Cooper's assertion, Marie Allen still owns and operates her ranch in Santa Fe exactly as in 1969-1974, namely, as a business enterprise which is how I ran it as her general manager during that time. My authority was that of general manager. My engineering and MBA expertise from the Colorado School of Mines and Harvard Business School--where I graduated, in both instances, with honors--formed the basis of the endeavor. Several old friends and business associates rented space for their individual enterprises of metal working, adobe construction and landscaping; I contacted them about renting space in order to make it an interesting and useful as well as profitable operation. Kathelin Hoffman, for whom I had written play scripts for two years, rented a space for her theater company and I continued to work for her as a dramaturge. Everyone who ever came to Synergia Ranch worked for one or another of these companies; people were employed or set up their own enterprises--there was no commune or theater group or any other entity for them to "join" and move in. There were no followers because there was nothing to follow, and there was no core group because there was no larger group.

The rough and tumble of a ranch on the New Mexican high desert--with entrepreneurs working to establish their enterprises and make a living, and many did share the kitchen and dining facilities--may have been too much for Mr. Veysey's genteel academic background. The fact that people were interested in ecology and philosophy--this was the 1960s, after all, and many people were trying to forge new lifestyles more in touch with nature and the environment--was interpreted as an ideology by a professor who frankly came looking for mystical or political ideologies. Further, the fact that Mr. Veysey has not seen or spoken with me for 20 years does not deter him from elaborating and even expanding his "interpretations" to include my entire life and enterprises in which I participate in any way. . . . Another misstatement of Mr. Cooper is that I used the name Johnny Dolphin in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury period. For philosophical reasons I was very into the "anonymous dramaturge" role with my writing until 1982, when John Lilly allowed Kathelin Hoffman and myself to swim with the dolphins, Joe and Rose, and we experimented with some theater exercises with them. (Kathelin Hoffman is the director and manager of the Theater of All Possibilities, not myself, and has performed around the world, including at La Mama, Garage and other venues in NYC, utilizing some of my scripts.) The dolphins' emotional and physical agility, their being-right-thereness, made them immediate exemplars for me, and I adopted the name Johnny Dolphin as a nom de plume--an emblem of aspiration for my literary works. Synergetic Press Inc. has published several fiction, poetry and dramatic works by Johnny Dolphin, and has just published my novel on an aspect of mid-'60s life, Journey Around an Experiment under John Allen, which I use for all scientific, general public writings and appearances.

As further evidence of my putative bullying of science, Mr. Cooper repeats David Stumpf's false assertion that I "vigorously interrupted" his speech in a 1985 workshop of Space Biospheres Ventures staff and subcontractors, and again I disagreed with his thesis then, and I disagree with it now. However, an archival tape of the interaction indicates a spirited discussion, not aggression. Mr. Cooper's repeat of Dr. Stumpf's assertion that a distinction was made between "traditional science" (whatever that is) and "New Age science" (whatever that is) also can be proven to be completely false. Mr. Cooper's assertion that Mr. Wayne Collins resigned from the project is also demonstrably false; Mr. Collins never worked on the Biosphere 2 project nor has anybody ever suggested he was a scientist.

Mr. Cooper states that I seek to avoid scientific discussion generally. On the contrary, I have spoken in open debate by invitation of a number of scientific institutions in exchange of data and concepts on closed system. These institutions include the Royal Society Chambers in the United Kingdom in 1987, the Soviet Academy in Kiev in 1989, and NASA at their workshop on Commercial Applications of Biological Life Support Systems in 1989.

Mr. Cooper cites the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as his great authority for his article in which he rehashes this entire series of assertions from 1985 (except for the one about David Stumpf) sans fact-checking. The seriousness with which those baseless accusations are now taken in Fort Worth can be gauged from the fact that I was made an Honorary Citizen of Fort Worth in 1989 and have made two invited speeches before the Fort Worth Harvard Business School Club, one on biospherics, and the other on the scientific situation in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Mr. Cooper's greatest error concerns my role at SBV. I am director of Research and Development. Margret Augustine is the President and CEO of Space Biospheres Ventures. It is extraordinary that in this day and age, a publication like the Village Voice belittles one of the most outstanding accomplishments of a woman leader. I function at exactly the same organizational level as any other department head at SBV. We all report directly to Margret Augustine and our activities are reviewed by her, Mr. Ed Bass and their review committee. Ms. Augustine and Mr. Bass are exceptional leaders and without their vision and determination this project would not be.

John Allen
Director of Research and Development

Marc Cooper replies: I believe a close reading of Allen's letter only further reinforces the main thesis of my article: The group that runs Biosphere 2 is built around the person and "vision" of John Allen. It is a closed, cultlike structure fixed on the corporate colonization of Mars rather than committed to a defense of the Earth, or as Allen says above, "going to Mars is part of the human destiny." Biosphere 2 is more theme park than experiment, more science fiction than science. As to the detail that Allen considers to be my "greatest error": I never wrote that Ms. Augustine was not titular president and CEO of SBV. I did say, and now repeat, that beyond on-paper organigrams, Allen is the undisputed teacher, leader, guru and master of

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