The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘money’

Creation Museum’s Faith-Based Investment in “Ark Encounter” Appears to be Sinking

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 11, 2014

The saga of uber-creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum continues, and it isn’t looking good for him or his followers.  If you recall, Ham and his creationist organization Answers In Genesis (AiG) have, in recent years, gone all-in on an investment scheme to fund what they call a life sized replica of Noah’s Ark named Ark Encounter.  For years, I and others have reported on the continuing financial troubles and ethically questionable revenue sources for Ken Ham’s enterprise, and now things seem to only be getting worse for Ham, AiG, and the Creation Museum.

Ken Ham Ark Encounter

Ken Ham looking over his model of Ark Encounter… the irony is that, according to myth, Noah didn’t need lots of investment capital, the backing of the government, and huge construction teams to build his Ark. (image source)

Back in February, there was a big debate between Ham and Billy Nye the Science Guy at the Creation Museum; after the debate, Ham reported that this debate had brought in a huge amount of much-needed financial support for Ark Encounter and that construction would begin on the much publicized project in May of this year (after repeated delays due to insufficient funds).  At the time, I and others were skeptical, speculating that perhaps Ham wasn’t being completely truthful because while he said money was coming in, he didn’t provide any specifics.  This led me to believe that Ham was continuing his habit of not only bending (or breaking) the truth on issues of science but those of economics and finance as well.

Well, now it appears that the other shoe has dropped… as reported in June by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, it seems that Ham is resorting to all sorts of shenanigans and obfuscation to give the impression that his enterprise isn’t sinking:

1) First, there’s the issue of the time-table on Ark Encounter continually being pushed back, at taxpayer expense

The main problem with Ham’s overtly religious pet project is it seems to be a magnet for taxpayer dollars. First, Kentucky officials committed more than $40 million in tax incentives to the Ark Park. Sadly that was just the beginning. Later, the Kentucky legislature planned to spend $2 million on a road project in a rural area, seemingly for the sole benefit of the proposed Ark Park.

But even those generous incentives weren’t enough for misguided lawmakers. The city of Williamstown, which had already granted a 75 percent property tax break for the park, decided last year that it would sell $62 million in municipal bonds on behalf of AiG affiliates.

All told, various government entities in Kentucky have planned to give the Ark Park, which was originally supposed to cost about $175 million, an astounding $100 million (or more) in various types of public support. Recent reports, however, cast serious doubt on just how much of that money, if any, will reach the project.

It seems Ham’s ever-changing timeline has finally caught up with him. He said in January 2011 that work would begin on the Ark Park that spring; then in May of that year, AiG said groundbreaking would be over the summer; in June, AiG said construction would begin in August; and by early August 2011, AiG still had not broken ground but promised that it would happen “in the next few months.”

Then in late August 2011, AiG bumped the timetable way back, saying groundbreaking would begin in the spring of 2012. That did not happen, either.

2) Then there’s the problem of the expiration date attached to the public funding (the one smart thing the KY lawmakers did in this whole fiasco)…

Louisville’s LEO Weekly reported last week that the large tax incentive package promised to the Ark Park back in May 2011 by Kentucky’s Tourism Cabinet came with one little catch: an expiration date. The agreement says that AiG can receive a 25 percent tax rebate on the cost of construction once the park opens, provided construction began by May 2014. The discount would be capped at $43 million.

Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the Tourism Cabinet, told LEO Weekly that Ark Encounter quietly withdrew its old application for a $172 million project on March 28 and instead submitted a $73 million proposal. If that application is approved, and if it is built within the allotted timeframe, that would mean AiG is eligible for $18.25 million in tax incentives, LEO Weekly said.

But the shrinking tax package doesn’t appear to be Ham’s only problem. In April, the Cincinnati Enquirerreported that the local road improvements needed to handle all the traffic that will supposedly rush to Ark Encounter (if it ever opens) will be pushed back to 2017. That’s a bit of a problem for Ham, who last claimed that the park would open in the summer of 2016. Perhaps he wants park visitors to have an authentic Bible experience by walking or riding camels to see the ark.

There is also some mystery surrounding the $62 million in municipal bonds that supposedly rescued Ham’s project. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in January that while $26.5 million in bonds had been sold, the city needed to sell an additional $29 million by Feb. 6 or else those who already bought bonds would be able to collect on their investment immediately.

The city would not say exactly how much money was raised, the Courier-Journal reported in late February, but AiG’s website claims the bonds actually yielded $73 million. AiG also claims it has raised $15 million on its own.

Hmm… when “there is some mystery” about how public funds are allocated and being used, especially on a legally and ethically questionable project such as this, then that’s kind of a problem.  KY lawmakers and politicians would be wise to distance themselves from this slow-motion train wreck.  But there’s more!

3) Ham has claimed that ground breaking and construction did indeed begin this past May, except that it didn’t actually happen…

Despite these setbacks, Ham presses on. His latest ploy appears to be keeping up the hoax that the Ark Park is under construction. In February, he said groundbreaking would begin in May. On May 1, AiG hosted a “groundbreaking ceremony” at the site where the park is supposed to be built, but the “groundbreaking” consisted of a handful of men in suits using wooden mallets to hammer wooden pegs into wooden boards. This all took place inside an auditorium, which doesn’t look much like a theme park. (You can watch this exciting video here, but be warned – it’s over 40 minutes long.)

It is now June, and it remains unclear whether or not construction has actually started on Ark Encounter. AiG’s website says its “construction management team” is still soliciting bids from contractors, suggesting that no real progress will be made anytime soon.

Whoops!  I thought that “construction” meant that earth-moving machines were actually, I don’t know, moving earth and digging holes and that carpenters were actually nailing pieces of wood together and so on.  Apparently, in Ken Ham’s universe, “construction” means… something else.

Well, one thing is for sure: this story won’t end here.  I think Ken Ham is going to try to string both investors and politicians alike along for as long as possible on his sinking Ark Encounter, despite the fact that it should be obvious by now to any reasonable observer that his grasp of finances is about as trustworthy as his grasp of science.

Too bad for the folks who invested in this debacle that they didn’t use a little evidence-based thinking. That’s what you get for faith-based investing, I suppose.

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The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014: Skepticism and The Brain

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 28, 2014

I just wanted to pass along the news that registration has opened for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2014 in Las Vegas this July.  This year’s theme is “Skepticism and The Brain”, and it promises to be an educational and enlightening experience.  Read on for more…

JREF14_tam_webbanner2_newemail

 

We are thrilled to announce that The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) returns in just a few months: July 10-13, 2014 at the South Point Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV.

Our theme this year – Skepticism and the Brain – is focused on the cognitive and brain sciences and how they inform the project of skepticism. Keynote speakers include the acclaimed philosopher, cognitive scientist, and best selling author Daniel Dennett and Scientific AmericanEditor-in-Chief Mariette DiChristina. Other speakers include neurophilosopher Patricia Churchland, Australia’s Dr. Karl, Evolution & Human Behavior Editor-in-Chief Robert Kurzban, Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience authors Scott Lilienfeld and Sally Satel, M.D., influential memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus, clinical neurologist Steven Novella, M.D., immunologist Paul Offit, M.D., National Center for Science Education’s Eugenie Scott, Skeptic Editor-in-Chief Michael Shermer, psychologists and best selling authors Carol Tavris and Richard Wiseman, and many, many more!

The inimitable George Hrab returns as our Master of Ceremonies. As Pacific Standard magazine recently described, Hrab’s “vaudeville-style” has set the tone for “what is perhaps the world’s preeminent gathering of self-proclaimed skeptics.”

This annual celebration of critical thinking is an unparalleled opportunity to make like-minded friends, enjoy some of the brightest minds on issues important to skeptics, and leave with tools for spreading a helpful and educational message to those who might be hurt by charlatans and unfounded belief. TAM has become the must-go-to event for skeptics and science advocates.

Join James Randi and over a thousand other like-minded folks for four days of fun, friendship, and critical thinking!

REGISTER TODAY!

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“An Honest Liar” Headed to Indie Film Festivals!

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 17, 2014

As many of you know, there has been an effort to make a movie documentary of the life of one of the greatest skeptical icons, James “The Amazing One” Randi, in recent years.  The film is now made, and it will soon be making the rounds on the indie film network.  Despite that fact, those who made and now promote the film still need your help; read on to see how…

An Honest Liar Film Festival

We are thrilled and proud to announce that AHL was accepted to premiere at the prestigious  2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City!

It is thanks to YOU our great supporters that we were able to make this film and we are so thankful for everything you’ve done for us!

The schedule has not yet been announced, but when it is we will pass it along. The Festival runs from April 16 – 27, and AHL will screen several times in that period. AHL is showing in theViewpoints section of the fest.

It will be possible for the general public to buy tickets, but it’s likely the numbers will be limited. Have no fear! We will have additional festival and screening announcements coming soon, and there’s a good chance we’ll be showing the film near you. Keep an eye on our website and sign up for updates if you haven’t for the latest news. …

… We are slaving away – working day and night – to finish the film! We barely eat or drink. We are doing our best to make ourKickstarter backers proud by making the best film you’ve ever seen! We have little to look forward to in these agonizing days of constant headaches, technical issues, archival footage houses sending us the wrong clips. We know it’ll be worth it, but we need a boost. Something to pick us up, to help drive us over the finish line.

Well, YOU can help us – help make all our hard work pay off, help us sleep better at night, and have sweet happy dreams. And it won’t cost you a penny.

How?

MAKE US INDIEWIRE PROJECT OF THE YEAR!!!

Tell all your friends, pass the word around – VOTE FOR AN HONEST LIAR!

http://www.indiewire.com/vote-for-project-of-the-year

For Randi – for the film – for us poor filmmakers – WE CAN DO IT!!!

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“An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi” Project is in the Home Stretch

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 17, 2014

One year ago, I wrote a post about a kickstarter project to help fund a film on the life of that skeptical giant, James Randi.  The film is titled “An Honest Liar: The Amazing Randi”, and I’m happy to report that it is nearing completion!  But in order to bring it across the finish line, the film’s producers need a little more financial help.  Read on for details, and please consider donating if you are able…

an-honest-liar

The finish line is approaching and we wanted to let you, our supporters, know about our progress. We’ve now completed a fine-cut of the documentary and will be locking it in shortly.

We have now scheduled our post-production (conform, color correct, audio mix, final output etc.) for mid-March and are officially going to complete the film by the end of March, with the aim to premiere An Honest Liar at film festivals beginning in April.

Between now and then, we’ll be refining the edit, working with our composer on the score, sourcing the archival footage we use (there’s a TON…) transferring it and re-inserting it into the cut, completing graphics, animations, and titles, and when it’s all done, popping open a bottle of champagne.

(BTW – if you have any videotapes of old Randi shows, let us know!)

EXCEPT for people getting the digital download/DVD/Blu-ray and movie posters, everyone should have gotten their Kickstarter rewards. We have gotten a number of returned packages for people who may have moved, so if you haven’t gotten your reward please message us.

We still need additional support. The licensing of some of the archival footage is incredibly expensive, but it’s rare and great material that we can’t pass up. If you missed out on donating or know someone who wanted to, we can still use help. Plus, you can still get many of the Kickstarter rewards we offered – while they still last. Just go to our website to donate and choose rewards.

Finally, below is a bonus clip that isn’t going to be in the final film, but we just couldn’t leave on the edit room floor.

Thanks again to all our supporters!

The Honest Liar team

https://vimeo.com/84064979

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Continued Financial Trouble for KY Creation Museum?

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 25, 2013

Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is back in the news, and – surprise – it has to do with a questionable funding proposal to finance his floundering theme park, where people can pay to be told that the Flintstones is the real thing.

Flintstones

Yup, they actually teach that humans and dinosaurs coexisted… just like in the Flintstones cartoon.  Looks like a good investment to me – Yabba-dabba-doo! (Image source)

I’ve posted before (here and here) about the troubles the Creation Museum has had in securing funding for its Ark Encounter attraction (not to mention its dwindling profits – or should that be “prophets”?), and the following article indicates that Ken Ham is pursuing a constitutionally questionable strategy which could land him and the municipality in question into some dicey legal waters…

Kentucky City May Offer $62 Million in Securities to Help Noah’s Ark Replica Park

A city in Kentucky is working with Crosswater Canyon, an owned subsidiary of Answers in Genesis, Inc., to offer $62 million in securities for prospective investors to help aid the completion of a Creationist theme park and replica of Noah’s Ark.  While the city of Williamstown is issuing the bond, Crosswalk Canyon is solely responsible for the bonds, not the city.

Beginning next month, Williamstown may oversee the amount of taxable securities for investors to the project overseen by Answers in Genesis, reported Brian Chappatta and Priya Anand of Business Week.

“Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called ‘Ark Encounter.’ Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year,” wrote Chappatta and Anand. …

But if things are going so well for Ken Ham and his cartoon attraction, then why the need for these so-called “securities” to fund the project?  Let’s read on…

… Unlike the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter project has had its share of financial issues regarding funding and donations.

The official ground-breaking for the project has been delayed multiple times since 2011, with private donations not matching the necessary monetary benchmarks.

Mike Zovath, head of the Ark Encounter project, told The Christian Post about the current status of the park’s construction, namely that it is “under design.” …

Wow, that’s got to make potential investors nervous.  So what’s the big deal about going through these “securities” issued by the town of Williamstown, KY?…

… Answers in Genesis’ efforts in Kentucky have garnered their share of criticism, including from the Washington, D.C.-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In the past Americans United has criticized the alleged First Amendment issues with regards to the state support for projects that benefit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter.

Alex Luchenitser, associate legal director at Americans United, told The Christian Post that the bond offering is one of many examples of government aid proposed for the Ark Encounter project.

“The imminent bond offering is only one of several different kinds of aid being given to the Ark Park by the State of Kentucky, Grant County, and the City of Williamstown,” said Luchenitser.

“The array of government aid to the Ark Park raises very serious issues under the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the even stricter church-state prohibitions of the Kentucky Constitution.” …

Well, there’s that!  And then there are other questions regarding the legality/wisdom of these securities from the standpoint of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  But don’t take it from me; take it from from people who actually know business and investment, like the folks at Bloomberg Businessweek.  Here’s an excerpt from an excellent blog post on this particular point:

Bloomberg Reports on Ken Ham’s Ark Bonds

This is about an article at the website of Bloomberg BusinessweekBusiness Week was formerly an independent magazine, now it’s part of the Bloomberg international news agency, headquartered in New York. Their article is Noah’s Ark Depends on Faith in Default-Plagued Debt: Muni Credit.

From our recent post, Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Bonds, you already know about the bonds being issued to finance the proposed Ark Encounter project, which is owned by a company controlled by Answers in Genesis (AIG). AIG is the on-line ministry of Ken Ham (ol’ Hambo), the ayatollah of Appalachia. It also owns and operates the infamous, mind-boggling Creation Museum.

It appears that Bloomberg has seen all the documents, and they routinely report on the bond market. Their analysis is far more sophisticated than ours. They say, with bold font added by us:

“Given the default history of unrated municipal debt, investors may have to pray for the success of bonds being sold to build a full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark.

The northern Kentucky city of Williamstown plans to offer $62 million of securities next month for affiliates of Answers in Genesis, a Christian nonprofit that operates the Creation Museum upstate. Proceeds will help build a 510-foot (155.4-meter) wooden ship, the centerpiece of a planned biblical theme park called “Ark Encounter.” Bond documents project the venue will attract at least 1.2 million people in its first year.”

Ouch… but what the heck does Bloomberg Businessweek know?  Sure they may have oodles of financial and investment expertise, but if creationists have shown us anything it’s that they don’t need no stinkin’ experts who spout off about pesky things like evidence and facts!

So head on over and buy some of Ken Ham’s bonds.  You just have to have faith that you won’t be flushing your money down the toilet :)

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Creationist Update: Creationism Loses Popularity, Texas Creationists Are Honest, and More Financial Shenanigans from Ken Ham

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 23, 2013

So much has been going on in the world of creationism lately that it’s been touch to keep track of it all, so I just want to give you a quick summary of three news items…

1.  Creationism Loses Popularity?

According to this blog post over at Patheos.com, it seems that creationism (and by “creationism” I mostly mean young-Earth creationism) may just be, slowly but surely, losing support among the public in the United States:

Just when we start to think the regressive policies of red states mean the battle is becoming harder, the secular movement gets more proof that what we’re doing really does matter.

poll of 1,000 people conducted by the Internet-based market research firm YouGovearlier this month indicates that since 2004, the level of public acceptance of creationism and the level for support for teaching creationism in U.S. public schools are down, and the level of acceptance of the theory of evolution is up.

Coming the week marking the 88th anniversary of the Scopes Monkey Trial, this is good news indeed. The numbers are far lower than what they need to be, though. While nearly half of the respondents agreed that evolution, whether guided by a deity or not, resulted in homo sapiens sapiens, significantly more than a third rejected evolution altogether and the remaining 17% claimed uncertainty.

YouGov’s poll marks substantial change from a similar CBS poll conducted in 2004. Thirteen percent of CBS’s 2004 respondents agreed with the statement. “Human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, and God did not directly guide this process.” In 2013 the figure jumped to 21%. Correspondingly, strong creationism has taken the hardest hit. In 2004, 55% of respondents said that ”God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years,” and 5% said they were undecided. The strict creationists now account for 37% of the respondents. … [emphasis added]

Personally, I’ll take whatever good news I can get on this front, but I would like to see more than one poll yield the same information before I go celebrating too much.  Still, these results are pleasing :)

2.  Texas Creationists Get Honest

If you’ve followed the ongoing saga of creationism’s attempts to get into public schools, you probably know that the intent of creationists on school boards for decades, whether they espoused “teach the controversy”, “equal time”, or “academic freedom”, really meant “don’t teach evolution, instead teach (our view of) creationism.  Well, at least now the creationists who are attempting to manipulate the Texas Board of Education are now being open and honest about it (from Patheos.com) …

It used to be that creationists were sneaky.  They knew teaching creationism was against the law, so they tried to dress it up as science, or as teaching the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution.  It wasn’t exactly crafty, and it certainly wasn’t honest.

And the reason they weren’t honest is because playing fairly would result in immediate defeat (it turns out creationists don’t get to break the law more than anybody else).  This is a lesson the creationists on the Texas board of education are about to learn.  Karen Beathard, one of the reviewers, made a misstep by telling the truth.

“Religious conservatives serving on state textbook review panels have criticized several proposed high school biology textbooks for not including arguments against Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The review panels include several creationists. They urge the State Board of Education to reject the books unless publishers include more disclaimers on key concepts of evolution.

One reviewer even suggested a rule requiring that each biology book cover “creation science.” That would run counter to a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The decision banned the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. 

“I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution,” said Texas A&M University nutritionist Karen Beathard, one of the biology textbook reviewers. “At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent and grandparent, I feel very firmly that creation science based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is up for adoption.” [emphasis in the original]

Whoops.  That’s going to look pretty embarrassing for the creationists when they inevitably get hauled into court.  Can’t help fools… at least these are honest fools.

3.  Ken Ham’s “Ark Encounter” Government Bailout?

It seems that despite all the rosy financial projections of a few years ago, uber-creationist Ken Ham is having even more difficulty than previously thought raising funds for the newest attraction at his Creation Museum, the “Ark Encounter”.  He has resorted to some questionable methods of raising money, seemingly putting the public on the hook by dipping into taxpayer funding in Kentucky (from NCSE):

When Answers in Genesis chief Ken Ham isn’t dealing with employees being zotted by lightning, or getting schooled on theology by a college student, he’s trying to build an amusement park centered on Noah’s Ark. He wants it to be full-sized (assuming they’re right about how long a cubit was), he wants it to be built by Amish carpenters (just like Noah’s was), he wants a mock first-century village, he wants to charge admission, and, as Daniel Phelps reports at Panda’s Thumb he hopes taxpayers as well as private citizens will cover part of the bill.

The project has already been promised a tourism-related state tax rebate and state road crews will widen the road leading to the park, but apparently the campaign to raise capital for construction has not been meeting expectations (neither has Creation Museum attendance, reportedly). So Ken Ham is looking for a new way to scare up money. He sent out an appeal to the Answers in Genesis mailing list offering people a chance to buy bonds to fund the park, bonds issued by the city of Williamstown, Kentucky. …

From the Panda’s Thumb link, I found the following comment to be of particular interest:

… Unfortunately, what it sounds like is that the City of Williamstown is going to issue some type of municipal bonds.

Municipal bonds are a loan made by a public entity. If you buy the bonds, you get a stream of “coupon” payments, as with any other type of bonds (“zero coupon” structure is just a variant of a coupon stream). You can think of the coupon payments as interest on the loan, even though it works slightly differently than the variable interest savings account that most people are more familiar with. Bottom line, a municipality borrows money and taxpayers pay the interest.

The hypocrisy here is unbelievable. I’m going to use the term “corruption” as well. There may or may not be anything technically illegal going on. But if this a surreptitious issuing of municipal bonds to fund a religious display, that may raise legal issues, and absolutely raises ethical issues. …

Ethical issues, indeed.  In my mind, the more I look at this entire situation with Ken Ham and his attempts to use public money to fund his creationist theme-park, the more I am reminded of this famous scene from The Simpsons:

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More Evidence of Bad Financial News for Ken Ham’s Creation Museum

Posted by mattusmaximus on July 9, 2013

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about how it appears that creationist Ken Ham’s Creation Museum is starting to run into some financial trouble.  This earned a public response from Ken Ham on his Facebook page, wherein he assured readers that all is well.  I’ve also had some response to that post on the comment section, where a reader shared with me Ken Ham’s latest response on this issue:

Crowds Continue to Flock to the Creation Museum

speakerportrait_kham

Image Source

On Memorial Day weekend this year, the Creation Museum celebrated its sixth year of operation.

Entering our seventh year, crowds have been continuing to flock to the Creation Museum. This past Friday and Saturday, we saw over 3,500 people visit the Creation Museum! Thus far, attendance is ahead of projections for this year and ahead of last year.

I’ve included a few photographs of some of the people who visited this past Friday. At a few times on Friday, lines were out the door—but our very capable staff was able to get visitors into the museum quickly. The new zip lines have also proved to be extremely popular—and in the near future, two super zip lines around 1700 feet long, plus an obstacle course and a special children’s course, will also open.

I’ve also heard so many people rave about the new world-class insect exhibit and theDragon Legends exhibit—both opened on Memorial Day. …

Ham goes on to list a lot of things which he claims are new displays and “research” to his museum, presumably to bolster his argument that things at the Creation Museum are going just fine.  However, a more thorough analysis of the Creation Museum’s publicly available finance reports for the last few years – which you can find at http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2012/12/pts-year-end-re.html – seem to disagree with the overly rosy picture that Ken Ham insists upon painting. When you go from a surplus of $2.1 million to a deficit of $540,000 in three years time, it’s not good financial news.

Here’s a quick summary of what the folks over at Panda’s Thumb dug up on this question:

Reporter James McNair recently reported in a Cincinnati newspaper that the attendance at the Creation Museum has dropped for four consecutive years and that Answers in Genesis lost over $500,000. These tidbits inspired my colleague Dan Phelps and me to look at AIG’s Forms 990. These are tax forms that must be submitted by nonprofit organizations to the US Internal Revenue Service and may be found if you have a (free) account on GuideStar.

According to various Forms 990 through the tax year ending June 30, 2011, in four consecutive years, AIG has run surpluses of approximately $2.1 million, $716,000, and $940,000, and a loss of $540,000. Not exactly a monotonic decline, but certainly a steep drop from a surplus of $2.1 million to a loss of $540,000 in three years. Can we expect similar losses due to the Ark Park? Maybe: Joe Sonka in the Louisville newspaper LeoWeekly reports that “… correspondence between Ark Encounter and the Tourism Cabinet reveal an application process that proceeded with remarkable speed, little scrutiny, and standards that appear different from that of [another applicant].”

The 2010 Form 990 (for fiscal year ending June 30, 2011) has some interesting information.

1. The president of AIG, Ken Ham, earned an annual salary of approximately $150,000 and a total package of around $200,000, which I think is not out of line for the president of a company with approximately $20 million of revenue (Schedule J, Part II). Four of Ham’s children, his son-in-law, his brother, and his sister-in-law are listed as staff members, with annual salaries between approximately $1300 and nearly $80,000 (Schedule L, Part IV).

2. AIG says that Crosswater Canyon, a nonprofit, will operate AIG’s Ark Park but that a limited-liability company will own it. Crosswater Canyon is identified in Schedule R as being wholly controlled by AIG; we assume that means it is a subsidiary. According to Whois, crosswatercanyon.org is one of approximately 1300 domain names owned by AIG, but crosswatercanyon.org, .com, and .net yield nothing useful.

Crosswater Canyon reimbursed AIG a bit over $1 million for expenses. The Ark Park was formally announced in December, 2010. The payment was made some time between then and June 30, 2011. AIG was thus reimbursed $1 million for expenses within six or seven months of the announcement.

3. Schedule R, Part III, lists Takenbac Enterprises, LLC, PO Box 384, Hebron, KY 41048 as a “related organization taxable as a partnership.” Two of the officers of Takenbac Enterprises are “key employees” of AIG and draw annual salaries of approximately $90,000 from AIG. We speculate that Takenbac is the mysterious “private Limited Liability Company (LLC) [that] will own the Ark Encounter,” according to AIG’s FAQ’s.

4. Geo-Research Pty., Ltd. [proprietary company], 27 Rising St., Shailer Park, Queensland, Australia, received $128,000 for consulting (Part VII). Geo-Research is or was the employer of Andrew Snelling, a former geologist who joined the staff of AIG in 2007. The address of Geo-Research appears to be a private home that has been for sale but is now off the market.

Yet despite all of this evidence, Ham and his followers – many of whom, ironically, challenged me to examine the publicly available financial reports – keep on saying that all is well.

Of course, none of this surprises me.  That’s because if you make it part of your worldview, as many creationists do, to deny evidence and reality, is it any wonder that the true believers among creationists are not willing to acknowledge the troublesome finances which are plain to see for any who care to look?

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Creation Museum Running Out of Cash and Going Extinct?

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 23, 2013

[**Update (6-25-13): It seems this blog post has come to the attention of none other than Ken Ham himself, who runs the Creation Museum.  If you are interested, you can read his response on his Facebook page.]

In an interesting, though not very surprising, development, it seems the Creation Museum in Kentucky is running out of money.  And it seems the problem is that, like creationism itself, there is nothing new or different about the exhibits at this “museum”. The irony is that Ken Ham and other creationists claim the Creation Museum is doing scientific work which proves creationism to be true, yet since the place opened 5 years ago nothing has changed and no new “creation science” research has appeared.

Creation_museum_triceratops_saddleNo actual scientific research, but your kids can “ride a dinosaur” just like Fred Flintstone did!  No wonder these morons are going out of business. Image source

My skeptical colleague Donald Prothero over at Skepticblog.com breaks this down into more interesting and revealing detail…

… In an earlier post, I discussed the decline in attendance and loss of money from Ken Ham’s “creation museum” in Kentucky. Now eventhey must pay attention to the problem, since the declining attendance has put a crimp in their budget and brought the fundraising for their “Ark encounter” to a standstill. Their problem, as I outlined before, is that their exhibit is 5 years old now and has not changed, so most of the local yokels who might want to visit it have done so. There’s no point to making the long trip and seeing the expensive “museum” again if there’s nothing new to see. (Unlike real science museums, which must change exhibits constantly not only to boost repeat attendance, but to reflect the changes in scientific thinking). As Mark Joseph Stern wrote on Slate.com:

“There could be another explanation, though. A spectacle like the Creation Museum has a pretty limited audience. Sure, 46 percent of Americans profess to believe in creationism, but how many are enthusiastic enough to venture to Kentucky to spend nearly $30 per person to see a diorama of a little boy palling around with a vegetarian dinosaur? The museum’s target demographic might not be eager to lay down that much money: Belief in creationism correlates to less education, and less education correlates to lower income. Plus, there’s the possibility of just getting bored: After two pilgrimages to the museum, a family of four would have spent $260 to see the same human-made exhibits and Bible quote placards. Surely even the most devoted creationists would consider switching attractions for their next vacation. A visit to the Grand Canyon could potentially be much cheaper—even though it is tens of millions of years old.”

So how did they deal with the attendance dilemma? Did they open some new galleries with “latest breakthroughs in creation research”? (No, that’s not possible because they don’t do research or learn anything new). No, they opted for the cheap and silly: make it into an amusement park with zip lines. Apparently, flying through the air for a few seconds suspended from a cable is the latest fad in amusements, so the Creation “Museum” has to have one to draw the crowds—and hope they can suck in a few visitors to blow $30 a head or more to see their stale old exhibits as well. Expect that by next year they’ll be a full-fledged amusement park with roller coasters and Tilt-a-whirls, just like so many other “Biblelands” do across the Deep South. [emphasis added]

And what do ziplines have to do with creationism? As usual, they have a glib and non-responsive answer:

Zovath’s response to the museums critics who wonder how zip lining fits with their message?

“No matter what exhibit we add, the message stays the same,” Zovath said. “It’s all about God’s word and the authority of God’s word and showing that all of these things, whether it’s bugs, dinosaurs or dragons – it all fits with God’s word.”

I was hoping for something more imaginative and relevant, like “zip lines make you feel like an angel flying down from heaven.”

Wow… so the Creation Museum, once-heralded as the bane of modern evolutionary science and other wickedness, is starting down the road of turning into a Bible version of Disneyland.  I just have to chuckle at this turn of events, because it seems as if, by failing to change and – dare I say – evolve thereby adapting to its economic situation, the Creation Museum may very well go extinct.

Good riddance.

Posted in creationism, economics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Kickstarter Project: Portable Planetarium

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 8, 2013

I love astronomy… so much so that it motivated me to major in physics (it’s the closest I could get to astronomy as an undergraduate).  I’ve taught astronomy at the college level, too, and I have to say that one of the most engaging things you can do is show students the night sky.  For this, going outside is best, but sometimes the weather and light pollution conspire to make night-time skygazing an impossibility.  And that’s where planetariums come in!

Enter Lauren Ard, a teacher who has a really great idea to take her portable planetarium on the road for teaching not just her students but also others (such as attendees at science fiction and fantasy cons) about astronomy and the night sky.  Lauren is attempting to raise some money for her effort, and I thought it was worth advertising her Kickstarter campaign in this blog post.

For more information, read on…

Portable Planetarium = Astronomy for All!

by Lauren Ard

Planetarium Kickstarter

A sun-inspired inflatable planetarium that will bring astronomical theater to local schools, youth groups, and geek gatherings.

The Cause

Kids just love inflatable planetariums; they get to crawl inside a space built just for them, one that has popped up right in their classroom or meeting place to show them the wonders of the sky. Regular classroom disruptions fall away as students become engaged in learning about astronomy in a new and exhilarating way. Kids relate to the fun and interactive medium of a portable planetarium in a manner that no other astronomy instruction can match.

According to the Resource Area for Teaching (RAFT), students retain learning longer when that learning comes from an engaging, hands-on activity. When they are captivated by a unique opportunity such as an inflatable planetarium, they are more likely to share what they’ve learned with family members and friends, deepening their understanding with each repitition. These activities also transcend language barriers with their visual appeal.

We need more exciting educational activities in order to fight the intellectual apathy so common in our students today (what RAFT calls “the engagement gap”)! As the pace of scientific research advances, the average person is faced increasingly with science and technology in his or her daily life. Yet, a study done by the University of Sciences in Philadelphia indicates that American students’ interest in science is drastically waning.

My inflatable planetarium offers kinesthetic and visual learning to students who are hungry for stimulation. The wonders of the night sky can be brought right into the classroom! Right here, you have the opportunity to help bring science to life.

The Story

Five years ago I was a middle school science teacher working at a Title I school. The school (and its students) had little money for field trips or fancy science equipment, but I longed to find a way to bring Astronomy to life for my seventh graders. Through much trial and error with my crappy sewing machine, I created the magnificent monstrosity you see on my cover photo.

Using a box fan (for inflating) and a $150 “toy” projector from Japan, I’ve given planetarium shows to thousands of students over the last several years. Even when I left teaching to become a mom and foster parent, I continued to give presentations to schools, youth organizations, and clubs.

The Goal

To build a bigger, better planetarium! Planetarium 2.0 will be able to fit 30 students instead of 15. It will be made out of more durable fabric. And it will be a golden yellow to represent our Sun! This way, the half-sphere shape of the planetarium serves a second purpose – to be part of a scale model of our Solar System (with the planets being represented by sports balls).

If I were to purchase a boring, black inflatable planetarium from a commercial company in the United States, it would cost at least THREE TIMES as much as my Kickstarter goal! By creating a planetarium myself, I am able to make the planetarium more fun AND more economical.

Click here to read more

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Announcing Educator Grants for The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 24, 2013

I am very pleased to announce that the James Randi Educational Foundation is now accepting applications for educators to attend The Amaz!ng Meeting 2013 in Las Vegas this summer. I have been involved in many previous TAMs on the educational outreach side, and one thing I can say is that we need to get more teachers, at all levels and from both science and non-science backgrounds, to events like this as much as possible. So, if you are interested or know someone who is, please spread the word and take a look at the information below; alternately, you could also consider donating to the educator grant fund.

TAM 2013 EDUCATOR GRANTS

Are you an educator who would like to bring more skepticism and critical thinking into your classroom? Would you like to be inspired, energized, and informed? The Amazing Meeting is a great place to meet and network with other educators, get educational resources (including printed copies of the JREF’s education modules for classroom use), pick up tips, and be inspired.

In addition to three days of superb talks and panel discussions, TAM 2013 offers a full day of workshops, including one which will focus on incorporating skeptical thinking lessons into non-science classes.

The Amaz!ng Meeting is attended by people from all walks of life and all over the globe. Speakers include scientists, philosophers, journalists, educators, activists, and even entertainers. Simply put, TAM is the James Randi Educational Foundation’s yearly celebration of science, education, and critical thinking.

Veteran TAM goers know the feeling of community and inspiration that a weekend with skeptics provides. The yearly meeting recharges our batteries and sparks new ideas for projects to promote skepticism and scientific thinking.

Educators are in a unique position to reach our target audience, but they need good resources, the opportunity to discuss methods, and the kind of inspiration that events like The Amaz!ng Meeting provide. Educators who attend TAM will be able to bring what they have learned into their classrooms.

Click here for more information

Donate to the Educator Fund here

Posted in education, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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