by Daniel Phelps
Daniel Phelps is a retired environmental geologist for the commonwealth of Kentucky. He has also taught part-time in Kentucky’s Community College system. His work to expose the pseudoscience behind Ham’s Ark Encounter was featured in the award-winning 2019 documentary, “We Believe in Dinosaurs.” In 2021 the Paleontological Society – the world’s leading scientific organization devoted to studying invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, micropaleontology, and paleobotany – awarded Phelps the prestigious Strimple Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in paleontology by someone who does not make a full-time living from paleontology. Phelps is founder and president of the Kentucky Paleontological Society.
For some time, I have been aware that The Grant County News (GCN), a paper headquartered in Williamstown, KY, is an ardent supporter of the Ark Encounter. Anything the least bit critical of the Ark Park is unlikely to appear in the paper. When the documentary “We Believe in Dinosaurs,” aired nationally on PBS’s Independent Lens in February, 2020, an article about the show was buried in the later pages of the paper. This was odd, because Williamstown and Grant County were prominently showcased in the documentary. Thus, it was not surprising that I was given a runaround in having a letter to the editor published in the local newspaper.
On December 16, 2021, GCN printed a remarkable front page story: “Changes Ahead for Ark Encounter Parking”. In the story, Ken Ham is reported as saying that Ark attendance has increased by 42%, compared to pre-COVID numbers. I found this incredible claim to be counter to the data that I have been collecting about Ark attendance. Thus, I dashed off a letter to the Editor pointing out the facts.
The next week, I naively thought my letter would be in the latest issue of GCN. Alas, the December 23 issue lacked my letter, but it did have one by Mark Looy, Chief Communications Officer (CCO) of the Ark Encounter (their version of Baghdad Bob). His letter-to-the-editor is not available online (GCN only rarely puts their editorial content online). Looy complained that the original article made them look bad, because it stated the Ark was reneging on allowing locals to park there for free so they could go to the Ark’s buffet restaurant, and that the reporter had referred to AiG as “Fundamentalist.” Apparently, locals will now have to pay $10 to park; Looy, and presumably AiG’s leaders, didn’t like the paper saying they were “reneging.” I’m not sure why AiG objects to being referred to as “fundamentalist.” Perhaps this objection is a branding issue. Notably, Looy didn’t say anything about the reported claim of attendance increasing 42% over pre-COVID numbers being incorrect.
Over the next few weeks, I emailed the editor, reporter, and the general email address of GCN at least twice, asking if my letter would be published. No one replied. On January 19, 2022 I called the paper. I was unable to reach anyone, or even leave a message. I found another contact phone number on the paper’s website, which connected me to another newspaper owned by the same company: The Cynthiana Democrat. The Editor of that paper, Ms. Becky Barnes, indicated that only Bryan Marshall (the GCN Editor) is routinely in the office, and she promised to contact Mr. Marshall with my inquiry.
By January 21, no one had contacted me, so I called the original GCN phone number. I was informed by a young woman at the office that the Editor, Bryan Marshall, had quit some time ago (thus contradicting what Ms. Barnes had told me less than two days earlier). I called Ms. Barnes and she told me that, after discussing the letter with a regional manager, they were not running it because it was a personal attack on the owners of the Ark and did not represent an actual editorial viewpoint. She also emailed me almost immediately afterwards and said, “We will not be publishing the letter. The reporter’s article did not differentiate between season passes, etc. Your letter appears to be more of a personal attack (huckster) than expressing a point of view.” Obviously, this ignored that the paper published factually incorrect material directly from Ken Ham.
In any case, here is the December 17, 2021 “Letter to the Editor” that the GCN would not publish:
I read with great interest the December 16, 2021 story “Changes ahead for Ark Encounter parking.” The article quotes Answers in Genesis and Ark Encounter founder Ken Ham as stating that Ark attendance numbers have increased 42% compared to pre-COVID 2019 numbers. This is an amazing claim.
Every month, since Williamstown imposed a Safety Fee of 50 cents per ticket on Ark Encounter in July 2017, I have done an open records request to determine ticket sales numbers (provided below). Attendance in 2019 was 896,465 (based on the “safety fee” totals). In 2021, the projected total ticket sales (because I don’t have the data for December 2021 yet, but based on the average sales for December in 2018 and 2019) will be slightly above 700,000 tickets. Based on elementary school mathematics, that is a decrease of approximately 190,000, or a little over 20% decrease of the 2019 (pre-COVID) attendance. Obviously this significant decrease is NOT an increase of 42% or any other amount.
The Ark Encounter will claim these yearly numbers are higher due to free admission of children and lifetime pass holders. But that is not evidence of a 42% increase. The Grant County News should be more careful in taking for granted the claims of hucksters who have used Williamstown and Grant County while simultaneously dismissing Williamstown as a small community “that has no major hotels or restaurants and whose struggling downtown is not convenient to interstate drivers” (see https://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article240622332.html). Do not forget that Grant County and Williamstown gave Answers in Genesis/Ark Encounter 98 acres of land for $1, $175,000 in cash, a huge decrease in property tax rates, and $62 million in unsecured bonds to pay for the Ark. Simultaneously, Mr. Ham’s organizations claimed that 1.4 to 2.4 million people would visit the Ark annually.
Creationists such as Mr. Ham have claimed that they have created an alternative to modern science. Apparently, Mr. Ham has also created an alternative arithmetic!