MARS, A Rational And Scientific Review of The National Geographic Series

G.S. Muse
G.S. Muse
Nov 16, 2019 · 19 min read

I was excited to learn that Season 2 of the National Geographic series MARS is available on Netflix. Season 1 was produced as a miniseries that combined a near-future drama with present-day interviews. Since it started as a six episode miniseries, I never expected a Season 2.

MARS is by far one of my favorite SciFi series that I’ve seen. The fictional drama side of the series follows a group of astronauts in the year 2033 who are going to Mars for the first time and switches to real-life interviews with NASA scientists, Elon Musk, and others who are relevant to present-day space programs. These interviews address both real and potential problems that astronauts may face, and they are juxtaposed with the story of the fictional astronauts in the drama.

I rate this series as 5 stars out of 5 despite my reservations about the shows scientific accuracy and unjustified political message.

The closest SciFi content I could compare this series to would be Interstellar and Arrival, because of the focus on realism. Unlike Star Trek, which focuses on morality tales in a distant-future space opera that parallels contemporary issues on Earth (such as racism, ethnic strife, environmentalism, and war) MARS focuses on the technical and scientific challenges that human beings will have to deal with when settling the Red Planet, including personal and interpersonal conflict.

There are no tractor beams or food replicators. The characters have to face a very real world, and they don’t get to cheat. But unlike Interstellar and Arrival, there are no enigmatic alien intelligences here to assist humanity — just flesh and blood human beings on a new world, pushing a new frontier and facing a new horizon.

Sadly, for years National Geographic has routinely published misinformation when it comes to science.

Sensationalism VS Science

In college I considered taking “Science Writing.” I expected this to be a class for science majors on professional writing. But I was surprised to learn from a fellow student that the class was taught by a particular writing professor who I had taken a creative writing class with before. (My major was Biotech, and my concentration was in Writing.) Please don’t get me wrong, this was an excellent professor with a background in journalism, but what I was hearing from this fellow student was disturbing.

The student, another science major, explained that she went into the class thinking it was going to be about writing scientific papers for peer-reviewed scientific journals. But as she took the class they would learn about things like a species of beetle that was causing damage to trees in a particular part of the country. The students were then asked to write about these situations in the form of articles for the general public. But instead of explaining the damage that was being caused by the beetles in a sober and factual way, the students were told to write in a more dramatic style, talking about how the beetles were devastating the forests.

From the perspective of a science major, this would be regarded as unethical. In my experience, most science majors want to explain what they’ve learned in a way that is clear, accurate and objective. From what I gathered, the professor did not understand that a science major might have ethical objections to this sort of exaggeration and sensationalism.

National Geographic, A History of Tabloid Journalism

Something that I’ve noticed for a long time about National Geographic is that they tend to practice sensationalism and misinformation.

One example was a 1999 article on “Archaeoraptor,” a fossil that was discovered that was half dinosaur and half bird. The article ran in National Geographic with the bold claim “we can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals” but the problem is that the fossil was just that. It was half bird and half dinosaur. It was the bones of a bird glued to the bones of a dinosaur.

Within months of the article’s publication, National Geographic had to publish a retraction.

Dr. Storrs L. Olson, Curator of Birds at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution made the following accusation:

National Geographic has reached an all-time low for engaging in sensationalistic, unsubstantiated, tabloid journalism

Dr. Olson also made it clear that the narrative that birds evolved from Dinosaurs is unjustified. In reference to a previous story run by National Geographic, he said the following:

At that time, I tried to interject the fact that strongly supported alternative viewpoints existed to what National Geographic intended to present, but it eventually became clear to me that National Geographic was not interested in anything other than the prevailing dogma that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

Dr. Olson also criticized claims of feathered dinosaurs.

The hype about feathered dinosaurs in the exhibit currently on display at the National Geographic Society is even worse, and makes the spurious claim that there is strong evidence that a wide variety of carnivorous dinosaurs had feathers. A model of the undisputed dinosaur Deinonychus and illustrations of baby tyrannosaurs are shown clad in feathers, all of which is simply imaginary and has no place outside of science fiction.

So, according to this biologist, who is an expert on birds at one of the most well respected scientific institutions in the world, these claims about feathered dinosaurs are baseless.

What we are told about feathered dinosaurs as fact is nothing more than sensationalist propaganda and wishful thinking.

My understanding is that Dr. Olson holds to the view that birds evolved from a different group of ancient reptile, apart from dinosaurs. This is a view held by a number of scientists, but one that we don’t hear about often, (probably because it does not sell magazines.)

I want readers to keep in mind that the sensationalism presented here has nothing to do with whether or not one holds to a particular religious tradition or another or whether one believes in Evolution in general (though a particular bias may explain the motivation behind this sensationalism). This has to do with National Geographic knowingly publishing material that is objectively false and misleading and even lying by omission by not making their readers aware that there are plenty of mainstream scientists who disagree with the dinosaur-to-bird narrative.

I could write a separate article (or series) on the scientific misinformation I have noticed when reading articles from National Geographic. But since this article is specifically about the MARS series, I want to focus on that.

The Evils of Corporations, Industry, and Capitalism

While National Geographic is entitled to their opinions about industry, politics, and economics, I am entitled to criticize their opinions using facts, reason, and logic.

Throughout the series, private industry is depicted in an overwhelmingly negative light. Don’t get me wrong, there really are no “bad guys” in the series, simply fallible human beings who are misguided and who do not always agree on the best way to do things. This was a positive view of humanity. While I do think that there are people out there who intend harm, I appreciated this depiction of human beings disagreeing with one another and trying to come together despite their disagreements.

We also did not see the evil Capitalists who just want to destroy and pollute for money, while laughing maniacally, the way the bad guys were depicted in Captain Planet. But the unjustly negative depiction of private industry was still there.

Spoiler Alert

During the first season, the IMSF, the international space agency that sent these first astronauts to Mars, partnered extensively with private industry. The characters make reference to world governments and private industry working together for the common goal of sending people to Mars, motivated by the good of humanity.

But during the first season, one of the most prominent companies partnering with the IMSF keeps wanting to push too hard, too fast, and this creates problems that nearly cause the entire project to come crashing down. The greedy desire for profit is depicted as leading to recklessness (an accusation Ayn Rand ably answered in Atlas Shrugged in the character of Dagny Taggart.)

We find the theme of fallible, flawed human beings throughout the series, but we also find a clear double standard. When a member of the IMSF makes a mistake, it’s regarded as a human error on the journey pressing forward into the future. But when an error is made on the part of a member of one of the companies involved in settling Mars, it is seen as being an inherent flaw of short-sighted Capitalist greed.

Wrecking The Planet

During the second Season, a private company sends a mining colony to Mars. One of the original astronauts, Marta, accuses this mining company of “wrecking” the planet. I was never able to figure out just what this company was mining for, but I was surprised by the accusation. After all, Mars isn’t exactly covered in tropical rainforests, alien penguins, or peaceful Martian tribes; the IMSF was working on early projects to terraform the planet anyway.

How was one mining colony going to “wreck” a barren world? If anything, mining the resources that human beings would need to live and setting up independent colonies should be seen as a positive for the advancement of the human race and for the advancement of science.

Not to mention the fact that mining resources from Mars might mean it would no longer be necessary to mine resources from vulnerable places on Earth. The right energy-rich minerals from Mars might make drilling for oil on Earth a thing of the past. But since this was motivated by “profit” it was regarded as highly suspect.

The Evil of Profit

A lot of emotive language is used in describing companies that might want to set up operation on Mars. They are accused of wanting to “exploit” the planet, and to make a “profit” … as if these were somehow a bad thing.

Exploiting the labor of a living, breathing human being against their will would be immoral. That would be slavery. But using the resources that are present on a barren planet to make the lives of human beings better is hardly a bad thing, even if you want to call it the “exploitation” of Mars.

These companies were condemned for wanting to make a “profit” — as if making a gain were somehow a bad thing.

When I go to work and put on a lab coat, I am there to make a profit. Part of that is the profit of making a paycheck, which is a good thing. Also in view is the profit of advancing my place in my scientific career, which I love. And I want to create a product that makes the world a better place.

When I invest in the stock market, I invest in companies that provide clean water to people around the world and companies that are producing new technology which people around the world benefit from. Even if I had a purely “selfish” motive in these endeavor, it would be no sin. I am investing in the stock market primarily for my own gain, and as a side-effect people around the world benefit as well. No one is inherently being made poorer as a result, but billions of people all around the world are being raised out of poverty as a result of profit-driven Capitalism.

The irony here amazed me. After all, Marta was getting her paycheck from governments which exploited the earnings of people who went to work at for-profit companies. Other people were planting and reaping, and she was enjoying the fruit of their harvest, all while condemning their endeavor to make a profit, as if the resources to build scientific laboratories like hers merely fell out of the sky, or sprung from the ground of their own accord. If it weren’t for those creating and seeking a better world and producing a profit in terms of physical wealth (such as new products and new technology), her scientific laboratory on Mars would not be possible.

A Lesson From History

Consider John D. Rockefeller, a man who oversaw research that lead to our modern exploitation of fossil fuels, a man who did an amazing thing for the environment.

As one article explains:

Through Rockefeller’s work, kerosene became both cheaper and safer to use than whale oil, and quickly began to replace it in the marketplace. By 1890 the American whaling fleet had already dropped from a peak of 735 ships to just 200, and was still falling, in large part due to low cost kerosene produced by Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.

While National Geographic’s MARS series harps on the alleged evils of Capitalism and Corporations, the reason for the existence of big businesses is largely ignored. These industries exist because people like to have things like food, water, houses, medicine, and smartphones. In other words, industry produces wealth from food to computers — wealth that does not just magically appear in the world on its own.

Sadly, most people think of economics in terms of money instead of in terms of wealth, but these are two very different things.

During the course of the series we see footage of oil rigs, mining pits, and smoke stacks with a general overtone that all of this is bad, with no real explanation as to what’s actually happening in the footage. Ironically mines like this are used to obtain the resources used to build solar panels and windmills.

Someone please tell the producers at Nat Geo … No one makes money by building a smoke stack just to make the air dirty.

(And as a side-note, a lot of the smoke stacks used by industry here on Earth are giving off water vapor, despite the scary music.)

While industries that are highly regulated and micromanaged by government such as healthcare and education are hemorrhaging, industries that are mostly left to the free market such as the cell phone industry are advancing at incredible speeds.

Yet we are told during the interviews that the solution to a destructive free market is for government to come along and guide industry. As if governments were somehow shining lights of moral ideals!

Climate Change and Environmental Activism

During the series we see images from oil fields and production facilities, and we are given this narrative that fossil fuel companies are destroying the Earth. At one point a commentator in one of the real-life present-day interviews says that while not all corporations are bad, fossil fuel companies are some of the worst.

During part of the series we see a group of Greenpeace activists protesting an oil platform in the Arctic because of Climate Change. My first question was (honestly) what were they using for fuel to power their boat to get to the platform to protest in the first place. Later I saw the protesters getting out of the main boat into what looked like plastic kayaks so that they could prevent the workers from drilling. They protested the use of fossil fuels … in kayaks made of plastic from a boat running on fossil fuels.

As someone with a scientific background, it amazed me how these people were spending all of this time, energy, money, and resources (including fossil fuels) to protest fossil fuel use instead of using these scarce economic resources to fund research into new types of energy. I personally have a passion for biofuels, and I would love to work in a bioenergy or biomaterials laboratory.

Ironically, fossil fuels are actually a lot cleaner than most people give them credit for. Alex Epstein, the author of the book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels shows that when looking at different energy sources, people often only want to look at the positives of things like wind and solar, while only looking at the negatives of fossil fuels and nuclear, instead of looking at an objective balance sheet of both the costs and benefits of all of the energy sources available to us.

Alex Epstein: “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” | Talks at Google

In his book, Epstein also points out that we hear a lot about Global Warming, but we hear very little about Global Greening. Scientists have known for many years that thanks to the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) plants around the world are growing better. This is a known scientific fact, yet one conveniently ignored by environmental activists and the media, including Nat Geo’s MARS series.

Epstein also notes that dire apocalyptic predictions from Global Warming Alarmists have come and gone.

Recall that in 1986 James Hansen predicted that “if current trends are unchanged,” temperatures would rise .5 to 1.0 degree Fahrenheit in the 1990’s and 2 to 4 degrees in the first decade of the 2000s. According to Hansen’s own department at NASA, from the beginning to the end of the 1990s, temperatures were .018 degree Fahrenheit (.01 degree Celsius) higher, and from 2000 to 2010, temperatures were .27 degree Fahrenheit (.15 degree Celsius) higher — meaning he was wrong many times over.

-Alex Epstein, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels

Epstein also points out predictions that billions of people could be killed by climate induced famines by the year 2020, and that England would “not exist” by the year 2000. Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren, both predicted the former, with Ehrlich predicting the later in the 1970’s.

These are all prominent and prestigious figures in discussions of “Climate Change.” Epstein points out that Hansen has a reputation in the media of being the leading climate scientist in the world. John Holdren served as science adviser to President Barack Obama. Paul Ehrlich, according to Epstein, is still “arguably the most influential ecological thinker in the world.”

So these are not just some guys that we can write off as nuts that I found on the Internet; these are some of the top advocates of Man-Made Cataclysmic Climate Change in the world. When we are told to “listen to the scientists,” these are the scientists that we are supposed to be listening to. Yet their predictions keep turning out to be wrong.

Far from seeing massive starvation, we’ve seen the opposite. Starvation level poverty has fallen by some 80% around the world since 1970. We are seeing billions of people rise out of poverty thanks to Capitalism (i.e. Free Markets) and international trade, all powered by fossil fuels.

I touch on this in a previous article that I wrote:

Also, according to Bing, Google, and Wikipedia, Britain still exists.

Substance Over Narrative

The overall narrative of the series was as follows: Private industry is bad. Profit is bad. Corporations are (mostly) bad. Private companies are ruining the Earth, and we have to stop them from ruining Mars.

The entire thing pretty much assumes that human beings are parasites on the Earth while completely ignoring the benefits that human beings can and do bring as stewards of the Earth, including the benefits of fossil fuels.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of things that human beings need to change. There are a lot of things that need to change in how we interact with our environment. But virtue signaling by hoping in a fossil-fueled powered boat, and playing around in plastic kayaks isn’t going to solve any of our problems.

The Evils of Fracking

At the end of Season 2, we see the mining company drilling for water, and because the rock is so hard, they decide to use a small explosive. The result was a series of devastating “Marsquakes” that even affected the IMSF colony, which was a significant distance away. No explanation was offered for how a single explosive device the size of a Coke bottle could cause a series of multiple time-delayed quakes, but I supposed it’s possible.

Because this was juxtaposed with footage talking about the evils of fracking, viewers are left with the impression that this is how fracking works. (It’s not.) Viewers are also shown footage of methane in water, and left with the impression that this was caused by fracking, a reference to claims made in the film Gasland.

What viewers are not told is that these claims about fracking were investigated and falsified by environmental agencies, including the EPA.

Much can be said about fracking, but to make a long story short, a lot of the claims made against Fracking come from the movie Gasland — and are absolutely baseless.

When I researched this topic some time back, I could not find evidence that fracking has ever resulted in methane in anyone’s pipes. Had the folks at National Geographic researched this topic, they would have known that these claims are without scientific merit.

Rational Thinking, The Only Way Forward

National Geographic presents what can only be called a propaganda piece in terms of the environmental science. As someone with a science background, this really bothers me.

I don’t expect a docudrama to be a thorough scientific paper, but what we see here is emotionalism and dogma, and that’s all we ever get from those pushing the Man-Made Catastrophic Climate Change narrative. We are presented a case with all emotion and little data — and with more holes in their logic than Swiss cheese. We are told that people who disagree with their narrative are denying the science, with no mention of the fact that there are plenty of credible scientists who do not hold to this narrative.

Some readers might want to point out the statistic that 97% of “climate scientists” agree with climate change, but even scientists included in at least one survey with this 97% statistic have objected that the survey authors misrepresented their views. Also, none of the surveys that I have seen ever ask the scientists if they think climate change is in fact going to be catastrophic.

These surveys pretty much ask if the world is warming, and if humans are a contributing cause, but not much else.

As rational human beings, we need to take things like this with a grain of salt and seek to hear from experts who hold to different viewpoints from those which we are told in school and on TV.

We need to hear the arguments from experts on all sides of any given topic and weigh the validity of their arguments against logic and reason. Sadly, I often see people embrace experts that they agree with uncritically, and dismiss those with whom they disagree.

In terms of Climate Change, I want to encourage people to go hear presentations of the topic from scientists with a broad range of perspectives, especially atmospheric physicists.

Bringing things back around to one of the first articles I ever wrote on Medium, I remember an interview on CNN in which the network brought on a PhD atmospheric physicist who tried to explain that what we are told in the media about Climate Change is not an accurate representation of the science. Across from this actual scientist, CNN brought on Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Instead of taking the time to learn the science from an actual scientist, Bill Nye ignorantly dismissed what he had to say. Personally, I found it incredible that a comedian who played a scientist on a children’s TV show was brought in and presented as an equal to an actual scientist with actual scientific credentials.

For those who are not aware, Bill Nye is not actually a scientist, he just played one on TV. He has a degree in mechanical engineering, which means that he would have taken quite bit of physics and math, and he is entitled to his opinion, but he is not equal to a PhD atmospheric physicist with decades of experience. It was highly inappropriate for CNN to present him as if he were.

Bleeding hearts are only good for making a mess. National Geographic, CNN, and other outlets are free to keep repeating their mantras, and I cannot stop them from persuading people with emotion if people want to turn off their brains and embrace a blind faith in their TV. But what I can do is weigh the facts and the arguments on all sides of each question, and encourage others to do the same.

A fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question[…]
-Charles Darwin

He who pleads his cause first seems right; until another comes and questions him.
-Proverbs 18:17 World English Bible

Sadly, those at National Geographic want people to nod in agreement with them as they misrepresent the science on fossil fuels, climate change, and fracking, while telling their audience that those who do not nod in agreement are ignorant of the science. Never mind the highly qualified scientists who do not agree.

An Excellent Drama

Despite the clear political narrative and the misrepresentation of things like fracking, I still highly recommend this series. MARS does a lot to present challenges that human beings will face on the Red Planet and does a lot to talk about how we might overcome these challenges. I may have objections to the scientific accuracy when it comes to environmental issues, which makes me skeptical of the accuracy of the rest of what is said, but it would be a tragedy to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We live in a day when people refuse to ever hear anything with half a word that they don’t agree with. This is something that needs to change.

Thank you for reading my article. If you want to see more of my content, please feel free to sign up for my newsletter to receive updates whenever I publish new articles, stories, and videos. I also want to recommend my two short stories in my own Mars series. The first being Whisper, and the second The Caves of Mars. Both are available on Amazon.

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