There is a scientific principle that denies the possibility of total objectivity in an experiment, claiming that the very act of observation has an unavoidable effect on the elements involved in the experiment.
That is the underlying conclusion of "Antarctica: A Presence on Ice," a production of Maryland Public Television that will be shown nationwide tomorrow night. It will be on MPT, channels 22 and 67, at 8 o'clock.
What this hour shows is that some of this forbidding continent's worst enemies have been people who claim to be its friends -- the scientists who have traveled there to study its icy climes.
They may have left with reams of invaluable data about the ecology of Antarctica and the world, but they have left behind the same sort of trash, garbage, sewage and pollution man has produced wherever he has traveled in the 20th century, altering, perhaps forever, the environment that was under study.
That's not the main conclusion of the documentary, but it is perhaps the most startling one. "Antarctica: A Presence on Ice" could be titled Antarctica 101 as it is essentially an introductory survey of man's relationship with the south polar region.
Thus, the hour is short on stunning nature photography -- though any time you aim a camera at this place you are bound to come away with some spectacular pictures -- and long on "talking heads" explaining the ramifications of various treaties that currently pass for international governance of Antarctica.
Indeed, what nature photography there is is marred by a semi-classical music track that turns the ice's wildlife into
buffoons and jesters who could have stepped out of a Disney cartoon.
So don't turn this on if you're looking for rhapsodic visual melodies about some of the world's most remote wilderness, or a lesson about the gestation period of the king penguin.
But, if you are interested in learning that Antarctica is at a critical stage as the countries of the world debate its future -- making decisions that will determine if it is protected as a park or explored for potential exploitation of its natural resources -- then this is an excellent resource.
Much of "Antarctica: A Presence on the Ice" tells of the efforts by the environmental organization Greenpeace to examine environmental practices there and set up its own research station on the continent.
Though the documentarians try to maintain a pretense of objectivity, it is clear that the act of observation has affected these observers and that the producers of this documentary think that making Antarctica the first world park is the only way to protect it.