In Need of More Than Sprinkles

In a recent post at the always essential Boing Boing, a writer takes science museums to task for failing to help grownups understand the complexities of modern science.

So if stuff like this is happening, why do I think science museums are still failing adults? And why do surveys reflect such serious dissatisfaction?

I think this is a sundae problem.

A sundae is a bowl full of ice cream. You put some stuff on top of it, but it remains, fundamentally, a bowl full of ice cream. And when I talk about examples of really great adult engagement in science museums, I am, generally, talking about the sprinkles, not the ice cream. The museums acknowledge the problem, but they’re dealing with it by adding in a couple of things here and there. A traveling exhibit. One exhibit out of the whole museum. One night a month. What they really need are serious changes to the bulk of the experience.

That last sentence is especially true of the Smithsonian museums (“America’s attic”) in DC at whom I recently ranted for largely the same issue, doing a poor job of educating their visitors.*

However, the Smithsonian doesn’t even do the sprinkles since they have no museum dedicated to science in their collection and the few exhibits on scientific topics are static, non-engaging displays of artifacts, largely involving their history.

*And as predicted, the people running the Smithsonian could care less what someone at my donation level thinks of their practices. :-)