Voxpop

Issue 117/02, p15, 01.02.2017
How can science be better communicated in museums?
Ian Simmons, museum consultant, Science Centres International

“By approaching things from the perspective of engaging people in science, rather than just communicating it to them, and by building visitors’ ‘science capital’. Science capital is essentially the ‘sciencyness’ of a person, which is developed through all kinds of experiences, and is as much about attitude and identification with science, as knowledge. Museums are great places for giving people inspiring and iconic experiences that build science capital. Thinking about ways to deliberately do this, rather than just informing people about objects, will lead to richer and more successful science communication.”

01022017-mike-simms.jpgMike Simms, curator of palaeontology, National Museums Northern Ireland

“Science is often considered a difficult subject, but it need not be. Keep it simple (not ‘dumbed down’) and grounded in visitors’ everyday experiences. The Elements exhibition and events programme at Ulster Museum has changed visitor perceptions of ‘hard science’. It is focused on objects, from the familiar to the bizarre, and arranged around familiar themes such as ‘life’ or ‘colour’. The object labels carry brief standalone messages introducing an unfamiliar fact or concept alongside familiar information. These ‘snippets’ entice many to look at the ‘bigger’ messages on the case back panels.”

01022017-rachel-souhami.jpgRachel Souhami, museum academic and exhibitions consultant

I would like museums to:

- Talk more to science historians and policy experts: science does not occur in isolation from society, so make sure there is historical, social and political context.
- Show the complexities of doing science: museums so often present narratives of a lone genius who has a breakthrough, which is misleading.
- Reflect on representation: scientists aren’t only white, male and from the European Union or North America.
- Think about perspective: consider using a range of views, but avoid tokenistic vox pops.
- Stop thinking science must be presented as fun, amazing or mysterious.”

01022017-tacye-phillipson.jpgTacye Phillipson, senior curator of science, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh

“Despite some great science engagement, all too often science is seen as something special and separate from the rest of the museum’s activities, so our visitors may avoid it if they are not already interested. Embedding more science and the scientific way of looking at the world throughout the displays and activities of the whole museum is a great opportunity for engagement with all of our visitors. How do we work out how dim the lighting should be in the gallery? Why does this clock mechanism keep such poor time? How did we learn what this artefact looked like when it was new?”

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