Kentucky, you’re dead to me

27 03 2007

You're on notice!

Because of the coming AiG “Free-Frontal Lobotomy With Every Ticket” Creation Museum, Kentucky has long been “On Notice” with me, but the time has come to move it to the “Dead To Me” board. In discussing the carnival of idiocy that is the creation museum,a recent news article produced this interesting (and infuriating) quote from the president of the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Commission Tom Caradonio;

Asked about the contention that the museum will embarrass the state, Caradonio noted that Lexington allows betting on horses at Keeneland Race Course, which some find objectionable.

“I learned a long time ago in this industry that if we had to make moral judgments, we would probably end up selling nothing,” he said.

Ugh… good old capitalism, once again. Who cares if we’re continuing the brain drain America is currently suffering from; so long as we have money, it must be ok! Perhaps Caradonio is among the 47% of Americans that believe in a historical 6-day Creation, the demographic primarily made up of “those with less education, regular churchgoers, people 65 and older, and Republicans” according to the news article. Also of note, have a look at the photos from the museum, notably the one featuring Ken Ham; someone’s developed a taste for Krispy Kreme I see.

I wish I could say that this place is of no real threat to the understanding of science in America, but if I did I would be horribly mistaken. As PZ notes over at Pharyngula;

It’s going to impress some people — stupid, shallow people, but there’s no shortage of them in the US, and there especially seems to be a surplus in the media, which will happily eat this crap with a glossy veneer and regurgitate it for the public.

And while this may seem of minor concern, this place actually has a bit of a leg up on other museums. I remember in the mid-90’s when the AMNH renovated its dinosaur and mammal fossil halls, such an undertaking updating the exhibits with the latest science. In the spirit of scientific progress, however, many exhibits now show some inaccuracies (i.e. the alcove on fossil whales says they evolved form mesonychids) and it would likely cost to much to be constantly keeping up with the latest science. Even beyond minor tweaking, some of the mounted specimens still reflect the understanding of dinosaurs we had when Charles R. Knight was the #1 paleo-reconstruction artist, the Triceratops still posed in a bit of a sprawl, the Gorgosaurus stood upright against the wall, and the pair of Anatotitan are still dragging their tails. Now, I know that the restoration of the dinosaur halls was major and perhaps there are some problems with moving/changing the reconstructions that I do not know about, but with any good exhibit on extinct animals changes will have to be made nearly perpetually to reflect the best that science has to offer. The Creation Musuem, on the other hand, already has their story down and it’s not going to change, so really they won’t have to consider actually updating anything or acting like a real institution; they can continue to create a theme-park atmosphere people will love (why do I get the feeling that we’ll someday see an AiG creation museum in Orlando, right near all the megachurches?).

I know I’ve been critical of museum exhibits and reconstructions as of late, but this is not because I’m a crank or want to undermine science somehow. I feel that many scientists are dropping the ball when it comes to evolution or simply don’t want to get involved, and if this trend continues it will be disastrous. By the same token I sincerely hope that science isn’t popularized to the point of being inaccurate kitsch for a society that has the attention span of a 10 second sound bite, but if evolution really is the unifying idea behind biology, shouldn’t it be considered with a bit more regard and more effort put into helping people understand it? I realize that many people don’t know or care much about it (their beliefs, religious or not, often dictate what side they’ll take) but we need to do a better job of explaining why evolution matters and why people should care about it.




3 responses

28 03 2007

I think you’re right on in calling science museums to task. Their primary role should really be one of education–sparking the desire to know more, getting people excited about learning not just the facts as we currently understand them, but the processes by which we come to that knowledge.

Our little homegrown dinosaur museum–Dinosaur Journey, in Fruita, CO–has a great “exhibit” that’s simply a huge window onto a working paleontology lab. There are several productive fossil quarries in the area, and any day of the week you can come watch the scientists at work on their discoveries. Sometimes, they even come out for coffee and you can collar them and ask them questions. I can’t think of any better way to get kids (and the public at large) excited about science as something that’s happening now, evolution as something for which the evidence is literally under our noses (in this area, anyway; you can hardly take a step without tripping over some fossilized thingummy). Science is cool, evolution is awesomely fascinating and the best time to get people into it is when they’re young and haven’t yet learned that “science is hard” or “only nerds like that stuff.”

28 03 2007

RedMolly, that sounds like the best possible paleontology museum exhibit!

When I was younger, before I ever had a job, I didn’t know what people did at work. As in, what do people do while sitting at a desk in some office building? How does that 8 hour shift get spent?

Seeing scientists at work would have been a very interesting and useful experience for me. Especially if the public can see those scientists posting comments on blogs instead of marking essays like they should be!

28 03 2007

“Especially if the public can see those scientists posting comments on blogs instead of marking essays like they should be!”

Now what sort of scientist would ever do that? Haha. When I was a kid I used to watch scientists on documentaries and I had no idea how they got to be authorities or what they really did, but since I’ve been at college seeing how academia works has both been heartening and discouraging at the same time.

I think the Academy of Natural Sciences has a similar part of their exhibit set up where you can watch fossil prep. in a lab, but nothing quite so extensive as what Molly described. I’ve also heard the museum at the La Brea Tar Pits has something similar, although that one’s still on my to-do list. I’d love to see similar exhibits here in New Jersey; there is a lot of fossil material here, but then again much of the land its in is developed, so the people living in McMansions wouldn’t be too happy with my poking around. Overall, though, I am heartened by the tide change happening in science these days, and I hope that it is only the beginning of a larger dialog that will develop between the public and scientists.

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