If you Google ‘Science Museum climate change exhibition’ you get hundreds of results about two current articles in the Times and the Daily Mail. If Times Online had started charging £1 a day for its content today, as was announced in the news this morning, most of us wouldn’t have read their piece. That’s beside the point. The point is that the Times twisted the story, and the Daily Mail twisted it up further and chucked it in the gutter.
This is the story issued in a Science Museum press release. Though mainly I think the Museum deserves defending here, I could pick a few holes in this. My biggest hole is a big murky one, and that is the sponsorship by Shell. I heard from the Natural History Museum that Shell sponsorship had gone wrong for them, so it’s a mystery why the Science Museum accepted (or courted?) it. You’ll note that I link not to Shell’s corporate site but to Shell Facts, so you can get a quick rundown on why this might be an issue.
The second hole might be a hole that isn’t really there, that the exhibition purports to ‘answer questions’ and tell people about science, rather than overtly invite people to ask questions, discover, contribute, act and so on. Without knowing more about the interpretive approach in detail I wouldn’t like to judge on whether it will be more of a ‘telling’ or ‘active discovery’. To see what I mean by this more active approach you might look at Ontario Science Museum’s Challenge Zone. But I expect the exhibition will be lively, engaging and well-considered even if not radical in its educational approach.
The other hole is a bit more of a moth nibble, but still for me it ruins the cloth. I believe that the Science Museum should be developing an overarching public engagement strategy injecting ecology, climate science and future adaptation across its programmes and external channels. I believe this would be more effective and meaningful than a major climate science gallery. However, if any organisation is going to do climate science properly, it must be the Science Museum so I’ll pass a blind eye over that one.
The hole that Ben Webster at the Times found is, to me, quite invisible, in giving the title “Public scepticism prompts Science Museum to rename climate exhibition”. He suggested there was a shift from a propagandist position to one of neutrality. The Science Museum response, reported on a must-read blogpost by Climate Safety, and not at this time via any official press release, is that: “After laying out our intentions for the new climate science gallery, the term ‘neutral’ has been adopted in some articles in the press, which is not an accurate description of our approach.” And which continues to affirm that it would uphold the scientific consensus of anthropogenic climate change. [Since I wrote this post, the Science Museum has responded with a press release, clarifying their intentions more officially.]
I can hardly bring myself to give you the link to the Daily Mail interpretation of the story, which includes sleight of hand with Chris Rapley’s own words. But as it’s out there in the wild you may as well see it. This uses the story of the exhibition to remind us again of Glaciergate and the UEA hacked emails and to suggest that public scepticism is emerging as some kind of restoration of enlightenment.
Within moments of these articles being read online, there were tweets twisting other tweets, reporting that the Science Museum was doing a ‘climate sceptic’ exhibition. Now, hmmm, thinking about it that could work. Or it could just be very wierd and confusing. Whatever stand is taken, sceptical, pro or neutral, and whatever those terms mean, it must involve exposure to science and allowing people to discuss and debate as much as possible.
Update on Sunday 28th March:
I just saw a post about this story on the Third Estate blog. It’s criticising the Science Museum for welcoming climate deniers and for aiming to ‘satisfy the interests and needs’ of people of all convictions on climate change. I commented on it, which you can read on that blog or here:
My own blogpost on this story takes a slightly different, still critical, view. An answer to your ‘why a second exhibition?’ is that the first was a small temp display to coincide with COP15 and the one announced is a major £4m permanent-ish programme, not just a new gallery. They haven’t changed tack. Chris Rapley is passionate about communicating the urgent threat of climate disruption and gets a huge amount of stick for using public money for that. The phrasing you’re critical of is unfortunate but I know that they mean by it to fulfil their duty to engage with the widest public. They must welcome everyone, people of varying convictions. Moreover, they’re keen not to preach to the converted but to engage everyone in the science. Rapley’s words have been unfairly twisted by the press accounts, as you can read in my blogpost.