Here’s a good story that shows the fight to defend science happens in places beside the classroom and politics.
The vast majority of scientists agree that intelligent design (ID) — the belief that the complexity of life is evidence that something intelligent must have designed it — is not a scientific theory. But the rising popularity of the belief has led museums and national parks to rethink how they present information to visitors. Both groups are working to further educate staff and volunteers, and also to present clear information about why evolution is accepted among most scientists.
“The bottom line is that intelligent design is a threat to the credibility of science in our culture,” says Kirk Johnson, chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. “Since science ought to be in a museum, we realized that as a museum, we could do a better job of educating people about what science is, and how we know what we know.”
The mission of natural history museums is always to explain how science works so that people can understand it, “but clearly there are individuals who are tempted to conflate what science is and make it confusing,” he says. “It makes us more inspired to make it understandable.”
… the new Thomas Condon Paleontology Center is much larger, dedicated to paleontology, and filled with text and graphic displays about the fossil record. At first, Fremd says, he worried that the new displays would be too complex, but he is now pleased by how many people spend hours reading the fine print. Prior to visiting the park’s center, Fremd says that it is easy for people to think that bones in one layer of a fossil bed could have been the result of Noah’s biblical flood. But with the rigorous explanations in the museum, visitors can begin to put the data together and understand the complexity of evolution.
Part of the problem, which can lead to nonscientific ideas such as ID, is that some museums, rangers and docents are apologizing for how complex the story is, Fremd says. “But it is the very complexity that makes it interesting. Don’t apologize for making it complex.”