PROVOCATIVE TOPICS, PRODUCTIVE DIALOGUE
In some instances, informal science platforms bring up provocative topics, encouraging responses that are revealed through verbal or written discussions. For example, postings on websites and blogs, as well as newspaper articles on such topics as genetic testing and stem cell research, prod readers to think about, discuss, and write about their own views and positions. At the Science Café in Chapter 1, participants were encouraged to articulate their own opinions about the scientific evidence related to global warming.
While museum exhibitions often do not give visitors an opportunity to think about science in this way, an exception is the Ontario Science Center’s A Question of Truth exhibition. The purpose of the exhibition is to consider the cultural and political influences that affect scientific activity. The exhibition focuses on three themes: frames of reference (e.g., sun-centered versus earth-centered), bias (concepts of race, eugenics, and intelligence testing), and science and community (interviews with diverse groups of scientists). After conducting interviews with visitors to this exhibition, Erminia Pedretti found that most of them thought the exhibition contributed to their understanding of science and society, “applauding the science center’s effort to demystify and deconstruct the practice of science while providing a social cultural context.”
For example, a visiting student commented, “The exhibit makes us think a lot about our beliefs and why we think in certain ways…. I didn’t think that the gene that affects the color of your skin was so small and unimportant. Most people don’t think of things like that.” Another student challenged the view of science as being amoral: “We view science as often being separate from morals, and it’s kind of negative because it allows them to do all sorts of things like altering human life, and it may not necessarily be beneficial to our society…. Some scientists are saying, should we actually be doing this?”
According to Pedretti, such comments indicate that exhibitions like these are encouraging visitors to reflect on the processes of science, politics, and personal beliefs and articulate their views. They achieve this goal by personalizing the subject matter, evoking emotion, and stimulating debate through the presentation of information from multiple perspectives.14