This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email email@example.com
Boston Museum of Science: Business as Usual
by Mike Fein
The Boston Museum of Science typifies institutional misrepresentation of science and a disservice to the community it purports to serve. Where it should be a constructive and democratic instrument of science for the people, the Museum is a discriminatory mind-fucker—particularly dangerous because children are overdosed with bullshit science (new crime of Statutory Mind-Fuck). No doubt the people who run the Museum mean well. Unfortunately, their institution is the child of education, technology and capitalism in America—with the full genetic damage of such ancestors.
To see whose interests the Museum actually serves, come with us on an imaginary tour disguised as an Inner City Family of four.
The first thing you notice is that your weekly pay is now $85.34. The second thing you notice is the commercial on a top-40 radio station urging you to bring the family to the Science Museum because it’s air-conditioned. The bus and subway aren’t air-conditioned, but they get you all within walking distance fo the Museum for $1.80. (Put aside two bucks for the trip back.)
On the outside, the most prominent feature of the Museum are its parking lots filled with suburbanites’ cars. Must cost plenty to park here. It’s free? How about that. You walk into the lobby and see a big picture of air pollution with an explanatory message. Actually, you don’t need the picture since you live in the real thing all the time. (In case you did live out in the country, though, you see some of the biggest polluters from the Museum’s front steps.)
On the inside, the most prominent feature of the Museum is the box office. At $1.50 and .50 per head you shell out four bucks and gain entrance to the gift shop (sorry kids) and the rest of the Museum (except, of course, the Planetarium which is an additional .50 a head.)
See the disproportionate amount of NASA spaceshit. A whole room devoted to mock-ups of NASA hardware, exhibits on the development of missiles and rockets, one whole case of tiny Amerikkkan flags and other souvenirs that our astronaut heroes couldn’t sell on the moon. Dig it kids: Buck Rogers boondoggles are Important Science Stuff. The kids fail to discover any exhibits on:
…what NASA costs
…the direct support NASA provided to the military/industrial complex (of which several companies are Business Donors of the Museum)
…what NASA has done to the economy of Cambridge
…the front NASA provided to the CIA in Cambridge.
(Incidentally, this year the Museum gave Walter Cronkite a $5000 science-man-of-the-year award for his educational contribution of making top bread for himself broadcasting the Apollo adventures. This money could have provided 333 free family memberships or free one-time admissions for 2500 children and a like number of adults.)
You pick up some literature, desperate now for a sign that the Museum is something besides a plastic, middle-class institution. An article in one of their members’ newsletter begins, “Despite a sagging stockmarket and weeks of conflicting and confusing news about the tax bill . . .” Whaaat? You pick up a brochure in the Museum’s educational courses for your kids—tuition runs as high as $30. By some mistake you get a copy of the Museum’s annual report and you read up on the bluebloods who run the place.
Although you’re all hungry you avoid the nifty cafeteria and help the kids learn some more about science. An exhibit of stuffed animals; some live birds and snakes (they’re free at the zoo). A strobe light exhibit contains a plug for the manufacturer—a local defense contractor. Another exhibit shows the benefits of power steering. (For that you paid four bucks?) An exhibit by the gas industry tells your kids how much it costs to drill a gas well. Front tiers of Science. The gas people don’t tell your kids how much profit they make on a well or how much you pay for gas, but you tell them that. The Bell System’s huge exhibit has zero technical content and merely encourages people to use telephones. (You tell the kids that Bell is a big ABM contractor; also about how monopolies work and how much your telephone costs.) The more you see, the more obvious it is that most exhibits are nothing more than hypes for the companies contributing to them.
Worst of all there are no relevant exhibits to turn kids on about the problems—especially urban problems—that technology could solve. For example, the Museum squats over the stinking Charles River but it has no actual exhibits on pollution. A good one might be to run a spigot into the river and let kids tap and analyze the water. There are no exhibits on transportation, housing, rats, Hiroshima, MIRV, or nuclear bombs and their effects.
My favorite exhibit at the Museum says it all: a box with some coins and mirrors in it. The sign says it was donated by a bank. It’s called “Space Money.” End-of- tour.
The following program is suggested to rehabilitate this and similar institutions into People’s Science Museums.
- Free admission. The difference can be made up by direct government and university subsidy, charging for parking, and upping the rate for business donors, who now enjoy practically free publicity, tax hustles, and other privileges. According to the Museum’s 1969 report, people contributed over 40% of the Museum’s support through admissions and memberships. Business and Industry contributed less than 5%.
- Unlimited scholarships to Museum courses for poor kids, including free lunches and transportation.
- Elimination of worthless exhibits not in the public interest and replacement by relevant exhibits and programs such as those mentioned above.
- Community representation on controlling boards.
Science for the People!
All Power to the People!