Page images
PDF
EPUB

half of all museum visits. For comparison, the total annual attendance at professional footfall, baseball and basketball games is 50 million persons, less than one-third the visits to science museums.

Science on television attracts regular audiences of 5 million viewers, with as many as 10 million watching science specials. The circulation of science magazines is roughly 5 million, with an "impact" [single issues reaching readers] of more than 40 million a year. Together, museums, magazines, and television create more than 200 million interactions with science each year, rich in experience and content, and comparable in number to the size of the U.Š. population.

To take advantage of this vast audience, we urge that this subcommittee adopt the following steps to insure that science education, and general public science literacy as a component of that education, receive appropriate support by Congress and the National Science Foundation:

1. The subcommittee should make a strong reaffirmation of the necessity and importance of science education as a significant responsibility of NSF. It should emphasize the significance of both pro fessional, technical training of scientists and engineers to insure a healthy, viable scientific community, and of general science education for children and adults, in school and out.

It should assert the importance to our Nation's citizens of their ability to make informed judgments involving science and technology in matters of public concern and in their daily lives. It should assert the right of citizens to effective access to that heritage through schools, musuems, media, and other sources.

2. The subcommittee should review present NSF support for informal science education, and examine the critical situation that has developed in science museums, as a result of shifts in support patterns of other Federal agencies. NSF should be asked to insure that science museums receive an appropriate degree of support for museum projects concerned directly with public understanding and knowledge of science and technology. The recommendations of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities' Museum Working Group should be followed, and support for museum project activities involving science and technology developed that at least parallels the creative and well-managed programs of the Arts and Humanities Endowments. This should be supported in the future at a funding level comparable to that of the Endowments, $10 million per year. Future appropriations for the activities of science museums on behalf of science literacy should depend on needs assessments and further studies of the field, taking into account the heavy burden of expense generated by massive public audience and by the rapid changes in science and technology itself that necessitate continued investment in new exhibits, displays, and programs of interpretation.

3. The subcommittee should encourage further liaison and project sharing between NSF and other Federal agencies, particularly the two Endowments, the Institute of Museum Services, and the National Museum Act. For example, at present, museums of all kinds are eligible as cultural institutions for challenge grants from the two endowments. Science museums have become increasingly concerned that restrictive definitions may reduce their eligibility for these awards. The impact of such changes should be reported to the relevant congressional committees, and any future changes in challenge grant eligibility should require coordination among agencies, like that taking place under the auspices of the Federal Council. Challenge grants involving science museums should be brought under the existing joint funding agreement of NEA, NIH, and NSF, so that NSF would be able to participate in the review of these grant applications.

4. In the division of responsibility for science education between NSF and the new Department of Education presently being structured, careful attention should be paid to the relationship between school and museum science education, and agreement reached to insure that school support programs for science within the new Department are integrated with museums programs involving science.

In conclusion, the ability of our Nation's citizens to make informed judgments about issues involving science and technology is an essential "survival skill” in today's world. To distinguish claim from counterclaim in the heated debate over carcinogens by food additives, to make ersonal use of the vast improvement in scientific knowledge of health and medicine and to understand the science which underlies current discussions about future energy sources, all require a public literate in science, knowledgeable about scientific debate and disagreement, and familiar with the processes of reasoning for which science is still one of our best models. In short, our citizens need to be knowledgable about science and technology as an essential part of our civilization.

Unfortunately, America's citizens will not know about science and technology simply because research and development are being carried out. Education resources are required. Interpretation programs must be developed. Exhibitions must be created and built. Specialists in the presentation of science and technology to public audiences must study and attack the problems of public perception and understanding that exist, and work out solutions to these problems.

One of the greatest failings of America's scientific and technological enterprise is its inner directness, its assumption that if support is provided, if research and development goes on, that benefits will inevitably follow, and that citizens will come naturally to understand and appreciate what has been done. The integration, explanation, and communication of science and technology to our citizens will happen only if the pursuit of science literacy in all its forms is nurtured, supported, and identified as a significant priority of the technological community, of the National Science Foundation, our Nation's leader in research and development, and by the Congress itself. It is the duty of this subcommittee to insure that this is so.

[The prepared statement of Dr. Bloom follows:)

TESTIMONY

NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION

AUTHORIZATION ACT

JOEL N. BLOOM

Vice President
Association of Science Technology Centers

Director
The Franklin Institute Science Museum & Planetarium

SUBCOMMITTEE ON SCIENCE, RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

February 19, 1980

Statement of the Association of Science-Technology Centers to the Subcommittee on Science, Research, and Technology of the House Science and Technology Committee on FY 81 authorization of the National Science Foundation.

Submitted by Joel N. Bloom, Vice President, Association of Science-Technology Centers, and Vice President & Director, Franklin Institute Science Museum and Planetarium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, February 19, 1980.

The Association of Science-Technology Centers is an organization of science museums and similar institutions, often called "science-technology centers" to emphasize their primary concern with the improvement of the public understanding and appreciation of science and technology and their place in our society. Science centers have pioneered in the use of interactive, "hands-on" techniques in exhibitions, special events, and in educational programs. Members range from large science museums in major urban areas to small community science, industry, and natural history museums across the country. Their annual attendance totals more than 35 million visitors.

Science-technology museums are an integral part of the larger community of science-related museums, which includes planetariums, natural history museums, zoos, aquaria, and botanical gardens. All serve their communities through activities involving collections, exhibits, and programs. A number of science museums conduct research in science or in science education as well as provide educational services to school and community. Support for this research is provided by NSF and other agencies concerned with specific scientific disciplines. Science museums of all kinds represent the largest, most concentrated audience for informal science education in the United States. More than 160 million visits a year are made to such museums, nearly half of all museums visits. For comparison, the total annual attendance at professional football, baseball, and basketball games is 50 million persons, less than one-third the visits to science museums. Science on television attracts regular audiences of five million viewers, with as many as 10 million watching science specials. The circulation of science magazines is roughly five million, with an "impact" (single issues reaching readers) of more than 40 million a year. Together, museums, magazines, and television create more than 200 million interactions with science each year, rich in experience and content, and comparable in number to the size of the u.s. population.

Science literacy is a measure of the capacity of individuals to be full, functioning members of our technological society. The development of science literacy comes about in part through the formal school system--through activities of teachers and stu

dents in pre, elementary, and high schools. For the college bound, formal education in science continues with required or elective courses in particular sciences, and, for a talented, motivated group, with professional training in a scientific or technological discipline.

new

The National Science Foundation has supported science education in each of these school settings. But what of science learning outside the classroom? What about the interests of pre-schoolers and the needs of individuals who did not go to college, or have long since left schools? Informal science education refers to science learning that occurs without formal courses, tests, requirements, or degrees. It refers to the resources that most of us use to learn about science and technology, and to keep abreast of discoveries. Museums, libraries, and print and electronic media contribute to this continuing, life-long exposure to science. Beyond the formal programs of schools, they represent the primary way most people gain information about and understanding of science throughout their lives. They are the means by which citizens gain information they use to make consumer decisions in their daily lives; information they use in voting for school board members and local school budgets; information they use to take positions on community issues, such as nuclear power; and information they use in voting for candidates for local, state, and federal offices.

Informal education, whether in science museums, media, libraries, or other sources, has its own unique characteristics. For illustration, the role of museums will be discussed below.

en

First, museums provide science education to children and youths before they make the decision to become scientists and gineers. Many scientists have described the special experiences they had with museums when they were young, the excitement which such visits provided, and the encouragement from staff that first led them to become scientists or engineers. Science museums and other informal sources provide positive science experiences often lacking in schools, reinforce early interests, and help with career selection. The encouragement of creativity, the celebration of innovation and invention are familiar themes in exhibit halls and educational programs of science museums. Second, science museums and other media support school science, through the provision of unique resources not available through schools. These may be the collections of natural history museums, the living specimens of zoos, or the complex and imaginative exhibits of science centers and planetariums. Museums reinforce the direct teaching that occurs in schools, and provide the participatory, hands-on experiences with science that tend to be disappearing from elementary schools.

« PreviousContinue »