Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Tim Flannery on AM 190 & museum futures

Scientist Tim Flannery. Photo: Damien Pleming.

Tim Flannery, Museums play vital role in science education: Tim Flannery, Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2017

Museums might seem like institutions that have had their day, but a revolution in the way science is done and communicated makes them more important than ever.

Citizen science, which engages ordinary people in collecting scientific data and even analysing it, is becoming a major contributor to the scientific enterprise.

Projects cover an astonishingly wide array of areas, from bird watching to tracking changes in the marine environment, and the reason that museums are such natural homes for citizen science projects is that museums have always had volunteers and special interest groups that have helped expand the science done by professional scientists. Indeed, they have sometimes carried on, in part, the work of specialists at time when the specialists were unavailable.

My own career in science began as a museum volunteer. Like many scientists, I would never have had a career in science were it not for the way museums nurtured my interests and created opportunities for me to grow my knowledge.

Museums are also the holders of a region’s history, and with the rise of DNA technologies their collections are more important than ever.

Everything from the rise and spread of epidemic diseases to the “resurrection” of extinct species is being researched using specimens from museum collections. And museums continue to collect vital data that is used and analysed by researchers across academia. Without the special skills held in museums, much science could not be done.

Museums also have a hugely important role in science education. For many children, museum exhibitions offer a unique, in-depth opportunity to study an aspect of science.

Museum exhibitions are a very different way of learning that is hands-on and interactive and often involves a specialist or volunteer who guides the children through the experience.

As a museum director, one of my great joys was seeing children, many from disadvantaged schools, looking in amazement at an exhibition. It’s a role that is underappreciated by both the community and government, but which is vital. You never know whether the next Sir David Attenborough or Steven Jay Gould are in that school group.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2020
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