As museums and science centres move further into the realm of contemporary science and technology, more literature is appearing about the challenges of developing these exhibitions. There are issues with the material chosen: Is it yesterday’s news? How do you make this accurate but understandable? Will there be a new overriding theory tomorrow? How will we keep up?

There  are  issues  about  how  to  present  it:  Do  we  have  an  opinion?  If  so,  is  it  the  institution’s or  the project team’s? Do you use many voices or relax back into the museum as authority? Do you need to take a stance? Do you use real objects? Are the standard mechanisms of display too confronting?

Finally,  there  are  issues  with  the  audience  reactions:  What  if  …  you  know  …  people  have  feelings about it? Exhibitions which deal with controversial topics have been attempted by museums including the Science  Museum’s  Science  Box  series,  the  US  developed  What  about  AIDS?  And  the  Smithsonian’s Science in American Life with varying degrees of success.

Even though these challenges are daunting, a number of museums and science centres are capitalising on the  interest sparked by the  highly controversial subjects of  genetics and  biotechnology. Biotechnology exhibitions are  appearing in  public  institutions around  the  world,  with  projects  currently  being  developed or launched in London, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. As Farmelo and Carding (1997) note, ‘There is  something  particularly  sensitive  about  biotechnology,  for  it  concerns  the  manipulation  of  life  itself, something that  many of  us intuitively feel is sacred and should therefore be left well  enough alone.’ How then  do  you  deal  with  biotechnology  in  a  completely  new  Museum,  where  public  information  about biotechnology is scarce and mistrust and misinformation is high?

This  paper  explores  the  design  and  development  process  of  the  Bio-tech  and  Beyond  project  for Melbourne  Museum,  Australia.  It  considers  the  choice  of  stories,  key  stakeholders  in  the  process  and possible interpretive approaches in the context of previous and formative research and the global museum scene.
 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Controversy
The issues of modern biotechnology exhibitions

Bronwyn Terrill   Human Mind and Body Programs & Research, Museum Victoria, Australia

As museums and science centres move further into the realm of contemporary science and technology, more literature is appearing about the challenges of developing these exhibitions. There are issues with the material chosen: Is it yesterday’s news? How do you make this accurate but understandable? Will there be a new overriding theory tomorrow? How will we keep up?

There  are  issues  about  how  to  present  it:  Do  we  have  an  opinion?  If  so,  is  it  the  institution’s or  the project team’s? Do you use many voices or relax back into the museum as authority? Do you need to take a stance? Do you use real objects? Are the standard mechanisms of display too confronting?

Finally,  there  are  issues  with  the  audience  reactions:  What  if  …  you  know  …  people  have  feelings about it? Exhibitions which deal with controversial topics have been attempted by museums including the Science  Museum’s  Science  Box  series,  the  US  developed  What  about  AIDS?  And  the  Smithsonian’s Science in American Life with varying degrees of success.

Even though these challenges are daunting, a number of museums and science centres are capitalising on the  interest sparked by the  highly controversial subjects of  genetics and  biotechnology. Biotechnology exhibitions are  appearing in  public  institutions around  the  world,  with  projects  currently  being  developed or launched in London, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia. As Farmelo and Carding (1997) note, ‘There is  something  particularly  sensitive  about  biotechnology,  for  it  concerns  the  manipulation  of  life  itself, something that  many of  us intuitively feel is sacred and should therefore be left well  enough alone.’ How then  do  you  deal  with  biotechnology  in  a  completely  new  Museum,  where  public  information  about biotechnology is scarce and mistrust and misinformation is high?

This  paper  explores  the  design  and  development  process  of  the  Bio-tech  and  Beyond  project  for Melbourne  Museum,  Australia.  It  considers  the  choice  of  stories,  key  stakeholders  in  the  process  and possible interpretive approaches in the context of previous and formative research and the global museum scene.
 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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