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Jonathan

An open letter to the Science Museum

The following is posted on behalf of BIG delegate Alom Shaha.

Dear Science Museum,

I am a science teacher at a secondary school in north London. I watched your “Danger High Voltage” show at the BIG event on Wednesday 22nd July and I am sorry to report that I won’t be booking you for my school. I was deeply disappointed by the show, as were many of other people who watched. I’d like to share with you some of the reasons why I wouldn’t want my students to see it.

My concerns are primarily at the levels of structure and detail, rather than performance. Giving explainers a show of this standard is asking too much of them; as a result, their performances, in my opinion, lacked sincerity.

Specific concerns:

  1. Science wrong or inadequately explained: There were numerous factual errors in the script and in the animations you showed on screen.

  2. Disappointing or inappropriate demonstrations: The Tesla coil is an impressive piece of apparatus, but, on its own, is not sufficient to make for a truly exciting demo-based show. You missed the opportunity to show a number of classic static electricity demonstrations, which would have been more informative and entertaining than the approach you took. I was not alone in finding your use of the Faraday cage at the end of the show confusing. I’m not sure that it was even explained.

  3. The audience participation seemed largely gratuitous. It needn’t be. When done well, audience participation can help people to engage more deeply with the subject you’re presenting.

  4. The tone of the show was strange. It felt like it was trying too hard to be funny and that this was the show’s main goal.

You can probably respond to my criticisms by telling me that you’ve had positive feedback from thousands of children and their teachers. I’m sure you have — children love a break from their lessons and teachers love it when other people come in and take up lesson time. It’s easy to amuse a bunch of kids for an hour or so — I do it on a regular basis. But I also teach them stuff.

As I said at the start of this letter, I was disappointed by your show; “The Science Museum” is a recognised brand, one that teachers like myself associate with quality in science communication. I’m not a marketing expert, but I suspect that a show of the quality presented at the BIG event would, if seen widely, “damage your brand”. To be honest, I don’t care about this, but I do care about the standard of educational material that is presented to young people, so I hope you’ll take on board some of the comments above and make the appropriate changes to your show.

Yours,

Alom Shaha

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