Science Centre World Congress declaration needs strong action verbs!

To declare is a strong action in itself. You declare war, love, independence, citizenship….so why water down such a powerful sentiment with words like “encourage, support, promote and strive……” Check out the 6th Science Centre World Congress (6SCWC) Cape Town Declaration.

The congress was held in Cape Town from the 4th to 8th Sept, 2011. I was there eager to furiously take notes, network like crazy, provoke arguments in sessions, devour not just lunch and refreshments but academic content – why? – because the theme was so close to my heart (and my PhD topic) “Science across cultures”.

But sadly I left disappointed, my academic appetite unsatiated but my body 3kgs heavier and exhausted from great food and fantastic entertainment during the social program. Was I wrong in thinking that the conference would highlight, showcase, feature what science centres around the world do to promote the harmony between scientific, cultural and or Indigenous knowledges through their exhibitions, outreach, ethical standards, stories, evaluations etc… Two science centres out of all the (number undisclosed) science centres at the conference spoke to the topic. Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) and Imiloa. You can read their presentations here (OMSI) and here (Imiloa).

It was clear to me that science and culture are dichotomous. Almost like science belongs in science centres and culture in museums. And it was clear from some delegates that should remain the status quo….but refusing to recognise cultural or Indigenous knowledge in scientific circles denigrates and belittles ancient wisdoms without which we would not be here today or even tomorrow! I could rabbit on about this for days but I shall leave those arguments for my PhD thesis and return to the conference declaration.

Prior to the conference, there were workshops. These workshops were aimed at supporting the development of science centres particularly in Africa. Of the 2,500 or so science centres around the world according to Jean-Pierre Ezin, Commissioner of Human Resources, Science and Technology in the African Union, only 32 are in Africa most of those in South Africa.

Prof. Ezin spoke strongly about the importance of “the popularization and public understanding of science” through a broad range of activities that include the creation of science centres. Such efforts, he concluded, “would benefit both science and society.”

This leads me to question the strength of the statement in the declaration

“Encourage the establishment of science centres and museums in parts of the world where they are lacking.”

Encourage is a weak verb, it can be interpreted in any form or fashion. The science centre networks that endorsed the document may not have the authority or mandate to enforce any action but in what way can I use this hollow statement to further our plans in Malawi to set up a science centre?