Out of the Lab and into the Fire; February 1995; Scientific American Magazine; by Nemecek; 2 Page(s)
Downstairs from the First Ladies' inaugural gowns and not too far from the television-set chairs of Edith and Archie Bunker in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D. C., sprawls the show "Science in American Life." The exhibit, which opened last April, as well as an upcoming one, "The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II," which debuts in May at the National Air and Space Museum, has provoked heated debate about the way science and technology are portrayed. Behind this contentious argument lies a larger issue: whether scientists are no longer perceived by the public as revered truthseekers but as flawed humans whose theories and technology simply reflect contemporary cultural concerns.
Some observers claim that the exhibits sacrifice scientific and historical accuracy to concentrate on social issues. The current show, for instance, looks at the environmental movement and discrimination against women and minorities within the scientific community. Two life-size talking mannequins re-create researchers arguing over who deserves credit for discovering saccharine. And the area devoted to the present day depicts both "spectacular advances in space exploration, electronics and medicine" and disasters such as Three Mile Island and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Such events have, according to the exhibit's literature, encouraged people to question all authority, scientific or otherwise.