Dr. Adam Oliver Brown is a professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Ottawa with an interest in Science Communication.
Last week I went for a trip to the museum to reconnect with nature and was met by a raucous crowd of hundreds of party-goers sipping on cocktails and dancing to the loud beats of a DJ. This was the third of a now monthly installment of Nature Nocturne, a social evening at the Nature Museum bringing in a new crowd of visitors to reconnect with Nature while they dance the night away.
It was this last aspect of the program that was the topic of my scrutiny upon my visit Thursday night, during which I mostly stayed in an upstairs area whose installation had the theme of ‘Birds’. I enjoyed a few drinks, danced a bit to the music, oggled a video projection mash-up of local avi-fauna and abstract shapes, all while observing the dancing crowd and the clusters of loudly chatting groups of friends… realizing only too late that this is what uncool older types like myself have a habit of doing at parties. However, I kept asking myself, are we getting closer to nature at the moment? It was unfortunately too loud for me to ask that question to anyone else.
I decided to explore a few more of the exhibits on my way out and really enjoyed the fossils depicting Archaeopteryx, a feathered bird-like dinosaur, as well as the transitional reconstructions of the evolution of whales from terrestrial mammals. But was I alone in this learning experience at the museum? Happily, there was a constant stream of traffic through these exhibit halls and in some cases party-goers would exclaim aloud when their minds had been blown by a fact of natural history that they had just learned…. But mostly, these side rooms to the main attraction were used as chill zones and areas where gaggles of teenage girls could huddle and frantically consult the world according to their smartphones.
Whether or not these social events constitute a scientific learning experience and a chance to reconnect to nature for most of its revelers is still up for debate, but to address the issue is of absolute importance. We are now several generations into a society that has had little meaningful experience in terms of contact with nature. What for me were the bugs, the forest and the creeks of my youth’s playtime, have long since been replaced by video games, popular media, texting and Facebook in the lives of today’s youth. As scientists we have a duty and an opportunity to reach out to society and help to inspire people with awe and respect for nature, the environment and the universe. However, the traditional scientist’s delivery of facts and figures are often met with tedium or miscomprehension and another method is now needed to bring science and nature back to the people. I am convinced that one of the important components in this process will be through the delivery of science and nature content in arts and entertainment.
So if everyone had a good time dancing and partying at Nature Nocturne last Thursday and just a few of us got something extra in terms of a more meaningful understanding and connection to nature, then I would consider it a successful event.