This weekend, take a break from the news, if you can, and get out of the house. In a lot of the U.S., it’s still not a time of the year when the best way to get out of the house is just to go outdoors. Let me suggest, instead, that you visit the nearest natural history museum.
I don’t think I have to convince our readers of the scientific value of natural history collections — see here and here for some examples — but they’re also, of course, incredibly important local institutions of public science. Natural history museums remain highly trusted by the public, even as other institutions have lost standing, and they can provide both “big-picture” overviews of the diversity of life and windows into ongoing research. Some, like the Field Museum in Chicago, include “fishbowl” laboratories where museum scientists work in public view, and many others have exhibits drawn from the current work of affiliated researchers. Most curate exhibits out of collections of specimens assembled for research purposes; the Beatty Biodiversity Museum at UBC, my current institutional affiliation, takes that idea to its limit with collections cabinets that double as display cases.
So mosey over to the campus museum after work today, or spend a weekend afternoon touring a city landmark. Leave your phone in your pocket. Except maybe if you want to take pictures.