Further memorandum submitted by Professor
D H Saxon, University of Glasgow
You asked about my sentence: "schemes from
abroad have to be dumbed down for UK consumption." Here is
my personal experience in this area. As chairman of the PPARC
Public Understanding of Science Panel I was aware that there are
first-rate Astronomical exhibitions and public facilities such
as planetaria in the UK, but we wanted to provide something to
tell people about Particle Physics. The idea of a travelling exhibition
that could go to Science Centres and elsewhere was the result.
There is an existing exhibition run by CERN that travels all over
Europe and my first thought was to copy that and add some UK emphasis.
CERN have been very supportive throughout in this venture.
I had already hosted the previous version of
the CERN exhibition in Glasgow in 1997 and formed the view that
it is fine as a place to talk to schoolchildren and then let them
explore it, but that without an interpreter it was rather heavy
going for them. Visits by two UK Museums experts to see the present
CERN exhibition in Stockholm and Naples gave the same advice.
They would not have this in their Museum. It was too far above
the heads of the public.
The (British) co-ordinator of the present CERN
exhibition tells me that it is a big success in many countries
(Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, Italy and
France.) He cites amongst his evidence questionnaire returns from
visitors. It has been seen by 300,000 visitors and is in demand
for future venues. Most visitors stay 30-60 minutes.
We (PPARC) therefore commissioned a "prior
knowledge" survey of people entering museums in the UK to
assess levels of awareness and understanding of astronomy and
particle physics. (I can supply a copy if desired150 pages).
We looked at concepts like: electron, quark, the big bang, galaxy,
solar wind, star, particle accelerator. It is the outcome of this
study which has informed our work.
I attach for your information copies of the
exhibition script to the CERN exhibition and the present state
of work in progress on our UK derivative of it.
The UK exhibition is deliberately smaller to fit into more venues,
but the reduction in conceptual level should also be clear. This
document is confidential and is work in progress, so please treat
it as such.
The conclusions might be that the conceptual
prior knowledge in the UK is weaker, or that UK audiences are
less willing to put effort into understanding something new, or
possibly that they are less tolerant of presentations that simply
go over their heads. I don't know. There is some evidence (National
Foundation for Educational Research) that English children at
age 13 compare well with Western Europe in Science performance
but lag behind the best in Maths. One can speculate that we fall
behind in Science later due to early specialisation.
That is my own personal knowledge of this question.
It squares with other personal impressions such as the high level
of scientific and mathematical fluency of foreign exchange students
coming into my Department, but that is another story.
13 July 2000
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