Ian Russell - Interactive Science Ltd

http://www.interactives.co.uk/hearts_homoho.htm

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Hands-on, minds-on, HEARTS-on
Presented by Ian Russell at the Irish Science Centres Association Network meeting, 26th September 1997

I totally agree with Jorge Wagensberg, who spoke before me and mentioned the importance of communicating "the emotion" of a scientific concept. I also agree with him that science communicators cannot hope to convey "the emotion" unless they have felt it themselves. As a young boy, my heart was captured in the very early 1960's by a television series featuring a couple of Austrian adventurers, called Hans and Lottie Hass. Before the days of the aqualung they were using primitive oxygen re-breathing equipment to explore and film a new world under the sea. The elderly Hans Hass now lives in Vienna, and I happened to see him interviewed on TV recently. I was started by the intensity of the emotional reaction I experienced. I am certain that my childhood decision to become a marine biologist was largely inspired by that man, his films and his charmingly accented voice-overs. I ended up with a degree in marine zoology and a lifelong passion for pointing out the wonders of nature to people, firstly in public aquariums, then for the past twelve years in

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18/6/2007 12:58

Ian Russell - Interactive Science Ltd

http://www.interactives.co.uk/hearts_homoho.htm

science centres. Emotions are very important, and far too often overlooked in the rush to inform and educate people. "Hands-on" is a good thing, everybody agrees about that now. I think it was Richard Gregory who pointed out, about ten years ago, that we mustn't forget the importance of "Minds-on" in our new-found infatuation with interactive exhibits. Of course he was right: what people do is important, but so is what they think. Now, I'm suggesting that what people at the receiving end of science communication feel is at least as important as what they think or do. We are body, mind and spirit. For example, the following words appear on the home page of my Internet web site and in all my email signatures. "Give people facts and you feed their minds for an hour. "Give them curiosity and they feed their own minds for a lifetime." It is not just playing with words. My point is that putting this into practice could achieve a great deal more, yet genuinely cost a great deal less. Also, this is a useful tool for checking that any science communication initiative is well balanced. All three aspects need to be present: hands-on, minds-on and hearts-on. We do need all three and it is a serious error to think that any of them is "better" than the others. This mistake has been the root cause of some damaging arguments among science communicators. For example . . .

Entertain or educate

This is just one of many needlessly polarised debates. Neither of them is the right answer!

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18/6/2007 12:58

Ian Russell - Interactive Science Ltd

http://www.interactives.co.uk/hearts_homoho.htm

On its own in this context, each is a ridiculously inappropriate caricature. Good science centres are a new kind of medium, able to operate at a level where good entertainment and good education (combined with good hands-on!) are actually one and the same thing. And I think it is an insult to trivialise this breakthrough with that dreadful "edutainment" word.

Science as Culture or Science as Career

What is our definition of science? Is it simply what professional scientists do? Are we just helping a profession with its recruitment and public relations? Or helping industry? What about enriching people's lives as well? What about showing people how they can enjoy noticing beautiful rainbows in every oily roadside gutter?

Dummed-down Science or Proper Science

The misconceived accusation that science centres trade in trivialised, "dummed-down" science instead of "proper" science is potentially very serious indeed. The common cry is, "Yes, but what are they LEARNING?" Damagingly misguided criticism can come from influential

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Ian Russell - Interactive Science Ltd

http://www.interactives.co.uk/hearts_homoho.htm

opinion-formers. The damage is done when governments, grant-awarding bodies and industrial sponsors then fail to understand the potential value of informal science communication initiatives. These people quite rightly seek performance indicators. But unfortunately minds-on gains are far easier to observe and quantify than HEARTS-on gains. So they often ignore awakened curiosity, wanting to become a scientist, increased classroom motivation, intellectual self-confidence, new interest in natural phenomena, reading more about science, watching more TV documentaries about science... ...all the priceless, achievable goals which school curriculum documents also ignore, but which science centres are phenomenally successful in promoting.

Treat or Treatment

Public Understanding of Science clearly suggests a deficit to be remedied. So does the American equivalent, Scientific Literacy. Scientific Culture is a more neutral term, often used in Europe. The temptation when applying a remedy is to "sugar the pill". When people sense that they are being offered a sugared pill (and people are sensitive to this), then they conclude that something less palatable has been covered over. Also, a feature of our modern culture is a ready dependence on pills, injections and other "fixes", even when the ability to enjoy a delicious, wholesome diet is often all we need. But our diet depends on our attitudes, so we are talking about feelings again. In terms of scientific culture the public's "diet" represents things like reading, television, museum and science centre visits, conversation, hobbies, and so on.

People or Programmes

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18/6/2007 12:58

Ian Russell - Interactive Science Ltd

http://www.interactives.co.uk/hearts_homoho.htm

To consider feelings, you have to consider people. People are a vital part of all the world's best science centres. Science centres with a "heart" deal sensitively with their staff, who in turn pass this on to visitors. "Heartless" science centres rely more on their programmes and formal events. Science centres with "personality" were produced by individual, practical, free-thinking enthusiasts who knew their job and were allowed to express their emotions. A science centre which lacks personality was probably ruled by a well-meaning committee at the design stage! Hands-on, Minds-on, HEARTS-on

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