Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Drawing Board: Secular House Of Science

It was SurferJesus who suggested to me that buildings used as churches now would be better used as neighborhood science centers. I immediately thought it a fantastic idea, and the idea keeps coming back to me, although I really have no idea how it could or would be brought about. Where to start?

Well, perhaps I'll start by trying to list what might need to be done and what activities might be arranged. Surely as time goes by some ideas will seem better and others unworkable.

Offhand, some basic needs are venue, funding, staffing, visitors and activities. The following is just some very preliminary thoughts that are subject to much extension, revision and refinement.


The original idea was science centers instead of churches, but unless and until the centers as an institution are established I expect temporary venues such as meeting rooms, community centers (YMCA, municipal center, hotels), parks and, yes, churches. (I expect Unitarian churches to be universally receptive.) I am having flashbacks to Cub Scouts when I was a kid. We did activities in the Den Mothers' living rooms, and occasionally there were multi-troop gatherings at schools or neighborhood community centers (I lived in a cool neighborhood as a kid). Come to think of it, the Scout orginaztion model may be one to study and emulate, except for the parts about requiring a belief in (a) god and prohibiting homosexuality. (You might be surprised, but the World Organization of the Scout Movement--of which Boy Scouts of America is a member--doesn't specify a particular god, just the requirement of a belief in a god.)

Afterthought: did I really leave out schools? Private, public, primary, secondary, postsecondary: it's all good.


I was going to leave this mostly blank as I figure it's way too early to consider funding, but the Cub Scout memories are on my mind now. I think parents of the Cub Scouts and/or the Den Mothers paid for supplies for the crafts we did, and the BSA as a whole provides funding for some events. Again, it is a model to study for funding.

Other thoughts were perhaps sponsorships by science supply retailers or manufacturers, or perhaps even an educational grant from a government entity or university board of regents.


At first--and for a long time--probably all volunteer. Again, the Scouts model is worth investigating as it can handle parents and kids joining and leaving the troop without disbanding the whole group.


Children certainly. But I can see adults participating, too. Come to think of it, I haven't done a simple science experiment in years but have some neat memories of physics and chemistry labs that can safely be duplicated. And the original vision for me included amateur adult scientists experimenting, reaffirming results and communicating between science houses and nationwide.

While the idea was spawned from resentment of organized religion there is no need to exclude the faithful from learning science, and there is no need for the debunking of religion or pseudoscience to be a core goal or even a supplementary goal to the organization. You can believe what you want, but the purpose of the activities is to learn natural laws via observable and measurable results of controlled experiments.


Just a brain dump:
Precipitate chemistry
polymers (plastic strings from liquids)
sugar crystals
"invisible ink"
catapults/trebuchets (physics, simple machines, trigonometry)
mousetrap-powered cars (simple machines, physics)
chemistry as applied in household cooking and cleaning
astronomy - observed and modeled -- a planetarium is always cool
analog circuits - amplifiers, switches, lights, batteries motors, etc
digital circuits - logic gates and simple applications thereof
model boat building/racing (fluid dynamics and the hull shapes)
airfoils (model plane wings, kites)
perception experiments - demonstrations of the fallibility of witnesses
social behavior - experiments on peer pressure and group think
biology - plant growing, hydroponics/aeroponics

Well, there's a start. In typing I added and solidified a few concepts that weren't there in my head, and stumbling on the Scouting Movement as a model just happened as I was typing, and although the idea is very new it seems like a great way to start.

Some further thoughts: I am imagining something akin to a library or book store where people come to browse for all sorts of topics, but there are organized story readings and authors speaking or signing books. I mean there may be an activity planned, but that shouldn't preclude somebody or a small group working on a different project in the same activity center, and it would be great to have guest speakers from other locales or institutional science centers. And ideally the center would be there and available all the time for a casual drop-in to toy with digital circuitry, wind-test an airfoil model or fluid-test a hull model or what not. At least I'm imagining that for the full-blown Science House. Perhaps as in the Den / Cub Scout model there can be distributed activity groups but a central hall to house labs and host larger meetups.

1 comment:

praiseNull said...

Yes, I am replying to my own post. I've already edited it to add things three or four times; I'll start replying instead.

I wonder if there is a meatspace analog to the SETI or protein-folding programs that you can install as screen savers on your computers to use your home PC to lend computational power to an immense distributed computing network to identify unnatural radio sources or find medically useful protein structures, respectively. Perhaps there is a series of experiments too large to be handled by an institutional lab but are simple enough to be done in a distributed manner among amateur scientists.

Or maybe not.

But it would be nifty to discover such a project and niftier still to have a distributed amateur science lab network capable of running such experiments.