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In NC, the Science Show Doesn’t Go On

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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You remember sea-level rise, and North Carolina. I won’t bore you — the legislature was against even measuring it, and a lot of people noticed. In the end, the legislature passed a law just making it illegal for the state to base its plans on modern climate science. And we here in North Carolina were heartbroken but on we go. Against a background of madness we have our bright spots — like the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, one of the finest science museums in the nation, which last year was the state’s most visited cultural attraction, showing that it’s the legislature, not the citizenry, that has gone mad in North Carolina. The museum even was nominated for the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, which is what happens to a museum when it does a really, really great job. I myself serve on the board of the Friends of the Museum. That’s how much I like it.

But this is a post about North Carolina and science, so cue the “uh-oh.” In this case, the uh-oh comes from no less than the director of the Museum, Emlyn Koster. It seems the NC Coastal Federation — they’re the people who brought the whole anti-science sea-level rise madness to light in the first place — wanted to bring to the Museum’s popular Thursday evening Science Cafe series the documentary Shored Up, which addresses exactly the issues that rising sea levels … raise. What happens to coastal communities? What are good development practices, and what are bad ones?

Ironically, before last summer’s eruption of insanity, director Ben Kalina was using North Carolina’s forward-thinking mostly laissez-faire approach to coastal development (yes, it’s changing now, but for decades North Carolina has recognized that by and large, you have to let Mother Nature do with her coastal islands as she will) as the sort of Gallant to the Goofus of the groins and hardened shoreline approach favored by more northern states like New Jersey. Not the North Carolina doesn’t do its share of sand-pumping and rebuilding of roads where the sea plainly no longer wants them. But North Carolina’s Outer Banks are the miraculous natural playground they are because they’re natural.

Then came the legislature, and the rules against science, and all the rest. So you’d think, then, that a film addressing these issues would be right in the wheelhouse of the Museum’s Science Cafe series, wouldn’t you? The cafes, the evening events of the Museum’s “Science Thursdays,”  according to the Museum’s website, are supposed to “include presentations from scientists, beginner science classes, special programming, live music and much more!” This sounds exactly like “much more!” to me, but I’m not a museum director.

Emlyn Koster is, and he decided that the museum should not show the documentary. You get the usual contradictory mishmash of explanation if you dig — the museum space isn’t big enough, the documentary doesn’t fit with the museum’s mission, the museum doesn’t profit by focusing on “an hour-long film in a theater” and on and on — most of this according to emails obtained by the Independent in Durham, NC. And obviously, of course, the Museum shows movies all day long in its special theater. Here’s the response from the Shored Up team.

One can argue for hours about the mission of a museum (getting the science out to the people) and whether a specific director’s administration has the right to decide what goes on in its special events (of course it does). I suppose Koster must have his reasons for deciding against showing the documentary, but if nothing else it shows the kind of tin ear people trying to avoid controversy always seem to have. North Carolinians want to see the documentary, and they will. But now they have to wonder whether the anti-science crusaders have gone beyond the legislature, beyond even the director of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla, who believes oil may be a renewable resource. Now they have to wonder about the director of their justly renowned science museum.

By the way — the Nature Research Center, the new part of the museum opened to great and deserved fanfare in 2012 has lost its director. Meg Lowman has just resigned. A few months ago, Koster reassigned her, removing her supervision of the team of scientists she had assembled. Nobody is saying her departure is related to her reassignment. One thing though. If you’re looking for more information?

Don’t wait for the movie.

 

Scott Huler About the Author: A writer who commonly explores science, culture, and the relationship between the two. Follow on Twitter @huler.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. FilmTimelapse 1:32 pm 11/21/2013

    I live in North Carolina, but it’s still hard for me to understand what you’re really getting at here. Too much snark, not enough real information.

    If you found this article confusing, I recommend this much clearer and news-oriented article from INDYweek.

    http://www.indyweek.com/triangulator/archives/2013/11/15/nc-museum-of-natural-sciences-director-puts-kibosh-on-documentary-about-sea-level-rise

    Link to this
  2. 2. bucketofsquid 5:27 pm 11/22/2013

    It sounds to me like the Feds need to step in and directly tell the developers and politicians that if anyone dies due to their greed, a nice bloody purge will be conducted against the greed mongers. Then they should be hit with a nice 90% income tax to fund sand pumping and emergency response systems for evacuation.

    Link to this

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