“Science informs all the choices we make—what to eat, what time to wake up each day, how we will commute to work—whether we realize it or not.”
With that quote, Ramu Damodaran, deputy director for partnerships and public engagement for the United Nations’ Outreach Division, opened his ASTC 2013 keynote presentation on Sunday, October 20. He explained that in its 70-year history, not only has the UN changed from an organization representing 51 member states at its founding to an organization representing the more than 8 billion people on the planet, but it has also transitioned from one of globalization to one of “peoplization.”
Damodaran suggested that ASTC’s acronym should stand for:
“Everything you [science centers] do sparks curiosity,” he explained. “This curiosity can be taken back by your visitors to change the world around us.”
That curiosity is necessary given the state the world is in. Water being diverted to agriculture is not being used for drinking water. Twelve million hectares of land are being degraded every year (equaling 50 percent of the United Kingdom’s land area). A child who doesn’t get adequate nutrition immediately after birth is likely to be stunted. Every 90 seconds, a woman somewhere in the world dies of complications related to pregnancy or childbirth. One-third of children can’t read, write, or do basic arithmetic after seven years in school.
We need scientific, sustainable solutions to these problems. Damodaran pointed to the Toronto Declaration, which emanated from the 2008 Science Centre World Congress, as it established the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as something science centers can work to support, a way science centers can make a difference.
Damodaran encouraged science centers to link to the UN and the people who believe in it. He suggested that they display UN and ASTC stickers on their premises in order to let visitors know they are part of an international community. He also raised the possibility of designating 2019 as the International Year of Science Centers, in order to better translate the work of science centers beyond their communities.
The importance of linking sustainability and science was stressed repeatedly. In fact, Damodaran coined another acronym to reflect this:
In closing, Damodaran answered to a question from the audience asking if there is a way to make the facts impact people with strong beliefs. The audience member cited the example of a nine-year-old boy who shook his finger at a science center employee who gave a presentation about dinosaurs, and said: “You’re teaching evil—evil-ution!”)
Damodaran’s response: “You can’t win them all. There is an Indian proverb which says, ‘the only person you can’t wake up is the person who is pretending to be asleep.’”