Thursday, February 14, 2008

The End of Dangerous Science?

This clip from WIRED Science laments the decline of "dangerous" science toys and experiences for kids. They visit the Chemical Heritage Foundation (with its own historical collection of chemistry sets!) to show how wimpy science toys have become. Case in point: a "Chemistry Set" with NO chemicals!

Perhaps toymakers fear of liability lawsuits has helped contribute to the 60% decrease in chemistry graduates since the 1960s.

Of course, science museum exhibits are often just as guilty of the "wimpiness" factor. Safety first (or second, or third) of course, but are there ways to let visitors get involved in experiences that are a little messy and/or risky? That is, more like real science?

Do you have any good (or bad) examples of messy/risky/dangerous science exhibits to share? Let us know in the Comments section!


  1. Hi Paul -

    Not a science exhibit example . . . but the same thing seems to have happened to playgrounds. Susan Solomon has argued in her excellent book, American Playgrounds, that in the US playgrounds have become so hyper-safe that children are not stimulated by them. And in response, they try even more outlandish things, making the playgrounds actually less safe. In contrast, she claims, playgrounds that have elements of danger end up being safer because children are encouraged to explore and take small risks. That stimulation keeps them ultimately out of trouble . . . and safer. It is an interesting theory, and judging from the dullness of most playgrounds I see, I think she may be on to something.

    So are we sacrificing exploration, risks, and discovery in order to keep our kids safe? And by doing so, are putting them at greater risk of harm? Interesting question.

  2. Excellent point about playgrounds, Susie.

    Unfortunately, the spectre of "liability" seems to hang over every interesting playground or exhibit project.

    Although there are always refreshing counter-examples like The City Museum in St. Louis. I remember getting a little freaked out (in a good way) while crawling through some of the tunnels in their exhibit galleries!