Are science centers becoming amusement parks?

From: Larry Klaes (
Date: Mon Feb 14 2000 - 15:58:29 MST

X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Pro Version 3.0 (32)
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 17:20:26 -0500
To: "William J. Larson" <>, <>,
        "astro list" <>,
From: CVA <>
Subject: Re: [ASTRO] Is this the Hayden???
Reply-To: CVA <>

At 08:26 PM 2/14/00 +0100, William J. Larson wrote:

>The old planetarium is gone, the new one is in place.
>Get over it and start using the new one to promote
>astronomy. I find it hard to believe that the new
>one is worse in all ways than the old one.

        Well, in many important ways it seems to be.

        According to an interview with a journalist this morning on NY Public
Radio (820 AM), Ken Kalfus, of the notable article in 'Dumbing Down -
Essays in the Strip Mining of American Culture' - actually took a tour with
the head of the new facility, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Kalfus was
singularly unimpressed, and actually depressed at what was clearly the loss
of 'feel' of inspiration about astronomy.

        There is, obviously, no argument regarding the fact that the old structure
is gone. You may not be aware that it was the first time in United States
history that a Federal Landmark was allowed to be destroyed. My cynical
side suspects many a payoff...but I have no evidence of that. It is true,
though, that the head of the Landmarks Commission at the time of the vote
to destroy the landmark turned out to be the owner of one of the project's
contractors.... Are we still seeing this project as inspired by a creamy
white desire to educate our children and their parents...?

        That loss is bad enough, and irreparable. All that can be done is lament.

        But here is the bigger point. If you value the public's accurate - and
genuinely inspired - understanding of astronomy, you would join with a
growing number of learned observers who are characterizing this sort of
Disney Brain Brothel as a dark sign of our diminished respect for ourselves
and our knowledge. It is entirely appropriate to be critical of the
decision makers who promote this sort of architectural and programmatic
prostitution as a jesture of worship to the lower levels of our so-called
civilized psyche...which, after all, is merely a fiscal mechanism. If
planetaria, by converting to entertainment centers, are becoming
unimportant as public institutions which have, in years past, been
representative of a reverence our culture held towards the general
education of the public at large, why reward them?

        You are quite correct that we cannot (except at blindingly miserable cost)
bring back the original building. But why not work - in the new building -
towards bringing back the inspiration, the awe and - heavens - the
understanding of the universe that the original Hayden, for so many years,
did so effortlessly. And, $210,000,000 ago.... One wonders what that sort
of budget might have done for schools in the area - hell, in the nation! Or
for the hiring of gifted communicators of astronomical information for
decades in the future. The grotesque reality is that the public good was
not on the list of motives in the construction of this ball in a glass box.

        Oh well. If the enterpize fails, and a theme is desired to best represent
the culture which built the 'new and improved(!)' structure, the
institution can always be converted to...the Bowling Hall of Fame.

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"Seconds by which a 'slingshot' maneuver
        performed by a NASA probe last
        August slowed the
                Earth's rotation: 0.0000000000001

        - Harper's Index,
                Harper's Magazine, December, 1999

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C l a u d i o V e l i z A r c h i t e c t

                                   Observing Stations.:
                                            40d. 43' 45"N 73d. 58' 39"W
                                          43d. 16' 23"N 72d. 42' 19"W

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