78. How Museums Present Public Health with Raven Forest Fruscalzo
Welcome to museum archipelago. I'm in Elsner. Museum archipelago guides you through the rocky landscape of museums each episode. He's never longer than fifteen minutes. So let's get started a few months ago before reports of a new form of crony virus now known as Cova Nineteen started appearing in the news. I visited an exhibit called outbreak epidemics in a connected world at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington. Dc The exhibit laid out the coordinated. Detective work that public health workers and many other professionals do as identify and respond to infectious diseases. Such as HIV AIDS Ebola virus and influenza. There was even the touch screen game. That invited me the work cooperatively with other visitors to contain an outbreak before it spreads further. So the funny thing about public health and a lot of the scientists that contribute to the to the knowledge that public health workers use. Is that if you're doing everything right. Nobody realizes that you're doing it right. It's kind of the opposite of a glamorous job this is raven forced who scelzo a professional science communicator and writer who works as a content developer and production assistant at the Field Museum in Chicago and hosts the excellent science podcast tiny vampires. Hello my name is Raven Forestry Scelzo I am the host of tiny vampires podcast and my day job is at the field museum here in Chicago so public health is a little bit of a complicated thing because there are a lot of people who do public health that maybe people don't consider them to be public. Health workers forced through scelzo lays out three broad groups of people working in Public Health. Scientists public health workers and clinicians the scientists generate new knowledge. The public health workers apply that knowledge by creating plans to prevent disease and increase access to treatment and clinicians carry out those plans by directly treating people as a science communicator. I think one of the issues between scientists or health workers and the public. Is this thing that we say. Insights communication called the information deficit hypothesis. Which is basically. We're assuming that people don't know things and if only we could just give them the information then they would know and understand using that model which is basically how most science has been communicated in the past. It causes a lack of trust because it's kind of this assumption that on the scientists standpoint that other people are ignorant and we decide what information they need that that has created this massive rift this massive trust issue because the public doesn't trust the scientists because the scientists are assuming that they're ignorant and the scientists are not trusting the public to understand with healthcare in particular. There's there's a lot of emotions. People are afraid of getting sick and they also have a lot of their own personal experiences that they're trying to incorporate into what public health officials are telling them and this is where museums come in so museums. Which I think is something that you've talked to a lot on your show about is that they have a lot of trust. Their credibility is really high. There's a lot of information there about disease and different public health aspects. That are kind of all over the place for example burning burning tick with a match. So when you when you have an exhibit about why it's important to remove take with forceps tweezers instead of burning it with a match if public health worker tells them that they might be skeptical about it. This is the way that my family has been doing it for years and years whereas with a museum they have that credibility and they have that ability to show in more detail in in in a lot of different ways. Why that's important. People will take that information and internalize it more than with with an organization that they might not trust as much. One of the advantages of presenting. Public Health within the museum is simply the context. A lot of museums are starting to do exhibits that not only incorporate what we know but also how we learned what we know and that really increases people's trust in that information because if. I just tell you a fact you might be skeptical. You should be skeptical and at WANNA look into that deeper but if I tell you fact and then explain to you how we got that information your your ability to trust that information vastly increases. I think a lot of exhibitions and a lot of museums have started to put a priority on that and I think that's really important because you know museums in the past have done and said some really terrible things and we're constantly trying to acknowledge and move past that or at least at least the field museum is And I think one of the ways of accounting for that is telling people is starting to tell people how they know what they know because if that was the philosophy of museums back when they were presenting a lot of racist information they would not have been able to support it with scientific information or scientific research. Because it's not there. You know the new way of doing things is you can't just say things you have to back it up and and I think that is a really really important way of accounting for the past. There are a number of museums that present public health topics either as outreach or by focusing entirely on the subject of public health there are actually a few museums. That that's all they do There's a public health museum in Massachusetts. And then the CDC actually has a museum of their own museums. Really have the ability to make a large impact when they do public health sorts of exhibits or incorporate public health into their existing exhibits so a good example of that is at the field museum. Part of our ancient America's exhibit is about the smallpox transfer from Europe to the Americas and how that impacted the native people of South and Central America. So that's not what the exhibit was about but it is incorporated into it so another great example is the northwest African American Museum in Washington. They did a really cool exhibit. That was about five diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect the African American community and there are a lot of art museums around the country. Who HAVE ART therapy programs? That aid people who are being treated for Mental Illness. So there there are a lot of different museums that are starting to think about what their role is when it comes to the health of their community. The outbreak exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History Opens with of planes taking off and landing at various airports around the world underscoring one of its main points that the world is connected as I was walking through the exhibit and I can't stress enough how abstract the threat of viruses seemed to me at the time I was suddenly aware of walking through the gallery with a crowd of people reading about infectious diseases on the graphic panels. I was less eager than usual to use the touchscreen exhibits with my bare hands. It it really is a testament to the to the power of the exhibit when you when you kind of your pulled out of the exhibit and then realize that what it's about is something that you're currently Participating in right. I think that's where that's where museums really fit in. Because they have so much experience in helping people to understand complex ideas and using lots of different types of media to make that happen. We're broadcasting during this pandemic the end of March twenty twenty almost all of the themes presented in the outbreak exhibit. Seem relevant today. The diseases aren't quote exotic in other words. They don't all arrive from distant places that the connected world has advantages even during a pandemic but as forced scelzo points out the fact that the National Museum of Natural History is physically closed because of Cova nineteen and so is the field museum. And every other museum we've ever featured on the show is telling in itself so museums closing. I think is a really important statement that they're making that they trusted the scientific information that is being put out there There's a lot of scientists who work at museums but that does create a gap museums are where people get a lot of their scientific information and like US especially adults and once once you're out of school they're there really isn't as much access to scientific information a lot of it's behind pay walls so museums are institutions that the public is relying on cove nineteen as really changed. My View on how important digital media is to how the community how how the museum is interacting with the public on her podcast. Tiny vampires forced through scelzo avoids the assumptions of the Info deficit hypothesis as she communicates science to her listeners. Each episode is instead guided by questions sent in by listeners about insects that transmit disease and the scientists who are fighting them and like a good museum exhibit. The question is answered with background information and the story of how scientists were able to shine light on that particular mystery. People are far more intelligent and far more understanding than the scientist public. Health workers of the past gave them credit for this whole concept of Talk to people like their fifth graders. I is exceedingly condescending. Like we're we're we're all in this together regardless of our educational background or anything. So yeah it's it's definitely a were all figuring this out and just being good stewards of the information and having really good communication.