Day 7: How museums are like football

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IMG_4031Today our cohort visited BioMuseo, a space that celebrates the history and diversity of Panama, from the creation of the isthmus and the Great American Biotic Interchange to homo erectus arriving millions of years later. It is a place of color and life, and to say it is amazing is an understatement. With this experience comes the daunting task of trying to document our day, so instead of putting into words an experience that simply cannot be contained, I’m going to talk about American football. Stick with me.

There are two types of football fans. The first is the person who doesn’t know a lot about the game. This person will walk into the stadium and be overwhelmed with how many people fit inside because it didn’t look all that big from the outside. As the game starts, this fan will cheer when the team completes a pass or runs the ball into the end zone. This fan will give high fives, do the wave, and when the team wins, this fan will walk out thinking it was the best four quarters of football.

But then you have the fan who knows the game intimately. This fan can list the stats of the best players, anticipates if the quarterback will run or pass, and becomes indignant when the ref throws the flag for interference when it was clearly just great defense. And when there are 10 seconds left on the clock, and the quarterback throws a perfect pass that is caught by the receiver in the end zone, who is falling out of bounds while keeping one foot on the ground, this fan will walk out knowing it was the best four quarters of football.

This is exactly what it’s like at BioMuseo. Most visitors walk in, and their senses are overwhelmed with the enormity of color and images being thrown at them in Panamarama. While many will not know the science, or understand the work that went into each exhibit, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone can still appreciate the beauty and learn new things without knowing the exact scientific names or geologic time periods.

But, the exhibits themselves are only half of the story. The side that most visitors don’t see, that the general public doesn’t understand, is that the beautiful displays represent years of tireless work by the scientific community to gather and analyze fossil data. Displaying the gorgeous white sculptures of vertebrates that traveled across the continents meant decades of work collecting and determining which animals existed at different places throughout geologic time. And this field work is not for the faint of heart; we all know this now. The elements are taxing, the breakthroughs are rare, and mostly it is a lot of tedious, labor intensive work to build the body of knowledge that museums rely on when creating their interpretations of the past. But it is worth it. It is because of their work that we have become the experienced fans. We are the ones who can now can discuss changes in paleoclimate, explain why, in Paul’s words, “GABI was a sad day for the marsupial,” and even develop ways to explain carbon dating and oxygen isotopes to sixth graders. And as we leave BioMuseo, we walk away knowing that this was four great quarters of science.

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