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Is Darwin dangerous? Museum, media, and public understanding of evolution

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  • Hanne Strager, Statens Naturhistoriske Museum, Denmark
  • Peter C. Kjærgaard, Denmark
What defines a topic as controversial? How does one measure its significance? Is it what commentators find controversial, what most people think, or what generates the most heated debates? There is general agreement that evolution has been a controversial topic since the mid-nineteenth century. The scientific debate was settled in the 1930s with the modern synthesis bringing genetics and the theory of evolution by natural selection together within a single theoretical framework. The public debates, however, continued; mainly because of religiously motivated anti-evolution activists. The conflict narrative of science and religion with evolution versus creation has been and still is a particular favourite with the press. Consequently the media is complicit in maintaining evolution as a controversial topic. This is the reality natural history museums have to deal with when communicating evolution. The question is: does it make any difference which strategies museums take and, if so, is it possible to measure the difference? Here we discuss the role natural history museums have on the public discourse of evolution by looking at the different approaches in 2009 to the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, comparing it to the media coverage of the events in the Scandinavian countries.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNordisk Museologi
Pages (from-to)98-115
Publication statusPublished - 2013

    Research areas

  • Evolution, Human origins, Natural history museums, Exhibitions, News media, Public understanding of science, Creationism, Charles Darwin

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