By Radha Krueger
Yes, #museumselfieday is a real thing. And it’s a great way for museums to show they have a fun side. Some art museums could really use a day to let their hair down and giggle over their exposed bits and pieces for once.
Here at natural history museums, the reality is that we’re always having fun (in between doing serious science of course). This is just an excuse to admit we take goofy pictures already. Anyone who’s spent a rough day in the field has learned to laugh at themselves. So for one day out of the year we get to post fun selfies on social media and call it work 🙂
Here’s a selection of selfies from around the Florida Museum yesterday:
By Radha Krueger
For well over a year, Florida Museum scientists and ichthyologists have been working on a new book—a guide to the freshwater fishes of Florida. It might never outsell The DaVinci Code and be made into a blockbuster movie, but it is going to be remarkable.
You see, most scientific fish photos are of dead specimens, and there’s a vast difference between living and dead fish. Not just for the fish themselves.
So our intrepid team has been paddling and wading through the many waterways of Florida to catch and photograph live fish. The pictures are significantly different than previous fish guides, even though the system of photographing them is challenging. You can read more about this elsewhere though.
My reason for bringing this up isn’t just that we’ve improved our methods for cataloging and conveying scientific information. Times have changed, and our old Florida fishes guide book is out of date. It’s actually the ‘Guide to Reptiles, Amphibians and Fresh-water Fishes of Florida’ (by Archie Carr and Coleman Goin. University of Florida Press, 1955). Yes, go back and read that—1955.
So besides the fact that the old book is mostly text with a few illustrations and photos, and we know much more about the fishes in the state, and we now have a new range of non-native species to deal with—the whole world has change a LOT since 1955. Especially the scientific world. And women in the scientific world.
This is an excerpt from the book’s preface to remind you how far we have come in the scientific community:
“Of all of our debts, our greatest one we owe is to Olive Brown Goin. There is no real justice in her exclusion from co-authorship, unless it be the already overlong citation our title will impose on bibliographers of the future. Mrs. Goin has typed every part of the manuscript through at least two stages of development, copying at times from atrocious hand script, and has had a hand in nearly every phase of the assembling and tending of the manuscript through the press. Mrs. Carr has been helpful too, but her services have been pretty much what you expect of a wife; indexing, testing keys, making coffee—things like that. We are grateful for them both, but we really must apologize to Mrs. Goin for leaving her name off the title page.”
I’m sure Archie and Coleman deeply appreciated the many hours of help their wives gave towards their work. But this was a different world. Women struggled for the right to be considered scientists. Especially here in the Southern US. Can you imagine Olive’s life if she was starting out a career today? It’s not all sunshine and rainbows yet, but you can believe her name would be right there on the books and papers with her peers.
Not to harp on life in the ‘50s scientific community. But it IS a different world now. Different for women and fishes. So it’s about time for a new book.
By Radha Krueger
Every Kid is a Scientist
For my first few school-age years, my mom tried homeschooling us kids. Mostly because we moved so much. It was less disruptive, I suppose. I think it was also that we were hippies.
I remember the day this whole reading thing clicked. Everything about it. We had a big, beat-up hardbound copy of “Let’s Read” and after many days and weeks of letters and sounding it out and staring at squiggles, my brain jumped on the squiggles being the shapes of words.
Science was another thing entirely. We usually lived in the country, so we learned by being turned out into the woods and hills and ravines, and being told to come home before full sun down. Our parents, and the parents of friends, and neighbors took us all on nature walks (hippies), and talked about the things we saw. Scrub pines and mushrooms and deer tracks and gopher tortoise holes. The life cycle of maggots, why there were more baby bunnies in the spring, and how there could be seashells in the rocks we found. Most importantly, how everything worked together. The very observable essence of biodiversity, before that was ever a word I knew.
Observational science, the things you can see from looking at the natural world, has inspired fledgling scientists from day one. But the bigger stuff takes some creative explaining. Like why the sun crosses the sky the same way every day, or why the moon goes from a big fat marble to a silver eyelash.
For this my mom did what parents and teachers have been doing for decades… live demonstrations on scaled-down objects on hand. On this day she found an orange and a flashlight, and we closed ourselves into the silent darkness of our linen cupboard. She showed me how the ‘earth’ spun, and how the light only illuminated one part of our orange world at a time. She popped the plastic cuff off the end of the flashlight and showed how our bumpy orange earth spun in a circle every year around the sun, which definitely wasn’t the naked bulb of one of Dad’s work flashlights that he would be mad if we broke.
I asked about the moon and she ran out of hands. I ended up holding the sun while the moon, a balding tennis ball, began to turn around the earth, which awkwardly turned around the sun. An eclipse happened. And then the moon fell out of the solar system and the sun burned my forehead as we shuffled around to retrieve our heavenly sphere.
I ended up with a red thumbprint sized burn on my face, and the flashlight never quite popped back together again. The earth went back to being citrus, and the moon went back into the toy box. But just for a little while my mom and I were astronauts, watching the earth and the moon dance in limitless nothingness of outer space.
By Radha Krueger
Like most kids growing up in our area, I was brought here to the Florida Museum repeatedly, and often subject to science and natural history. Sadly, I continued to believe I would grow up to be a mermaid.
When that career failed to pan out, I got a small college degree (very, very tiny degree) and leaped out into the real world like a glorious trout attempting to cross country ski. It was clearly not smooth sailing, but I persevered and eventually fell into this thing called the internet that swooped up everything in its path in the mid ‘90s.
After what feels like 100 years rambling, I stumbled upon a job here at the Museum. I can’t tell you how thunderously my heart was beating with excitement to walk up to this old building again. Everything that was that awkward little girl with extra knees and messy hair… okay, still that awkward girl… but it all comes back to me when I walk in to work every day.
Including that childlike sense of wonder and awe. The monstrous awareness of how huge the known universe is, and how amazingly everything seems to fit together down to the most infinitely tiny particle. Like the most complicated cuckoo clock ever conceived of by the most insane Swiss engineer.
Now part of my job is to walk around this building and poke my head into the collections and ask how things work and why things are the way they are. I’m sure it’s bound to be tiresome to our scientists and researchers, who have to stop and answer silly questions whenever I wander in.
Which is why the Science Penguin is my spirit animal. Every time I step into a collection or meet with one of our scientists, I feel like this little goofball, flapping its happy flippers, wanting to science.