Heading towards the future

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

When we started this blog back in March 2008, we knew we’d have a lot to talk about. We’re museum geeks, so that means we’re interested in all kinds of stuff (some of them, admittedly, a little strange). We work at a museum that combines history, culture, and science, so that gives us pretty unlimited horizons too. And the world is just full of amazingly fascinating things. It’s been a blast writing about all this stuff and you have been a wonderful, and responsive, audience.

We’ve had this other little thing going on too, namely, building an all-new museum. What was just a gleam in our eyes a few years ago has grown into a huge project that is moving ahead at warp speed. We thought it would never get here, and now it’s almost upon us! Construction for the new building will be finished in three scant months; we’re working with our exhibit fabrication team to turn the wonderful designs from Gyroscope, Inc. (our exhibit master planning company) into reality; and we’re really starting to cast our minds ahead to the opening of this grand new adventure.

As exciting (and exhausting!) as this all is, it also means that we’re beginning to have to pull back on some of what we’re doing now. Running a museum while building a new one has been a unique experience of juggling and multitasking, for sure. We are planning to close our current institution at the end of this year so we can fully prepare to open the new museum in the summer of 2012.

I’m finally getting to the point, which is that for now, we are going to put this blog to bed a bit. We’re not going to take it down, but we won’t be updating it as regularly. We do plan to provide updates on the new museum project and we may squeeze in some other posts along the way, too. And when we’re open at the new museum, look for us again — we won’t be able to contain ourselves for long. The world is just too full of amazingly fascinating things.

Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center staff at the construction site, November 2010

My huge thanks to all the staff who contributed to this blog: Katie Bowell, Lesley Drayton, Linda Moore, Jason Wolvington, Treloar Bower, Toby Swaford, Tiffani Righero, Leigh Westphal, Ashley Houston, Pat Walker, Brent Carmack, Annette Geiselman, Beth Higgins, Cory Gundlach, Amy Scott, and Jayne Hansen. You all rock!

Evolution and Miss USA

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Interpretation

Alright, I admit it – I watched the Miss USA pageant last Sunday. What can I say? I’m a sucker for sparkling evening gowns and a giant tiara. While I normally watch the program for the glitter and glitz, I was surprised and intrigued by one of the questions asked in the pre-competition interviews: Should evolution be taught in schools?

Neutrality is the name of the beauty pageant game on controversial issues, and that’s how most contestants answered. However, their neutral responses were so full of mis-information that the women came across sounding ill-informed with respect to evolution and the alternatives they were using as comparison.

For example, take Angelina Kayyalaynen, Miss Washington’s, answer:

[...]Facts should be stated and we should know the facts as to how the world evolves because it does. But as far as when it comes to little theories and what not, you should probably want to stay away from those. I believe in the truth and the truth only, not somebody’s, you know, imagination or hope of what not so I think facts not theories should be taught.

There’s also Kia Hampton, Miss Kentucky’s, response:

I do feel that evolution shouldn’t be taught in schools because there’s…so many different definitions, like how do you teach a child the true meaning of evolution when so many different cultures have their different beliefs and sciences have their different theories[...]

Finally, Keeley Patterson, Miss Mississippi:

I think evolution should be taught as what it is. It’s a theory, so I don’t think it should be taught as fact, but I do think our children should know the theories.

What concerns me is that in almost every response, the contestants completely misrepresented the concepts of scientific “fact” and “theory.” So here are some working definitions for next year’s contestants and the rest of us:

  • Scientific Fact: A scientific fact is any observation that has been repeatedly and independently confirmed and accepted as true and has not been refuted.
  • Scientific Theory: A scientific theory is not a guess or a hunch. It’s a substantiated, supported, and documented explanation for scientific facts and observations. Scientific theories connect all the facts about something, providing an explanation that fits all the observations and can be used to make predictions. In science, “theory” is the explanation.

Evolutionary biologist and author Stephen Jay Gould explained these concepts beautifully in his 1994 essay Evolution as Fact and Theory

In the American vernacular, “theory” often means “imperfect fact”–part of a hierarchy of confidence running downhill from fact to theory to hypothesis to guess…If evolution is worse than a fact, and scientists can’t even make up their minds about the theory, then what confidence can we have in it?

Well evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s in this century, but apples didn’t suspend themselves in midair, pending the outcome. And humans evolved from ape-like ancestors whether they did so by Darwin’s proposed mechanism or by some other yet to be discovered.

Moreover, “fact” doesn’t mean “absolute certainty”; there ain’t no such animal in an exciting and complex world.

While the winner, Miss California, did state that,

I was taught evolution in high school. I do believe in it. I’m a huge science geek…I like to believe in the Big Bang Theory and, you know, the evolution of humans throughout time[...]

even her use of the word “believe” is inappropriate. Well-established scientific concepts aren’t open for belief the way personal opinion is. But, in the end, the fact that she accepts the tenents of evolution is beside the point.

The point is, there’s no excuse for any of us to be scientifically illiterate. Political, economical, medical and educational policies that are based on scientific information and that affect us all are made every day. This is a discourse we need to participate in, but we can’t participate if we don’t know what’s being said. We need to understand and accept a common language with which to question, debate and decide.

Do you think if I offer to give a crash-course in scientific language to next years’ contestants they might let me wear the big crown for an hour or two?

I’ve Been Frittering My Life Away…

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Interpretation

I just discovered the blog Life Before the Dinosaurs, all about the wild and wacky world that existed pre-Triassic. That’s more than enough for nerd in me to get excited, but then I learned that the blog is written by a seven year-old. Seven!

When I was seven, I spent most of my time playing with My Little Pony and taking naps. And, if we’re being honest, not much has changed.

From Life Before the Dinosaurs:

Wiwaxia

Wiwaxia was one of the weirdest of all the oddball animals of the Burgess Shale. It had a foot like a snail, a shell like a limpet, and scales like a fish on its shell. And the weirdest of all is that it had twelve glowing spines sticking out the top.

Kimberella

Kimberella was a strange creature that could have been a mollusc and lived in the Vendian Period. It had a strange lasagna-shaped foot and a flattened shell on top. It was 1/2″ to 4″.

Kimberella crawled along the sea floor looking for edible scraps because organisms didn’t start predation until the Cambrian Period.

Kimberella was a very weird creature because it had a shell and why would something have a shell if there was no predator? It did have a pretty hard shell.

This is definitely a blog to bookmark – author ABC knows his stuff and appreciates the absolute coolness of the giant bugs from the Carboniferous Period.

I’m off to invent a time machine so I can travel back to 1990 and tell my seven year-old self to get on it. But I’ll probably take a nap first.

From the Archive: Larimer County’s First Newspaper

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive

We’ve been working on scanning the number one issue of the Larimer County Express newspaper, published in Fort Collins on Saturday, April 26, 1873.

Newspaper founder Joseph S. McClelland

This fragile paper consists of four pages full of interesting tidbits and advertisements that shed light on life in Fort Collins only a few short months after the town was officially incorporated. It’s a real treat to read!

Jefferson Street in 1874

Fort Collins historian Ansel Watrous wrote in the newspaper history section of his 1911 History of Larimer County that the Larimer County Express first newspaper printed and published in Larimer County, and sure enough, column 2 of page 3 of this 1873 paper supports this assertion:

 Several prominent in this gentlemen have spoken for the first copy printed of this issue,–being the first paper ever printed in Larimer county. We shall be unable to furnish more than about fifty ‘first’ copies! Applications should be made without delay!

We’ll have the entire newspaper available for viewing on the Fort Collins History Connection website soon; for now, enjoy perusing the first page of the paper below!

Larimer County Express, Page 1

The New Adventures of Auntie Stone

by Amy Scott, Volunteer Coordinator and Director of Visitor Services

Worldwide sightings of a small doll donning a purple bonnet have prompted much whispering and curiosity. Who is this diminutive mystery woman who pops up at landmarks across the globe and, according to reports, always seems to be clutching a sack of flour?

She is the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center’s very own Auntie Stone Doll, fashioned after Elizabeth Stone, the “Founding Mother of Fort Collins.”

Elizabeth "Auntie" Stone

In 1862, Elizabeth Stone and her husband Lewis Stone traveled across the plains from Minnesota to Denver, Colorado in a covered wagon pulled by milk cows. In 1864 they moved to the frontier post that eventually grew into the Fort Collins we know today. There they built a log cabin to serve as both their private residence and an officers’ mess.

The Stone Cabin

Elizabeth, in her sixties at the time, cooked meals and baked pies for the officers. Since she took such great care of them, the men of the post came to call her “Auntie” Stone, a sobriquet that followed her for the rest of her long life. Auntie Stone was a pioneer in many respects. In addition to being a wife and a mother, she was also a suffragette, entrepreneur, landowner, and town builder.

Like her namesake, Auntie Stone Doll has a grand sense of adventure. The Museum’s good friend Cindy Reich was kind enough to show her around the sites in Ireland several years ago. In a postcard addressed to the Museum, the doll wrote: “Ireland is a most interesting place. Although it is nearly October, all the fields are very green with grass in abundance. Their cattle are fat and sleek.”

Auntie Stone Doll has traveled extensively in the U.S. and abroad. North Carolina, Brazil, South Dakota, Australia, and Disneyworld are just a few of the places she has visited.

Auntie Stone enjoying the surf in North Carolina. Photo by Beth Higgins

While vacationing in Australia, Auntie Stone Doll wonders how on earth she is going to eat this entire bacon sandwich and lamington. Photo by Cindy Reich

Basking in the sunshine at Freemantle Harbor in Australia. Photo by Cindy Reich

Auntie Stone Doll captured during a pensive moment at Galway Bay. Photo by Cindy Reich

Auntie Stone Doll Leaving South Dakota. Photo by Cindy Reich

But why does the doll carry a sack of flour wherever she goes? Along with Henry Clay Peterson, the original Auntie Stone built a grist mill that produced flour from wheat, the first of its kind in Northern Colorado.

As you can see, Auntie Stone Doll has developed a particular affinity for oceans and beaches. Look how dreamy her eyes become whenever she is near water. Where will she go next? No one knows for sure. A Caribbean cruise is likely, but she also hopes to go camping in Colorado’s mountains at least one time this summer.

In the meantime, you will find Auntie Stone Doll resting at the Museum Store in the company of toys, books, and other wonders. Stay tuned for further adventures.

From the Archive: Ellen Michaud Remembers

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive

The Fort Collins Local History Archive has hundreds of interesting oral histories in the collection, the bulk of which were recorded in the mid to late 1970s by community volunteers eager to capture the stories of many of Fort Collins citizens who had witnessed the many changes in the city from the turn of the 20th century on up to the nation’s bicentennial.

One especially compelling oral history was recorded by Jill Boice in the summer of 1974 when she listened to the many fascinating stories told by Ellen Michaud, a retired nurse who had come to Fort Collins at the age of 14 in 1909.

Ellen Michaud in 1979

Some of Ms. Michaud’s more humorous memories involve early driving habits in Fort Collins:

“Well, my father owned a car in 1916, a Ford. And that’s when I learned to drive a car…I taught myself. I just simply went out. And first I tried backing it up, and driving it up, backing it up, and driving it up. And then I got real brave and I drove it around the block…

A lot of people thought [cars] were useless…for a long, long number of years there was horses and buggies and cars…and people just drove wherever they wanted to. You drove up, well on College Avenue, you just drove, that’s all. And streetcars run down the middle of it—and you usually would drive on the right hand side. And then you could go to the corner or you could turn around in the middle of the street; it didn’t make a bit of difference…there wasn’t so much traffic then. And you could just come and go as you please.”

This photograph of Wellington in 1915 shows several modes of transportation

Do you remember your first driving experiences?

From the Archive: Student Hijinx!

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive

The Fort Collins Local History Archive recently received a donation of scrapbook pages belonging to a student at Colorado A&M College (present-day Colorado State University) who was also a member of the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the early 1950s. The pages offer a fun glimpse into some of the shenanigans carried out by the students at this time. For instance, these two fraternity brothers show their loyalty in a hair-raising fashion:

The scrapbook pages also chronicle a unique stunt pulled off by the members of the Aggie Livestock Club to publicize their Little National Western Stockshow. The students broke city ordinances by leading two sheep and a steer down College Avenue, and were subsequently “arrested” by city police. The whole lot was sent to jail where they were later “pardoned” by Colorado Governor Daniel Thornton. It helps to have friends in high places!


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