September 28 and 29 were two very busy days for me. One reason being that I managed to complete a 9K obstacle charity run called the Concrete Hero Challenge (trust me, falling into water from the monkey bars on a rainy Vancouver day was NOT FUN). The other being that my department’s outreach program participated in the 2nd Annual Community Science Celebration at the Vancouver Telus World of Science.
What’s so special about the community science celebration? The biggest draw – free admission. Over the weekend, more than 20,000 people visited the Science World, many were parents with their kids. I, together with my supervisors and volunteers, were all extremely impressed by the enthusiasm Vancouver has for science. I admit that every time I help organize a public science event, the biggest fear has been that nobody would show up, but the fear has always been proven unnecessary – it feels like Vancouver is the place to be for science.
Now, this is supposed to make be really happy, and it did for a few days – until I realized how much the admission rates for the Science World are.
This means that for a non-member family of four, it costs $75.50 to visit the Science World once (1 year membership for a family is $185 – still pretty pricey). If we include the cost of of transportation (public transit or parking/gasoline) and eating out, it can cost more than $100 for a family to visit the Science World once. No wonder people were lining up around the block to get into the Science World on a free-admission day*.
I took the liberty to survey the admission rates of Science Museums/Centres in Canada (for adults):
|Vancouver Macmillan Space Centre||$18.00||evening rate $13.00|
|Edmonton Telus World of Science||$16.95|
|Ontario Science Centre||$22.00||low income community access available|
|Saskatchewan Science Centre||$9.00|
|Telus Spark (Calgary)||$19.95|
Now let’s look at the situation internationally. Quickly browsing the websites of several major US Science Education Centres, I found that the prices are in about the same range (e.g., the American Museum of Natural History at $22 USD, the Exploratorium at $25 USD). For Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science, which inspired me to be curious about science when I grew up, it costs less than $4.00 to access all the exhibition halls. This place is also massive – with 5 complexes, occupying 9 hectares of land. For the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum in London, UK (or for that matter, many major museums in London), it is free admission. When I tweeted about the cost of visiting science museums, my friends commented:
@TheresaLiao Yeah. Cal Academy of Sciences is $20 for a kid <12/yo, $25 for a kid 12-17, and $30 for adults. Enough to even deter me!
— Joyce W (@jocenwo) October 8, 2013
— Susan Vickers (@susanmvickers) October 8, 2013
Perhaps simply my speculation, but I wonder what this says about how accessible science is to a population, and whether that affects people’s perception of science?
If we look at the bigger picture, beyond just the science centres, and shift our focus to other science outreach activities:
- Can a low income family afford sending kids to science summer camps? (my dept actually runs a summer camp bursary program)
- Can schools from the inner city afford a field trip to your research/academic institution? (many schools are facing budget cuts and cannot afford the cost of transportation)
- Can low-income families access science materials online, considering a family’s access to internet is related to its household income?
How accessible is our science? Are there things we can do to make science truly accessible regardless of background or income? Is science literacy really just about better science education and communication?
I would love to hear your thoughts on this…
* By no means am I considering this the fault of science centres. Truth is that running a science centre costs money – it is incredibly awesome that Vancouver Science World has this community celebration day for everyone to visit! My concern is more on the price tag of accessing science, and whether we (as a whole) can be doing more to support places such as the Science World.