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Dumb Defense 

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Dear Reader:

I was glad to see that Deanna Isaacs managed to find "The Changing Face of Women's Health" at the Museum of Science and Industry, where it was unprominently displayed in a corner [The Business, November 12]. I was sorry that she was put off by Pfizer's corporate sponsorship and took issue with some of the content. Here are a few things for her to consider in her next museum review.

MSI is the granddaddy museum of corporate-sponsored exhibits, where they abound. Abbott Labs sponsored their new genetics exhibition and Petroleum Planet was supported by BP Amoco. Like most museums, MSI needs financial help to plan and build exhibitions, and the Pfizer money was critical to help update and travel Women's Health to the nine science museums who worked on it, including MSI. What was unusual was Women's Health's equal-if-not-more-important support from two heavy-hitter nonprofits, National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women's Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the consortium of museums that developed it.

Certainly health issues make for more controversial content than toys, trains, gears, or fairy castles, and while the content might not appeal to MSI's usual target audience of 12-year-old boys, even they would have fun squeezing the fake breasts and seeing the photos of naked women's backsides.

I saw this exhibition when it was in Maryland (at the Maryland Science Center), New York (at the New York Hall of Science in Queens), and in Portland, Oregon (at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry), where it was always afforded a better image and location. Those museums seemed to recognize the potential of this exhibition's gender-based audience. A more prominent location for Women's Health in Chicago and more aggressive marketing of it could have broadened MSI's image for an audience base to include adult women, their friends, and their daughters.

Deanna Isaacs's focus on depression may reflect her own issues, because depression actually received very little attention in the exhibition. "Risk," "Detection," "Prevention," and "Control" were the four subtitled content areas. Pregnancy and childbirth were also given very little attention, because the exhibit reflected on a much broader range of issues than traditionally female concerns. Also, for her to call the exhibition dumbed down only reflects her misconception of the interests and motivations of the majority of museum visitors to science museums today who are intelligent and willing learners, but who are limited by time, vocabulary, and agendas that do not include wishing to study a plethora of text panels about scientific research. The role of the museum is to pique interest, not to satiate it.

Beverly Serrell

Museum consultant


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