Archive for the 'Natural history' Category
Sunday, January 8th, 2012
On June 10 last year I reported that the first part of Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, edited with Leon Paroissien, had been published as an e-book by the National Museum of Australia.
Late in the year the remaining essays were published. The complete e-book includes 25 separate essays covering everything from a review of the Pigott Report, developments since 1970 in museums generally through progress in art, science and history, education and touring exhibitions, digitisation and social media.
Following a consideration of the recent history of museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien, Anne-Marie Condé of the National Museum reviews the important Pigott Report into museums and national collections which reported ot the Australian Government in late 1975. Ian Cook, inaugural Director of the State Conservation Centre of South Australia (later called Artlab Australia) and colleagues describe advances in collection conservation, Tim Hart from Museum Victoria and Martin Hallett from Arts Victoria recount the revolution in technology in museums. Des Griffin considers the very recent advances in technology and social media.
John Stanton of the Berndt Museum writes on ethnographic museums and Bernice Murphy, presently National Director of Museums Australia discusses Indigenous art and art museums whilst Michael Pickering of the National Museum and Phil Gordon of the Australian Museum review repatriation.
Discussions of History and museums are provided by Peter Stanley of the National Museum, Tim Sullivan of Sovereign Hill Museums Association, Margaret Anderson of the South Australian History Trust, Kevin Jones of the South Australian Maritime Museum and Viv Szekeres, formerly director of the Migration Museum in Adelaide.
Daniel Thomas, one time director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, provides an overview of art museums. Caroline Turner, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and the Arts at the ANU recvounts the expansion in international exhibitions and independent consultant Anne Kirker reviews paper conservation in art museums.
Natural history museums and their challenges are discussed by Doug Hoese, onetime head of science at the Australian Museum. Michael Gore, foundation director Questacon in Canberra, and Susan Stocklmayer, director of the ANU Centre for the public Awareness of Science review science centres.
Regional Museums are considered by Margaret Rich, former director of the Art Gallery of Ballarat and by museum and heritage consultant Kylie Winkworth. Representatives of various regional museum organisations consider developments in many of the states of Australia.
Lastly, education and the visitor experience in museums, one of the fields in which there have been significant advances, is addressed by Jennifer Barrett of Sydney University who describes museum studies at universities, Barbara Piscitelli, researcher on young children and museums, who focuses on the relationship that children have with museums, Janette Griffin of the University of Technology Sydney who reviews school students’ learning in museums and Lynda Kelly of the Australian Museum who discusses family visits.
Friday, June 10th, 2011
Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien (eds), 2011, Understanding Museums: AustralianÂ Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia.
The first part of a volume on developments in museums in Australia since the 1960â€™s has just been published as an e-Book on the web site of the National Museum of Australia.
Museums were established across many parts of the Australian continent during the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century. However it was in the latter part of the twentieth century that the greatest burgeoning of museums occurred. These decades also witnessed the consolidation of a sophisticated museum profession, the creation of a single national professional association “Museums Australia” and an active participation of Australian museum professionals in the international museum context. The essays in this section jointly seek to present a scholarly study of museums and museum practice that is also accessible to people outside the museum profession, who daily demonstrate their active interest in museums and their programs.
There are 11 essays in five sections.
Museums in Australia by Des Griffin and Leon Paroissien
Conservation in Australian museums by Ian Cook et al.
Ethnographic museums and collections by John E Stanton
Transforming culture by Bernice Murphy
Repatriation by Michael Pickering and Phil Gordon
War and Australia’s museums by Peter Stanley
History in the new millennium or problems with history? by Tim Sullivan
Art museums in Australia by Daniel Thomas
International exhibitions by Caroline Turner
Collecting works on paper by Anne Kirker
Museums and the environment by Douglass F Hoese
The second part to be published in late June or July will include further essays on history and science museums. Additional sections will deal with education programs and regional museums and there will be essays on museums and digitisation and social media.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009
Hoots No. 11 – 23 September 2009: The Future of Museums: an interview with Thomas Campbell of the Metropolitan Museum in New York; Darwin Centre opens at The Natural History Museum in London.
The Art Newspaper recently published a long interview with Thomas Campbell, recently appointed director of the Metropolitan Museum succeeding Philippe de Montebello. The interview gives interesting insights into the future of one of the most prestigious museums in the World. The Met has had to cut back some of its staff after it lost 25% of its endowment in the GFC.
Campbell intends to form a programmatic committee including representatives from departments beyond the curatorial to advise him on exhibitions, replacing the former Council of Advisors comprsing heads of curatorial departments.
Campbell also responds to some comments by Tate Director Serota and British Museum director MacGregor to the effect that British Museums respond more directly to the public than do American museums.
Campbell’s plans offer an interesting counterpoint to the comments made recently in the two part “Future of Museums” program on ABC Radio National’s program ‘Future Tense’ on September 3 and 10.
I have previously commented on Thomas Campbell whose appointment as director of the Met I consider to be one of the most signficant of senior appointments at any museum in the last decade. Remember that Campbell is a specialist in tapestries, not notable for fundraising or managerial ‘wizardry’ and had been a curator at the Met for several years and that when asked why he was appointed, the Chair of the Board referred to Dr Campbell’s “great passion for art”.
The Art Newspaper: How do you think your leadership of the Met may differ from Philippe de Montebello’s?
Thomas Campbell: I came to the museum because it was an incredibly exciting place to work as a scholar in my field. Philippe was a major contributor to the environment that made it such an exciting place and I have every intention of sustaining and developing the strengths of this institution: maintaining a dynamic exhibition programme, the award-winning publication programme, continuing to acquire masterpieces, but also to expand study collections where it”s appropriate, and continuing to place the emphasis on the encounter of our visitors with the objects, trying to really create the environment for that direct experience without bells and whistles. Will I be introducing change? I guess it”s evolution rather than revolution.
TAN: Will your leadership style be the same as his?
TC: “I am who I am. I’m certainly not going to try and adopt a grand-style persona…
In terms of actual leadership style, this institution is quite feudal. We have 17 curatorial departments, many of which are equivalent to medium-size museums. One reason we are a place bursting with ideas and initiatives is that Philippe allowed and encouraged ideas to bubble up through the departments and he was very supportive of initiatives brought to him from his curatorial staff. Having experienced the benefits of that myself, I very much intend to maintain it.
One of the steps I will be taking this autumn is formulating a programmatic committee that will act as a forum … Up until this point the way exhibitions have been approved is that curators or department heads would bring a proposal to Philippe and he would say yes or no. I will still be the person who makes that decision, but at a time when we have got to make less go further, and I can’t green light everything, this is a forum in which the curatorial body itself – it will also have representatives from editorial, operations, education – will have to take a bit more responsibility for what is brought forward. But I see it as a constructive dialogue that I trust will make sure that projects that might be considered as cross-departmental have their possibility fully airedâ€¦
TAN: You want to maintain the direct encounter with a work of art, but people demand information. Is there enough information in the galleries?
TC: We need to find the right balance between creating a direct and meaningful encounter with a work of art without there being the impediment of an overly didactic contextualisation. At the same time, much of our audience is very sophisticated and wants a lot of information. .. We are at an exciting time because new technology does give us the opportunity to deliver all sorts of different levels of information to different audiences in a very discreet way. I think handheld devices and audio tours have huge potential beyond where they are now .. I don’t want to be overly typecast as being wonkish on technology, but I think it is one of the major frontiers at the moment because it has the potential to so enrich and transform the visitor experience.
The Met has put a lot of effort into the audio guides it supplies to exhibitions, and we have a certain amount of audio guide information for our permanent collections, but that is an area that needs to be hugely expanded. Then we need to enrich the different levels that people can get to. We also have to think of different languages so that our large international audience is properly catered to. The National Gallery in London, the Tate, the Louvre are all experimenting with devices that besides delivering an audio tour will deliver visuals on a handheld device. The danger is that there’s something so compelling about a digital image that all too quickly the object in front of you becomes an illustration to the narrative you’re holding in your hand.
TAN: British Museum director Neil MacGregor and his counterpart at the Tate, Nicholas Serota, recently differentiated US museums, deemed in thrall to their moneyed boards, from European and particularly British museums, which they maintain serve the public more directly.
TC: … At the end of the day, the Met has bought more objects, has organised more exhibitions, has undertaken more scholarly publications than any other museum in the world as a result, simply because of the enthusiastic support of the donors and our trustees. There’s this caricaturish notion that people fall back on … but my experience of our board is that it is comprised of individuals who take their role extremely seriously in terms of both advice or financial support.
… This is a great institution because of the farsighted support over so many years by individuals who are consciously contributing to build it and make it better.
The impression they were giving was that there was some sort of constraint. We are not constrained. On the contrary we have got the ability to go out and fundraise and find support for different initiatives that allow us to do things that very few European institutions are able to.
The Art Newspaper also published on its Museums page on 16 September a short article on the new Darwin Centre at The Natural History Museum in London.
In The Guardian for 17 July Maev Kennedy wrote, “One of the most startling additions to any British museum, the new £78m “cocoon” at the Natural History Museum in London – an enigmatic white blobby form eight storeys high and 65m long inside a giant glass box – will open to the public on 15 September, it was announced yesterday. Michael Dixon, the director of the museum, said he hopes the new building – properly known as the Darwin Centre, but dubbed the cocoon even by staff – will leave visitors “with a real sense of awe and wonder at nature”.
Further information is available at the Museum’s own website.
Those with a long memory might recall the bitterly critical comments which greeted the appointment and announced corporate plan of former primatologist and Open University Professor Dr Neil Chalmers, appointed director of the Museum in 1989. The Darwin Centre – this is Stage 2 – was a major project of (now) Sir Neil Chalmers who retired a couple of years ago to become Warden of Wadham College at Oxford University .
Here are some extracts from the commentary from that time. We can wonder how reliable the opinions and forecasts of doom were.
(I have put an article from 1990 about this issue in the essay section.)
In the 3 May 1990 issue of Nature, Henry Gee (“Taxonomy pays for bad image”), wrote, “Researchers at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London went on a one-day strike on 24th April to protest against the museum’s controversial 1990-95 corporate plan, which proposes the loss of 51 out of 300 research and curatorial posts during the next two years. Many of the tenured posts are to be replaced with short-term fellowships (see Nature 344: 805, 26 April 1990) a move that will improve the NHM’s financial health but may threaten its standing as a taxonomic research centre. On 26 April, the researchers resolved to strike again tomorrow (Friday, 4 May) if the museum’s director, Neil Chalmers refused to withdraw the plan.
“Scientists at other UK museums are concerned at the damage that might be done by the new plan.Â Taxonomic research, in which the NHM is pre-eminent, is “deeply unsexy”, according to Simon Conway Morris of the University of Cambridge, but is the “bedrock” of all biological research, and in the light of concern over decreasing global diversity the cuts come at “just the wrong time”. Andrew Knoll, of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, finds it “a little sad” that the study of biodiversity in the United Kingdom is thought so marginal that the NHM will close departments “in which they have been major contributors”. Ken Joysey, curator of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, condemned the cuts as “ludicrous”.
The issue was raised in the British Parliament: In the adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 21 June, Tam Dalyell MP pointed out that the real threat to Britain is not “the armies of Mr Gorbachev”, but global warming, the destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain and other environmental problems.Â He told the House how the Museum provides “crucial raw material for the battle against that threat”.
During the half hour allowed for the debate, Shadow Arts spokesman Mark Fisher MP joined Dalyell in pressing Richard Luce on funding for the Museum. Whilst supporting the approach set out in the Corporate Plan, Luce revealed that the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government is in discussion with the Director and the Chairman of Trustees about its wider implications.
An editorial in Nature on 2 August 1990 said, among other things, “The British Natural History Museum has taken too short and too jaundiced a view of it’s own future as a research institution. It should mend its ways, and quickly… What emerges most clearly from the long controversy is that the corporate plan .. was a serious error of judgment. Faced with the prospect of a nasty financial squeeze … the museum plumped for the wrong solution, that of cutting back on an already inadequate intramural research programme…. It would have been possible to cut back instead on the museum’s second function of mounting attractive public exhibitions…”
The editorial went on to repeat some of the claims about “unfortunate” language of the corporate plan, expresses doubts about whether the emphasis on ‘front of house’ activities would save the museum “from the troubles that lie ahead” and observed that entrance charges would not pay the extra cost of the exhibitions envisaged as bringing more visitors and therefore earnings. It asked, “should not the museum be making the case for relief from [further financial] squeezes [two or three years from now]?… It should also do more than has yet been done to show that there is substance in its hope that support for research at the museum will indeed be provided by the research councils..”
Two months later, 4 October 1990, a letter in Nature from Dr Colin Patterson and many distinguished scientists representing the “science defence committee” (of which Patterson was chairman) said, “The crisis at London’s Natural History Museum … has now lasted more than four months and shows no sign of ending.Â The essence of this crisis is that the plan will result… in narrowing the span of taxonomic and systematic research in this museum. .. About a thousand letters of protest have been sent to the relevant minister by our colleagues from all over the world who recognise that this museum is the world centre for taxonomic expertise… There have been two days of strikes; and there has been a storm of press comment, nearly all of it critical of the plan.
“A new management structure, with imposed separation of curation from research for some 150 people, has been forced down our throats, as has also a brutal system of short-term contracts for researchers. And our prizewinning design team is still threatened with extinction.Â Moreover, the director’s main response to the letters of protest is blandly to point out their usefulness in the search for funding, since they demonstrate that the taxonomic community of the whole world is interested in the fate of the Natural History Museum ..”
Some of these issues remain with us in various museums 20 years later. The Natural History Museum recovered to be one of the strongest museums in the World; the list of scientific publications by Museum staff for 2008-09 runs to 73 pages. Some other museums faced with reductions in funding and a lack of recognition by governments of the importance of taxonomy and evolutonary studies to the understanding and sustainability of biodiversity have not recovered!
Friday, April 10th, 2009
- Owls Hoots No. 3, 10 April 2009: John Florio on scholars, the dangers of inequality arising from neoliberalism, the superorganisms known as ants, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil and museums in London expanding. Museums as Happiness Pioneers. And the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.
Owls Hoots No. 3, 10 April 2009: John Florio on scholars, the dangers of inequality arising from neoliberalism, the superorganisms known as ants, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil and museums in London expanding. Museums as Happiness Pioneers. And the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.
The scholars angry quill: Here is a further quotation from John Florio (1553 – 1625), linguist, lexicographer and translator of Montaigne, which comes from “Giordano Bruno Philosopher Heretic” by Ingrid Rowland:
“Be circumspect how you offend schollers, for knowe,
A serpents tooth bites not so ill,
As dooth a schollars angrie quill”
More on the impact of “the market”: Last week, under the heading of managerialism buried, I referred to the ABC Radio National Background Briefing program on MBAs. Managerialism is a flow on from market fundamentalism: small government, privatisation, deregulation, efficiency, acountability and so on. The result has been, along with the well known reductions in social welfare, health and education, increased inequalities as the “˜top end of town gained huge increases in wealth whilst the poorer sections of society, if they were employed at all, gained little or even stood still. In the so-called “developed world” the USA and UK show the greatest inequalities whilst Scandinavian and some European countries and Japan show the least.
Reviewing “The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Allen Lane), Lynsey Hanley (in the Guardian, 14 March), quotes the authors, “inequality causes shorter, unhealthier and unhappier lives; it increases the rate of teenage pregnancy, violence, obesity, imprisonment and addiction; it destroys relationships between individuals born in the same society but into different classes; and its function as a driver of consumption depletes the planet’s resources.”
Ants ” Superior Civilisations: Two fascinating articles on ant societies ” super civilizations – have appeared recently. In the New York Review of Books, Tim Flannery reviews a new book by Bert Holldobler and Edward O. Wilson (and with line drawings by Margaret C. Nelson), “The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies” (published by Norton) and in the Guardian Alok Jha has a review of the views of Wilson and Holldobler (“Six legs good”, 9 March 2009).
Jha writes, “They developed architecture and built farms millions of years before we did. They work together so seamlessly that colonies are known as ‘superorganisms’. And they could hold the secret to working out how our brains evolved.”
US and Canadian Museums reduce budgets and staff: Martin Knelman (“Gallery endures a second, unwelcome transformation”, Toronto Star March 23, 2009) reports that the Art Gallery of Ontario has not received the visitor numbers anticipated with the recent expansion designed by Frank Gehry. Budgets will have to be slashed and staff numbers reduced.
The overall space of the AGO increased 20 per cent, gallery space increased 50 per cent and the size of the collection doubled to more than 73,000 works of art. Practical operating costs ” security, maintenance, utilities ” have almost doubled ” and the annual budget went up to $52 million (more than $30 million of which is salaries). “Attendance has been running 20 per cent below projections for the past four months”. One factor perhaps is the $18 adult admission: the place is jammed every Wednesday night, when the entry fee is waived.”
(Last month it was reported – by James Bradshaw in the Globe and Mail March 3 -that buckets line the AGO’s staircase, while condensation blurs view from windows.)
Christine Kearney reported in YahooNews for March 13 that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was closing 15 of its merchandising stores across the United States, leaving only eight stores open in New York and will cut about 250 jobs, or 10 percent of its workforce, before July 1.
The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia has announced a hiring freeze will cut salaries by 5 percent. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles almost had to close until billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad came up with a $30 million rescue plan in 2008.
In other US cities there are also reductions in budgets and staff losses. Endowments have dropped by around 20 per cent. Faced with a dramatic drop in revenue, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts will cut its staff and budget by 6 percent, and reduce exhibitions and programs by as much as 20 percent next year. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has also cut its budget by 5 per cent and may lose another 5 per cent later.
Museums in London expanding: Meanwhile in London, Tate Modern and the British Museum are expanding. Jonathan Glancey (The Guardian, 1 April 2009, “Why Tate Modern’s extension stacks up“), informs us, “When Tate Modern opened in 2000, visitor numbers were expected to be 1.8 million a year at tops. Almost a decade on, the figure is 4.6 million. Even though Tate Modern’s home, the former Bankside power station, is a colossus, the sheer number of people visiting throughout the year has made an extension almost inevitable.”
Tate Modern 2, “a dramatic origami-like unfolding of brick and glass” designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the Swiss architects who transformed the redundant power station to the new Tate Modern is expected to open some time between 2012 and 2014. The British Government has subscribed £50m towards the anticipated £215m total cost.
ArtInfo announced April 2 that “with the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Modern, and now the British Museum all touting expansion plans, it seems the global economic downturn hasn’t taken the London art world with it. The British Museum announced this week an ambitious £135 million ($198 million) extension intended to accommodate blockbuster exhibitions. It is expected to open 2012.”
Meanwhile the Museum of Modern Art has dramatically redesigned its website: check it out!
New York Arts consultant Adrian Ellis reviews the recession and US museums in the Art Newspaper Issue 200 of 11 March and discusses how to compensate for the loss of philanthropic, endowment and visitor incomes.
School visits to museums and museums as happiness pioneers:The March-April issue of Museum (published by the American Association of Museums) has two excellent articles, “Fun is no joke” (by Mary Ellen Flannery) reviewing school ” field trips to museums in the USA and museums as “happiness pioneers (“Fiero”, an exerpt from the Center for the Future of Museums lecture by Jane McGonigal). McGonigal’s lecture is available on the Future of Museums site along with other interesting items.
McGonigal says there are four things which seem to be “pretty universal” for people: satisfying work, the experience of being good at something, time spent with people we like and the chance to be part of something bigger.
Iraq and the BBC: British Foreign Secretary David Milliband announced last month that there would be an inquiry into the invasion of Iraq and the reasons for it.
“The pressure for an inquiry has been intense because many people believe that the war was illegal under international law and that Tony Blair, the then prime minister, twisted intelligence evidence in order to justify the invasion.”
When BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan reported the views of Dr David Kelly on the “intelligence” justifying the British Governments decision to join the US invasion of Iraq the Government forced his resignation which was followed by the resignation of Director-General Greg Dyke and Chairman Gavyn Davies. Kelly later committed suicide. An inquiry into the death of Dr Kelly by Lord Hutton wasÂ denounced by critics as a kangaroo court.
Dyke was hugely popular. The incoming Chair and Director-General oversaw considerable downsizing which was protested by strikes. The responsible Minister talked of difficulties with funding. There is no indication that the BBC has managed to avoid slip ups in its broadcasting.
Will Millibands inquiry bring back David Kelly, repair the damage to the BBC, put Tony Blair on trial? Of course not!
This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Hoots No. 2 – 2 April 2009: A renaissance quotation about critics which may be just as valid today, caterpillars welcomed into the nests of ants. And the value of an MBA and the nature of managerialism revealed.
Beware of Critics: In Ingrid Rowland’s book ‘Giordano Bruno Philosopher/Heretic’ (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York, 2008) there are twoÂ quotations from John Florio (1553 – 1625) who was an accomplished linguist and lexicographer, a royal language tutor at the Court of James I, a probable close friend and influence on William Shakespeare and the translator of Montaigne. Here is one:
“As for critiks I accompt of them as crickets; no goodly bird if a man marke them, no sweete note if a man heare them, no good luck if a man have them; they lurk in corners, but catch cold if they look out; they lie in sight of the furnace that ryes others, but will not come neare the flame that should purifie themselves: they are bred of filth, and fed with filth, what vermin to call them I know not, or wormes or flyes, or what worse?”
I have drawn attention to critics before.
Next week, Florio’s view of scholars.
Managerialism buried (I wish): The second most important issue which surfaced this week, so far as I am concerned, is managerialism. (The first continues to be global climate change, carbon emissions trading and related matters, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.)
ABC Radio National’s Stephen Crittenden reported an outstanding program on MBA’s (“Mostly Bloody Awful“) and along the way gave some references to outstanding research papers and popular articles on the subject.
The key points:
In the words of Henry Mintzberg, Professor of Management Studies at McGill University in Montreal (and author with, Robert Simons and Kunal Basu of “Beyond Selfishness”, MIT Sloan Management Review,Â Â 44/1, Fall 2002),
“Management is not a science, it’s not a profession, it’s a practice; you learn it by doing it.” (Art Gallery of New South Wales director of 30 years Edmund Capon said as much a couple of years ago; what can one say about Mr Capon’s wisdom? Clearly he deserved to have that $16 million dollar painting by Cezanne bought to commemorate his 30 years at the Gallery!) However!
According to Professor Rakesh Khurana (of Harvard Business School), “Whilst university”“based business schools started out with the intention of creating management as a profession, one in which managers would largely put the interests of society and the interests of the economic welfare of their firm before their own individual interests, this changed. Over a period of several decades this at first was neglected and then eventually abandoned. It was replaced by a very different type of orientation, shareholder maximisation. The manager became merely a hired hand of shareholders.”
According to Will Hopper, joint author with his brother of “The Puritan Gift”, the story of how the Puritans built America, the influence of Frederick Taylor (founder of Scientific Management theory, or Taylorism, and “the first management consultant”) led to business schools becoming obsessed with numbers and measurement. Management became a science that could be studied in a university.
“The emphasis in business shifted from people to figures and from quality to quantity. Talk was about the bottom line, employees became human resources, and the influence of the accountant increased dramatically. “Domain knowledge”, understanding of the business in all its facets (and the industry) was no longer so relevant. The business school MBA graduate emerged able to run any business. Companies are run through the accounts department. The characteristic of management became improving the numbers, not improving the product.”
All of this led to ‘heroic’ leadership, the view of humans as ‘economic man’ driven by self-interest, and therefore requiring oversight and ratings of performance, and the view that markets eventually resolved all conflicts involved in exchange of wants and needs: organisations only had utility if their costs in managing transactions were less than would otherwise obtain. In short wedges were driven between wants and needs and leaders and everyone else. Sets of fabrications, amongst other things about efficiency and effectiveness (which were conflated) and prosperity, rationalised the conduct of organisations.
In the view of management researchers Fabrizio Ferraro, Jeffrey Pfeffer & Robert I Sutton (in “Economics Language And Assumptions: How Theories Can Become Self-Fulfilling”, Academy of Management Review, 30/1, p8-24, January 2005), social science theories can become self-fulfilling by shaping institutional designs and management practices, as well as social norms and expectations about behavior, thereby creating the behavior they predict. They also perpetuate themselves by promulgating language and assumptions that become widely used and accepted.
An essay with more detail on this will follow.
Caterpillars and Bowerbirds, evolution at work: The Science Show (on ABC Radio National for 21 March) dealt with caterpillars welcomed into ants’ nests and Satin bowerbirds singing and dancing to robot female bowerbirds.
Professor Jeremy Thomas, Professor of Ecology & Professorial Fellow of New College University of Oxford UK was interviewed by Chris Smith (the BBC’s “naked scientist”). Thomas has found that invading caterpillars, normally snapped up with relish by ants, have managed to con their hosts. They have produced a chemical which mimics that produced by the ants. This is so successful that the ants carry them into he nests and feed them, Indeed in times are really tough, the ants kills their own grubs and feed the caterpillars. But they do better than that: the caterpillars produce sounds which are the same as those produced by the queen ants. Thomas and his team were able to place tiny microphones inside ants’ nests in t eh laboratory. “when we played back the sounds of the chrysalis to the ants, we found that the ants were reacting to the miniature speakers in exactly the same way as when we played queen ant sounds. In fact, if anything, they were behaving in more extreme forms and it attracted more ants and they sat on it and behaved almost as if they were super-queens.”
On the same program Robyn Williams interviewed Dr Gail Patricelli, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis “who has designed robots to look very much like satin bowerbirds. At Wallaby Creek, near Brisbane, she dressed her robots to look like female birds. The males then sing and dance around the robot. This enables Gail to observe and study the signals exhibited by the male as they try to win the hand, or wing of the female. In order to be successful in courtship, it’s not just show, but the ability to interact socially and adjust behaviour in response to female signals and other behaviour during courtship.”
By the way, Professor Rick Shine (Sydney University) has found that (native Australian) Meat Ants are voracious predators of baby Cane Toads but pose no threat to other native frogs. What was the response of the Northern Territory? A spokesman on the news said, “This is nothing new! What we need is research which shows us how to put a gene for eating toads into Monitor Lizards”. Right!
Next week: John Florio on scholars, museums in North America coping with financial turmoil, exploiting new buildings and revamping websites. And (held over) the British Government’s enquiry into the invasion of Iraq and possible consequences for the BBC.
This page, which should appear weekly, is an addition to the blogs page.