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Smithsonian Institution: not smarter than a 5th grader!

When you're the nation's leading Museum of Natural History, you don't expect to be perfect - but shouldn't you be smarter than a 5th grader? Apparently NOT, since an 11 year-old just caught them in a basic mistake, reports the Associated Press:


Is fifth-grader Kenton Stufflebeam smarter than the Smithsonian? The 11-year-old boy, who lives in Allegan but attends Alamo Elementary School near Kalamazoo, went with his family during winter break to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington.

Since it opened in 1981, millions of people have paraded past the museum's Tower of Time, a display involving prehistoric time. Not one visitor had reported anything amiss with the exhibit until Kenton noticed that a notation, in bold lettering, identified the Precambrian as an era.

Kenton knew that was wrong. His fifth-grade teacher, John Chapman, had nearly made the same mistake in a classroom earth-science lesson before catching himself.


Read the rest at the link above. "Precambrian" doesn't describe an "era," but rather everything from the formation of Earth up to the beginning of the Cambrian period. It seems some scientists associated with the Smithsonian knew about it for years, but it had never been corrected, and the Museum acknowledged that young Kenton was right - thusly:


Excited as he was to receive the correspondence from museum officials, he couldn't help but point out that it was addressed to Kenton Slufflebeam.

In Allegany.


In acknowledging their "Era" error, the Smithsonian officials committed TWO more!

While I'm about it, it's a wonderful resource, but I've always wondered why it is called the "Smithsonian" in the first place. Sure, it was originally endowed by the British scientist, James Smithson, but so what? We don't refer to "Carnegian Hall" or the "Kennedian Center" or the "Guggenheimian Museum," do we?


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Comments (13)

I once heard a Paul Harvey ... (Below threshold)

I once heard a Paul Harvey "Rest Of The Story" on the Smithsonian. I think Smithson himself specified the name. The main details I remember is that Smithson was a bastard who overcame the social stigma to have great success, but was bitter enough that he endowed his fortune to America -- a place where illegitimacy of birth was far, far less of a burden than very class-conscious England -- instead of someplace closer to home.

Considering he died in 1829, 15 years after we beat the British for the second time and 32 years before the British backed the Confederacy in the Civil War, it is not hard to see his bequeathing his estate on the US over any British institution as a slap in the face to the gentry.

No, it appears that Smithson did NOT specify the name. But perhaps it is to reflect that he didn't specify the way his estate was to be used, merely to "promote and diffuse knowledge?" So perhaps the Institution isn't name do honor him, but his philosophy?

OK, I'm just guessing here. But at least it sounds plausible.

J.

With all due respect to the... (Below threshold)

With all due respect to the "sounds plausible" school of scientific inquiry (not to mention the "Paul Harvey School of History"), which already gave us such wonders as the Harmonic Convergence, Oliver Stone's JFK, the Da Vinci Codes (and anyone speaking of the great man who refers to him as "Da Vinci" immediately loses all credibility, since his NAME was "Leonardo" and the "Da Vinci" only identifies his city of origin; it is saying, in effect, the "Of Venice Codes"), the Coming Ice Age, and Global Warming, I must scoff at such a theory.

Scoff, scoff.

I would scoff some more, but others may wish to scoff for themselves, and I should not want to selfishly hog all the scoffing.

I believe that the true nam... (Below threshold)
Ted:

I believe that the true name is "The Smithsonian Institution" and that the museums are only the most visible and popular part of the institution. There are labs, research centers and smaller exhibits all over the world that fall under the "Smithsonian Institution" umbrella. Calling the museums "The Smithsonian" is just lazy shorthand.

Well of course in science t... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Well of course in science there has to be rules for calling stuff, stuff, but what stuff is called is decided by committee. The kid knows the rules, but some committee can always change them. How many planets are there?

Tesla... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Tesla

As someone who lives near a... (Below threshold)
Victor:

As someone who lives near and works in DC, and has been going to the Smithsonian museums for over 30 years, I think I can safely ask: What else we gonna call 'em?

I'll bet the Sorting Hat pu... (Below threshold)
moseby:

I'll bet the Sorting Hat put that little know-it-all in Hufflepuff...

Don't know who's stupider (... (Below threshold)
Jess:

Don't know who's stupider (is that still a word?)... the MSM or the kid.
"PreCambrian", as used in the display, is perfectly legit - it's "shorthand" for "earth history before the widespread appearance of animal life", or "Hadean, Archaean, Paleoproterozioic, Mesoproterozoic, and Neoproterozoic"

Oh - it's the "Smithsonian Institution" by James' own instruction - sorry Jay - it's in the 2nd to last paragraph of his will:
http://www.sil.si.edu/Exhibitions/Smithson-to-Smithsonian/will.htm

While most refer to the collection of buildings as the "Smithsonian", each actually has it's own name - and knowing them is an easy way to identify tourists/newcomers to D.C.

J

Oh dear, here we go again. ... (Below threshold)
Alex:

Oh dear, here we go again. While it is true we declared war on the British in the War of 1812, the mere fact the Canada exists now is fair proof we didn't win. If we had, the USA would be all of North America. (Well, except Mexico.)

Jess, "Precambrian" wasn't ... (Below threshold)
Boyd Author Profile Page:

Jess, "Precambrian" wasn't wrong, the error was in calling it an Era. And Smithsonian Institution officials admitted that "Era" was in error.

So, are you saying that they were right before they were wrong?

Boyd, No, I'm saying... (Below threshold)
Jess:

Boyd,
No, I'm saying this entire story is horse .....

There are any number of paleontologists who will claim that the term "era" attached to "precambrian" is ok, whilst others get their knickers in a bunch. There's just no consensus on this, so to call it an "error" is a bit of a reach.

J

Right-Wing Religious Fundam... (Below threshold)
Herman:

Right-Wing Religious Fundamentalists,

Just curious: Did Noah embark with his ark in the Cambrian Era, earlier, or later?

"embark with his ark".<br /... (Below threshold)
Jess:

"embark with his ark".
Now that's funny, right there...




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