Sunday 27 May 2012

Pseudoscience And The Natural History Museum

I've blogged before about eyebrow-raising items on sale in the NHM shop. I know and appreciate that the retail department is entirely separate from the science departments. However, this is no excuse for what I saw on sale on Friday night:

There, in between decent scientific guides to gemstones, minerals and fossils (note the British Mesozoic Fossils and British Cenozoic Fossils books on the right hand side), is The Crystal Bible. Now, it could just be a term to indicate that it is a detailed reference guide, right?

Wrong. "500 crystals to heal your body, mind and spirit."

Among the amazing things this book claims is that crystals will help "find love" and "reduce workplace bullying". The author also claims to be a "psychic researcher" and "paranormal expert".

To add insult to injury, the book isn't just tucked away in a dark area of the museum shop - it's also displayed prominently on the counter next to the minerals:

By offering this book for sale, particularly alongside genuine science books, the Museum is giving credence to this pseudoscientific bullshit. The public trust the NHM to give them accurate, interesting scientific information, and I don't believe this should stop the moment we enter the bright lights of the retail environment.

Retail and science may not mix at the NHM, but they bloody well ought to, for this very reason. Museums join teachers in having a duty to educate and inform. Crystal "healing" suggests that silicates can cure physical illnesses through some supposed mystical energy. This isn't just harmless rubbish - where pseudoscience claims to cure disease (apparently it will "help to relieve a headache"), there is a real risk that people will use these bogus therapies over genuine medical attention. While in mild cases this may simply be a case of a tax on human stupidity, the potential for harm is evident.

The stocking of this book in the shop of the most prominent museum in the country is up there with my biology lecturer colleagues who think evolution is fictional, the head of physics who says the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and the chemistry lecturer who follows homeopathy. It is incongruous, an abuse of trust, and just a whole big barrel full of wrong.


  1. Agreed 100%. The AMNH gift shop even offers merchandise labelled 'Brontosaurus.' Something needs to be done.

  2. Yikes! Maybe someone from the science arm should at least check all possible PO's by the retail arm.

  3. Ha!
    I keep berating the MfN retail store (also quite separate from the museum) about creationsim-related books - usually sneak-ID stuff. But that's way below the level of BS you expose here!

    Well said, all - now what do we do about it? A petition?

  4. Maybe you just need to use a crystal that will relieve your angst...


  5. My chakras are clearly in need of realignment...

    When I've gathered my thoughts, a less sweary version of this most will form the basis of a letter or email (not sure yet who it needs to go to). Beyond complaining to the retail depts and flagging it up with the science depts, I'm not sure what else can be done.

    It'd be nice to see the science depts more involved, or at least able to veto products.

  6. Inappropriate merchandising is not just occurring in museums. I remember visiting the shop attached to Bath Cathedral and finding figurines to the Egyptian Cat goddess for sale!

  7. I spotted something similar at Tring (the NHM's out of town bird collection) a few years back. I reported it to a colleague in the science dept and a swift e-mail from him to the relevant people and it was withdrawn. Hopefully the same will happen here.

  8. I remember you saying so, Dave, the last time I ranted about the NHM's shop. When I'm a little less sweary I'll e-mail a tame scientist, perhaps.

  9. OFFS. I confess I had noticed this, but hadn't said anything, because, frankly given that the necklaces and bracelets also have random crap about how Agate helps you find your keys in the morning, and Haematite increases your tolerance for pseudoscientific bullshit on the back of the NHM branded labels it just seemed futile.

  10. MischievousBastard1 June 2012 at 07:42

    The word I have for these books you can probably guess, Miss. In fairness, it was vindicated by the Sex Pistols...

    1. Indeed. It's a view I entirely share. If you ever want to truly waste a lesson, ask me my views on homeopathy...

    2. MischievousBastard3 June 2012 at 00:02

      That water that's like one part curative in a trillion trillion parts water, but it's alright cos they bang the bottle a funny way? Aye. It keeps the shape of what's been sat in it, despite the fact that the only bond stronger than hydrogen bonds (ie the stuff of water surface tension) is the covalent bond? Aye, sure. And, assuming it does keep the shape, this kept shape somehow acts on the necessary receptor sites despite lacking the mass, charge, affinities, electronegativity, or even just number of valence electrons of the original curative? Sure, okay.

      It doesn't taste bitter? Nah, ain't buying that! It ain't medicine if it ain't effing nasty.


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