There are few places in New York City that I love visiting more than the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH.) It is one of the museums that every single member of my family enjoys. From the dinosaurs to the planetarium, the museum is chock full of fascinating science for every age.
The core museum is huge and varied with information from blue whales to cnidarian. The rotating special exhibits are innovative and interactive, keeping a place that we visit frequently fun and never-boring - a tall order, indeed.
But, what I relish most is that the AMNH is that it is overflowing with top-notch science. You cannot turn a corner without seeing something scientific. You're immersed in it.
Unfortunately, what I learned over the holidays is that this one (very important) quality does not hold true for the entire museum.
You see, I like to go to the AMNH gift shop. In fact, I have gone to the museum before with the sole purpose of visiting the gift shop. It has great creative, curiosity inspiring, STEM based toys or books that make great gifts for children. It doesn't sell the usual junk sold in some toy stores.
What I found out, disappointingly, is that although it may not sell the usual kids junk - it does sell junk. And, the worst kind - pseudoscience junk.
The last time that I was there, being drawn up the stairs to the adult section (who doesn't want Neil deGrasse Tyson's latest quote on a t shirt?) I stopped dead in my tracks. There, in large display, was a wall of Himalayan salt lamps (see photo below.)
Himalayan salt lamps are the prototype of pseudoscience junk. When I ask my students for an example of pseudoscience, Himalayan salt lamps are always mentioned - and usually in the first few examples. They are a hoax, sold to people to help them feel better. But, there is no scientific evidence that they help anyone do anything except waste money.
Himalayan salt lamps are marketed as “natural ionizers" with their makers claiming that by emitting negatively charged ions, they have health benefits such as reduced anxiety, improved sleep, increased energy, etc. But, it's a light bulb in a block of rock salt. Nothing is emitted. For a full scientific explanation behind the ridiculousness in the "science" behind Himalayan salt lamps, read here.
So, AMNH bookshop, please remove this junk from your gift shop. People trust you to promote science in every inch of your museum - even in the areas where money is made.
At best, this is an oversight by someone who doesn't know any better that will be remedied immediately. At worst, this was a decision made by someone who does know better in an effort to make money. And, if that's the case, than the AMNH and Neil deGrasse Tyson are no better than anyone else out there profiting from pseudoscience hoaxes.
And, if the lamps remain, I will continue to take my children to the museum. But, I will go and buy my gifts somewhere else. Because I will not support the gift shop of a museum that sells pseudoscience. And, neither should you.