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"Creationism comes to the county fair"

Cover of Earth magazine, July 2014Writing in the July 2014 issue of the American Geoscience Institute's magazine Earth, Scott K. Johnson relates his experience in engaging in evolution outreach in a not-so-usual venue: at his local county fair. In 2012, he explains, he became aware of a booth "pitching the ideas and literature of the 'creation science' movement" making the rounds of county fairs in Wisconsin. Joining with Nick Schweitzer, a local science booster, Johnson established a booth at the Dane County Fair to present evolution.

At first, the booth was not a success: "a little too cramped, cluttered and nondescript ... it left passersby without a clear idea of what we were up to." Learning from their mistakes, Johnson and Schweitzer refined and improved their exhibits in the booth in the following year. "The updated display was a definite improvement," Johnson writes, "but the response was similar to the previous year: some great interactions, but lower overall interest than the intelligently designed creationist display."

NCSE's Steven Newton was not surprised, commenting, "It's hard to motivate people to defend what they assume is the default state, the status quo."  The creationist movement, he added, "sees itself as Luke Skywalker-type superheroes fighting the Empire." It's "easier then to motivate people to donate; both Answers in Genesis and the Discovery Institute have budgets that dwarf [that of NCSE], for example. A lot more could be done with outreach in support of science — if only there were the money to do it."

The moral, according to Johnson? "If there is one thing we can learn from creationists at a county fair, it's that outreach opportunities exist anywhere there is a crowd. ... Science outreach activities that piggyback on nonscience events ... can help scientists reach people they might not interact with otherwise. But effective outreach isn't easy in that kind of setting, as we found during our exhibit experiences. ... You need a hook at least as alluring as your competition." The evolution booth will return to the Dane County Fair in July 2014.