Name: Paolo Viscardi
Job Title & Institution: Curator of the Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL
Twitter username: @PaoloViscardi
What is your role on the NatSCA committee?
I’m the Chair of NatSCA and my role is to oversee the strategic activities of NatSCA, making sure that we are able to respond to the changes in the wider sector. This involves discussion with other organisations, developing funding bids and working with the rest of the NatSCA committee to provide a sounding-board for ideas, suggestions for ways of approaching problems and decision-making when needed.
Natural science collections are very popular with museum visitors. Why do you think this is?
Natural history collections are accessible for a broad range of audiences. Most people have some connection with other living organisms, either through their pets, the wild animals and plants in their gardens or through what they get to see in the countryside or on wildlife documentaries; I think that the popularity of natural history collections is partly an extension of this.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing natural science collections right now?
At the moment there are a variety of challenges facing natural science collections. The obvious one is funding cuts, particularly to local authority museums. However, there are also issues arising from reductionist approaches to biology that have dominated for the last few decades, shifting scientific focus (and funding) away from whole organisms and ecology towards genetics and bioinformatics.
While these fields are important and exciting, their rise has led to a decline in specimen based research and recording, with natural history becoming marginalised. This is a real concern, since future research will presumably shift focus in order to link genetic and population modelling work with whole organisms in order to provide a context for the observations made. The damage done by the neglect in training of naturalists, the running down of collections and the reduction in active collecting over the past few decades will become a severe limitation to this endeavour.
What do you love most about natural science collections?
I love skulls. They’re beautiful examples of the compromise between inheritance and function, which I find fascinating.
What would your career be in an alternate universe without museums?
There are plenty of things I could do, but I’m not sure I’d want to do any of them enough to really consider them a career!
What is your favourite museum, and why? (It can be anywhere in the world, and doesn’t have to be natural science-related!)
The Galerie d’anatomie comparée et de Paléontologie in Paris. The ground floor display is basically my idea of the perfect place!