Science outreach: when it's too big to fail

Stephen Strauss writes about science outreach efforts:

At the recent European Science Open Forum conference in Barcelona, for example, I was strolling through exhibits aimed at please don't gag science outreach. The underlying theme of all these displays seemed to me to be: since their schooling actually teaches many ordinary people to be discomforted by if not to actually fear and loath [sic] science, let's see if we can't do something in these venues to get people to hate science a little bit less.

I love that, “please don’t gag.” He spends much of the rest discussing the outreach display for the ITER, the international fusion reactor. Which leads to an interesting contrast:

Indeed, the complications are such that a session at the European science forum about fusion had the purposely provocative title "Fusion, will it always be 40 years away?"
Right across from ITER was an exhibit in which a group of paleo-archeologists had set up a display to show the technology of the past in operation. So you had a guy sitting cross-legged, banging away at a rock to make a hand ax. Chip, chip, and chip. You had someone else weaving plants together to make a mat. Weave, weave, and weave. Someone else was taking clay and making a pot. There was no placard asking: Hand axe making, will it always be 40 years away? There were no critics of the effort calling it a huge waste of national resources.
So what does the juxtaposition of the two very different demonstrations of technology tell us about disbelief?

Strauss ends on an anti-big-science argument: A project that takes so much time and energy (I may mention, not only dollars but also in terms of scientific careers) is “too big to fail.” And that makes for bad, over-conservative science, with little prospect of significant new discoveries.

I’m not sure that the fusion research program falls in that category, but there are plenty of projects that do.