Museums are bastions of knowledge, but they're occasionally no match for an eagle-eyed youngster. Here are five times that kids and teenagers have spotted—and corrected—mistakes in exhibitions, or noticed something amiss.
1. THE KID WHO SPOTTED THE LONDON NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM'S DINO MIX-UP.
While partaking in the London Natural History Museum’s “Dino Snores for Kids”—an overnight sleepover for young museum buffs—in July 2017, 10-year-old Charlie Edwards noticed that one of the signs in the museum’s “Dinosaur Trail” fossil-spotting activity wasn’t quite right. It was supposed to show an Oviraptor—a beaked, carnivorous dinosaur—but Edwards knew that the image on the sign actually depicted a Protoceratops, a sheep-sized herbivore.
Edwards told his parents, who were skeptical, but contacted the museum anyway on their son's behalf. Several weeks later, the family received a letter from the Natural History Museum confirming the boy’s hunch. (According to a statement issued by the Natural History Museum, the exhibition had been "refurbished several times" and "an error [had] been made.") Thanks to Edwards, officials are now planning to correct the sign.
“I am really, really proud of him,” Charlie’s mother, Jade, said. “Charlie has Asperger syndrome and tends to find a subject he loves and tries to learn so much about it, so it’s really nice that he’s been able to show what he’s learned and that knowledge base.”
2. THE KID WHO HELPED FIX A MISTAKE IN THE SMITHSONIAN'S "TOWER OF TIME" EXHIBIT.
In 2008, 11-year-old Kenton Stufflebeam and his family traveled from Michigan to Washington, D.C. to visit the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. There, Stufflebeam noticed that a notation in the museum’s "Tower of Time" display incorrectly listed the Precambrian—the first super eon of Earth's history—as an era. His fifth grade teacher had once made the same mistake before correcting himself, and "I knew Mr. Chapman wouldn't tell all these students” incorrect facts, Stufflebeam later told the Kalamazoo Gazette.
Stufflebeam reported the error by filling out a comment form at the museum’s information desk. A few months later, the Smithsonian contacted Stufflebeam to tell him that he was “spot on": "The Precambrian is a dimensionless unit of time, which embraces all the time between the origin of Earth and the beginning of the Cambrian Period of geologic time," their missive acknowledged. As for the error itself, museum officials planned to rectify the mistake—which had been spotted years earlier by annoyed staff experts—by simply painting over the word “era.”
In early 2017, Stufflebeam—now 19 years old—made headlines again, this time when he found himself in the middle of a bidding war for his graphic design services. ESPN wrote about Kenton's grammar school brush with fame via the Smithsonian, noting how it portended "his eye for detail."
3. THE TEEN WHO NOTICED AN HISTORICAL INACCURACY IN A RECREATION OF AL CAPONE'S PRISON CELL.
While touring Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary in 2016, 13-year-old Joey Warchal observed that a large cabinet radio inside the museum’s recreation of Al Capone’s jail cell—which the famous gangster inhabited from 1929 to 1930—wasn’t historically accurate. Warchal, who collects antique radio and record players, correctly identified the music player as a Philco A-361, which was manufactured in 1942.
The helpful teen emailed the institution's vice president, Sean Kelley, and volunteered to track down a period-appropriate radio. Kelley took the precocious antiques buff up on his offer, and gave him a $400 budget to find a replacement. Officials at Eastern State Penitentiary also threw a party for Warchal to thank him for his hard work.
4. THE TEEN WHO NOTICED THE MET'S FLAWED MAP OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE.
Thirteen-year-old history buff Benjamin Lerman Coady was touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City during his summer break in 2011 when he noticed that a permanent exhibit about the Byzantine Empire—a subject Coady had recently studied in school—contained a flawed map. The 6th century map was supposed to show the empire at its peak, but Coady noticed that Spain and parts of Africa weren’t present.
A museum docent instructed him fill out a form, and in September, Coady received a letter from the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs, informing him that his observation would be reviewed by the museum's medieval art department. Sure enough, the teen was correct: In January 2012, Byzantine art curator Helen Evans reached out to Coady, acknowledged the mistake, and invited him back to the Met for a private tour. She also asked him to draw his own version of what he thought the museum’s Byzantine Empire map should look like, and said that museum officials were taking steps to fix their portrayal.
5. THE TEEN WHO DETECTED SOMETHING AMISS AT BOSTON'S MUSEUM OF SCIENCE.
In 2015, 15-year-old Virginian Joseph Rosenfeld was visiting Boston’s Museum of Science when he noticed what appeared to be a mistake in its “Mathematica: A World of Numbers … and Beyond" exhibit: In an equation for the Golden Ratio, Rosenfeld noticed that there were minus signs in place of what should have been plus signs.
Rosenfeld left a message at the museum’s front desk, and family members provided the institution with his contact information. Initially, Alana Parkes, the Museum of Science’s exhibit content developer, believed the exhibition had made a mistake. She sent Joseph a letter that read, “You are right that the formula for the Golden Ratio is incorrect. We will be changing the – sign to a + sign on the three places it appears if we can manage to do it without damaging the original.”
But at the end of the day, the Museum of Science's "Mathematica" display ended up being technically correct, as the exhibit had displayed the equation for the golden ratio's reciprocal, also called the golden ratio conjugate.
“I’d call it uncommon, not the way most people think of the golden ratio nowadays,” Eve Torrence, a math professor at Randolph-Macon College, told The Washington Post. "It’s not what most people think of, but it’s not incorrect."
Even though the problem wasn't technically wrong, Rosenfeld was still "to be commended for questioning authority," Torrence concluded.