What’s the big idea?

The Smithsonian has launched a new platform to bring together thought leaders to explore critical issues facing the nation and the world. Have an opinion? So do we.


Screenshot of landing page of website SecondOpinion.com

The Smithsonian has launched SmithsonianSecondOpinion.com, a new digital platform produced through a partnership of Smithsonian Enterprises and the Office of Communications and External Affairs that brings together thought leaders, both digitally and in person, to explore some of the critical issues facing our nation and the world. This new platform is one of the ways in which we are working to implement our strategic plan goal of convening conversations on topics of importance.

Each installment of the site will feature a big idea or topic that will be explored through a variety of different features. The topics are drawn from the Smithsonian’s many areas of expertise and—because of the breadth and depth of our resources—are examined from a variety of different angles and points of view.

For the site’s launch, we decided to continue the conversation we began in April at the Earth Optimism Summit. The topic—“Forging the Future”—asks the question of whether or not we have cause to be optimistic about the future of the Earth and humanity’s place in it. The main feature on the site is a 360-degree video of a roundtable discussion Secretary David Skorton hosted with a panel of experts from the Smithsonian and other organizations to talk about human impact on the Earth and whether or not our species can adapt to the changes that are affecting our planet.

Joining Dr. Skorton for this conversation are Denise Fairchild, President of Emerald Cities Collaborative; Tuck Hines, Director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; Steve Monfort, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute; Jedediah Purdy, Professor of Law at Duke University and author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene; Catrina Rorke, Senior Fellow for energy policy at R Street Institute; and Mary Evelyn Tucker, Cofounder and Codirector of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University.

In a separate video, Dr. Skorton sat down for a conversation with Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City Mayor and co-author of Climate of Hope, about this topic and got his thoughts on solutions to climate change that can give us all hope for the future.

The site also includes other content that offers a deeper dive into the topic. You can read the articles, watch a short video featuring Smithsonian museum visitors answering the question “Are you optimistic about the Earth’s future?,” choose a book from a reading list compiled by Nancy Knowlton of the National Museum of Natural History, view Anthropocene-related artworks chosen by Joanna Marsh of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, or host your own discussion using some of the resources offered in the “Vox Populi” section of the site.

New topics will appear on the site four times per year. For the next installment, which will debut on the site later this summer, we will explore the question “What does it mean to be an American?”


Posted: 12 June 2017
About the Author:

According to Haberacker family lore, Becky announced to her parents after her first trip to the Smithsonian (around age 11 or so) that she wanted to work at the Institution someday. She has been a public affairs specialist at SI since 2002.