Scientists from Oxford University have been explaining their research to the public over a pint in a series of talks in pubs across the city this week. The events were part of the first national ‘Pint of Science’ festival, aimed at raising public awareness about current scientific discoveries.
The talks were aimed to make science accessible to the general public. “We are bringing science out of labs, seminars, lecture halls and classrooms to a place where everyone feels comfortable voicing their opinion over a pint,” said festival organisers. They focused on the categories of brain, body, and biotechnology, with nine events in three different pubs. They were organised by the cortex club, and the Oxford branch of the British Science association, and are synchronised with similar talks in Cambridge and London.
Speakers at the the cutting-edge of research, and explained their latest discoveries to the audience. The festival was free to attend and the format of the nights was varied, ranging from myth-busting games, to musical performances, to open debates. It attracted big name speakers, such as Professor Marcus du Satoy, who spoke on ‘The Hunt for Artificial Intelligence’ in the upstairs room at the St Aldate’s tavern on Wednesday. The events were well attended, with places for every single one being fully booked up.
The Oxford organiser, Thaddeus Aid, said that the talks would demonstrate “how technology will help us in the future, from predicting how the heart functions when new medicines are introduced to the circulatory system, to how artificial intelligence will change our lives, to how robots will drive us in the future.”
Aid added that “It seems that at the moment public understanding and trust of science and scientists, from evolution to global warming there is a disconnect between what is generally accepted in science and what is generally accepted in the general public.”
When asked how scientists would make the talk accessible to normal, slightly inebriated people, he explained, “We have requested the speakers remove the maths from their talks and to target it at a level that the general public would find engaging. What this means in reality is that the speakers will be speaking more at a concept level than at an implementation level.”
The speakers taking part in the event were enthusiastic about bringing their subject area to the masses. David Gavaghan, Professor of Computational Biology observed that many of the challenges that society will face in the future are of a scientific nature, and so he said, “To tackle these issues will require widespread support from the public either to support or to put pressure on politicians to fund the necessary research, and to translate that research into practical solutions and technologies.
To get this support we’ll need more people to understand the issues, and the only way to do this is to try really hard to explain what we (as scientists) are trying to do in our research.”
He added “I hope that events like this will make a small contribution to the wider understanding of the importance of science in our everyday (and future) lives.”
Professor Paul Bolam, who gave a talk on aging and diseased brains, added, “It is the responsibility of all scientist to engage the public in science. The public fund science, they need to know what we do with the money.”