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Equal Parts Beer and Science at New Monthly Event

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Every Third Tuesday of the month at 7pm, a local group of scientists and science-aficionados are gathering in the basement of Hampton’s on King to grab a few drinks and hold casual interactive discussions on a variety of scientific topics. The group is called “The Columbus Science Pub” and they’re looking for new recruits interested in having a beer and joining them.

Dan Siegal-Gaskins is the founder of the Columbus chapter of this relatively new national movement, and he’s provided us with more details on the event below.

Q: Tell us a bit more about the concept behind Science Cafes.

A: Science pubs/cafés are “live events that involve a face-to-face conversation with a scientist about current science topics. They are open to everyone, and take place in casual settings like pubs and coffeehouses” all over the world.   Probably the best thing to do would be to quote from the ScienceCafes.org website:

“A science café’s casual meeting place, plain language, and inclusive conversation create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for people with no science background. … Each meeting is organized around an interesting topic of conversation. A scientist gives a brief presentation and sometimes shows a short video clip to kick off the discussion. You can leave a café meeting when you want, but you’ll miss out if you show up late. … No central organization controls all science cafés. As a result, each café has adapted to its own local culture and audience while keeping a focus on open, public conversation. Even the names of science cafés vary, including Science on Tap, Science Pub, Ask a Scientist, and café Sci.”

The US Science Cafe movement was inspired by the Cafe Scientifique movement that began in the UK (see CafeScientifique.org or wikipedia.org/Science_Café). I think the whole idea really comes from a recognition on the part of scientists that we’re not doing a very good job of communicating science to the general public, even though the issues are important ones that significantly impact people’s lives. Rather than getting their information from real experts, many people are getting a form of “science” from celebrities with no scientific training (e.g., Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, etc.). The end result is a lot of misinformation.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your personal/professional background and why you were interested in starting this concept here in Columbus?

A: I have a undergraduate degree in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto, and a PhD in Physics from the University of Chicago. I now work as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at Ohio State, in the relatively young and interdisciplinary field of systems biology.

I guess I wanted to do this because I’ve seen that there’s a lot of misinformation out there, and the consequences of that misinformation can be dangerous (particularly as it applies to public health-related science). I also think that we as a society need to be more supportive of good science education, whether it be for economic reasons (development of new technologies), strategic reasons (better resource management), etc etc. Furthermore, I like talking about science, and even more so while drinking beer.

Q: How do you plan on selecting topics/speakers for discussion?

A: I’ve got the next few speakers lined up already.  In selecting them, I was trying to focus on science that I thought would appeal to a very wide audience: forensic science in October, sex research in November, the science behind sports in January, and beer-making in either December or  February (the date is not settled on that one yet). Going forward I’m hoping to get speakers than can talk about very topical issues in the news, so that if there’s, for example, a big oil spill, someone can come to the next Pub and talk about geology or energy research or global warming. I’d also like interested people to suggest speakers.

Q: How did your first event go? What was the crowd/interaction like? Any amusing stories, connections or anecdotes to share from the first event?

A: I think that the first event was fantastic. We got some really good buzz from a couple of people in attendance; see HERE and HERE. My wife took some great pictures too but I haven’t sorted through all of them yet.

Q: Tell us about the next event you have coming up in October.

A: The next event is on Oct 19.  (You can find the event listing on Facebook. The topic will be “CSI: Columbus” and the host will be Jami St. Clair, Manager of the Crime Laboratory for the Columbus Division of Police.  Here’s the summary from the Facebook page:

With the popularity of TV shows such as “CSI”, “NCIS”, and “Bones”, many of us have developed a strong interest in the field of forensic science. However, the fictional portrayal of the scientific investigation of crimes has led to many misconceptions in the minds of viewers. We will explore the real world of the crime laboratory and attempt to dispel some of the myths surrounding the use of science in solving crimes.

Jami St.Clair is the Crime Laboratory Manager for the Columbus Division of Police. The laboratory is an ISO 17025-accredited testing laboratory providing forensic analyses in DNA, firearms, controlled substances, and questioned documents analysis.

Ms. St.Clair holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Kentucky University in Forensic Science and a Master of Arts degree in Public Policy and Management from The Ohio State University.

We also have the speaker for the November Pub booked.  The talk, titled “The Science of Sex: What You Need to Know About How Sex Has Changed”, will be given by Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH. Dr. Herbenick is a Research Scientist and Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good. She is also editor in chief of MySexProfessor.com.

Q: Anything else that potential attendees should know before they arrived?

A: The only thing is this: it’s really important that people get involved in the discussion and ask questions. It’s the only way that these Science Pubs work. So, if I had to give ‘advice’ to people before they arrive, I would just say that if they have any hesitation about asking questions, they should leave it at home.

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ColumbusSciencePub.

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