Out of the lab and into the pub: Scientists find a new venue for sharing science

Five years ago, a group of UK-based postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers, led by Dr Praveen Paul and Dr Michael Motskin, decided to create a festival that combined two unlikely things, beer and science. Calling the festival Pint of Science, their idea was to bring a personal touch back to science by taking scientists out of the lab and into a more familiar environment—the pub.

Since then, Pint of Science has grown to reach hundreds of pubs in over 100 cities in 11 countries. Becoming the worlds’ largest festival of public science, Pint of Science first arrived in various pubs throughout Edinburgh last year, and is now returning for a second time, on Monday May 15.

The rapid success of Pint of Science has been a surprise to the founders. And yet, its success highlights the thirst and desire to hear science from the scientists themselves.

“Science can often get lost in translation, leading to the spread of pseudo-science and myths” Dr. Motskin explains. “The best way to overcome this is for people to be able to talk to scientists directly in a familiar environment, such as in a pub over a pint…The festival gives everyone the chance to pick the brains of some of the UK’s most brilliant academics, breaking down barriers and giving unrivalled access to the people behind the science.”

With the growth of both fake news and alternative facts in the previous year, the need to hear science directly from those who work in science is of a growing importance. For this reason, events like Pint of Science, are key.

However, there is a second benefit of Pint of Science’s approach of taking scientists from the lab to the pub: by meeting the scientist in person, the public can learn how the scientist’s research relates to their lives or interests and, as expressed by University of Edinburgh student Daniel MacDougall, who is volunteering at the event, “get excited about the scientists research.” Among the topics discussed are identity and how it relates to refugees, the perception of reality, sex and its role in our lives, and the role citizens can play in scientific experiments. Even topics such as robots make its way to the pubs, guaranteeing many fun conversations.

Relating and involving the public in research has become a growing part of scientists’ work in the last few years. According to Professor Sarah Harpe, the new director of the Royal Institute, “Science is addressing such big global challenges that impact on people’s lives…It’s important that the scientist is no longer someone who just sits in a lab. All young scientists should think about public engagement. How will their research impact on the public? Questions that are important to the public should influence the questions they themselves are asking.”

Perhaps the importance of events like Pint of Science is best summarised by one of the scientists involved in the festival. As Dame Sue Black, an Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology professor at the University of Dundee, who is holding a talk on identity as part of the festival, explains  “I got involved with Pint of Science as I believe passionately in the public engagement of science and these events help enormously in this regard.”

Image: TeroVesalainen

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