AsianScientist (Mar. 29, 2018) – When I tell people I am a scientist, I am generally met with a positive response; often a combination of curiosity and admiration, occasionally mixed with a drop of awe.
Singaporeans—and Asian society in general—have always held a certain reverence for people dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, a group to which scientists have the privilege to belong. Indeed, a survey conducted by Asian Scientist Magazine in 2015 found strong public support for science and technology in Singapore, along with great interest in learning and thinking about science.
The science gap
Despite these positive findings, rapport between scientists and the general public has remained almost non-existent. A good part of the reason is that scientists are perceived as unapproachable the general public. ‘Unapproachable’ both in the physical sense—in that laboratories aren’t open to just anyone—and the psychological sense, in that the views of scientists and the society about science aren’t aligned, leaving both groups to feel they have little in common.
It is easy for scientists to dismiss this lack of rapport and misconceptions as trivialities. After all, scientists have too many experiments to do and too little time with which to do them. Their priorities are to obtain funding in order to do their research and publish in scientific journals. In both cases, the general public doesn’t play a role in the decision-making process. So why bother to spend their all-too-little time on science advocacy and engagement?
This view may prove to be our undoing.
Scientists find their voice
Our time sees the rapid advancement of science and technology, but also a rising sentiment of anti-intellectualism and science denialism globally. Some of these movements have the potential to cause great harm, such as the anti-vaccine movement, which has led to a resurgence of diseases believed to have been eradicated. Improving science literacy among the general public and addressing the concerns of society about science in a thoughtful and empathetic manner would go a long way towards countering these movements.
Furthermore, public opinion plays a role in shaping science policy. A scientifically literate public is the cornerstone to ensuring continued support for research, and for promoting sound rational policies that impact public health, education, the environment and much more.
Fortunately, scientists are now working to reach out to society through several ways. One science festival in particular has taken a unique approach in providing an avenue of mutually beneficial exchange between scientists and the public—one pint of beer at a time.
Find me at the pub
Pint of Science was first brewed up in the United Kingdom by Drs Michael Motskin and Praveen Paul in 2013. Their idea was to facilitate science engagement with society in a relaxed and informal atmosphere, and what better way to do this than in a pub? Several other countries quickly took to the idea, with last year’s edition recording an impressive participation by over 150 cities in 10 countries.
Pint of Science looks set to grow, with another nine countries participating this year.
In fact, among the new participants this year is our Garden City of Singapore! Spanning three evenings from 14 to 16 May across the island, the festival will feature talks by locally-based scientists on the latest research in a wide range of scientific fields. Scientific pub quizzes, as well as question-and-answer sessions are also part of the program, thereby enabling the discussion of scientific facts as well as their potential implications for society.
In the pursuit of science and the benefit of all that inhabit the Earth, scientists and society need each other to forge ahead. Let us come together to celebrate science through fun, thoughtful, and rational dialogue; accompanied, of course, by a pint of beer.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Pexels.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.