A Helping Of Science Along With Your Beer

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Americans may be turning away from the hard sciences at universities, but they are increasingly showing up at “science cafes” in local bars and restaurants to listen to scientific talks over a drink or a meal, reports Barbara Liston of Reuters:

“The U.S. science cafe movement grew out of Cafe Scientifique in the United Kingdom. The first Cafe Scientifique popped up in Leeds in 1998 as a regularly scheduled event where all interested parties could participate in informal forums about the latest in science and technology.

Traditionally held in pubs and restaurants, the Cafe Scientifique would start as a short lecture, followed by a short break to re-fill glasses, and then an open discussion, according to the organization’s website.

The American movement of independent cafes is loosely organized at the sciencecafe.org website created by public broadcaster WGBH’s NOVA science program. Anyone with a venue, a speaker and a marketing plan can start one. On the sciencecafe.org website, an interactive map shows the location of cafes around the United States.

Edward Haddad, executive director of the Florida Academy of Sciences, said his hope for the cafes is to engage the public and generate excitement about the STEM fields that might filter down to the next generation.

‘My feeling is STEM begins at home, with students who are being brought up by parents or relatives who have some interest in science and may encourage them to do that,’ Haddad said.” (Read more here.)

What I find most interesting about this article is the contrast noted at the beginning: Americans are less and less likely to formally study science, even as they are flocking to more informal science forums like these cafes.

Does this suggest that the way science is taught in universities is turning off people who would otherwise be interested in the subject? Does it suggest that Americans are reluctant to engage in the rigorous academic study of science, but happy to hear an entertaining talk about science over a beer?

What do you think?

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3 Responses to “A Helping Of Science Along With Your Beer”

  1. Mike says:

    Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) http://nyti.ms/VAupCt

    Many High School Students Giving Up on STEM Education http://bit.ly/11nOsVf

  2. In my 17 years of college, it has been my experience that universities consciously use those introductory courses as “weeder” courses, to filter out the wannabes from the hardcore scientists. Chemistry 101, Physics 101, Biology 101—students are well aware that these courses are designed to be hard, designed to filter them out, designed so that a 47% is a passing grade. Combined with the stereotype effect, no wonder we graduate so few STEM students. While a few colleges may have a tutoring center, I’ve never met a 101 professor who organized student study groups, or offered assistance beyond office hours “for administrative purposes only.” OTOH, I had a chemistry 101 professor who came to class, set the book on the lectern, told the class that everything they needed to know was in there, and then sat and proceeded to read the newspaper every day. I had a bacteriology professor who taught that HIV/AIDS was passed solely by gay men and drug users. I had a geology professor that told me that I’d have to take a final exam with the rest of the class, in person, less than a month after the birth of my child, when I had complications severe enough to bar me from driving–or take an F the next month. I’ve had natural science professors who refused to acknowledge their female students, much less answer questions from them. Yet we ask why people don’t want to take these classes in college….

  3. First of all, I love this stuff. Great to see people creating environments that allow people to engage with learning on their own, autonomously and great to see how much people desire this type of environment.

    Just left a comment on another post of your’s Annie that captures most of my thoughts around this stuff: http://anniemurphypaul.com/2013/01/has-kindergarten-become-too-academic/#comment-19076

    Interestingly that comment applies to kindergartners, but the ideas are the same for college level science as well.

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