2017 Science Cafés in Austria and UK

31 Aug 2017

After our first two stops in Barcelona and Amsterdam, we have also visited Linz (Austria) and Bristol (UK) this year.

Here is a summary of the Barcelona and Amsterdam events:

The first science café for MycoSynVac took place October 3rd, 2015 in Barcelona and was held at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park as part of a general Open Day event, which included guided laboratory visits, experiments, talks etc. The science café had an audience of 150-200 people. Its title was “Vaccines, where are we going?” and it explored a general future of vaccination - Carlos Piñero (CRG) attended on behalf of MycoSynVac as part of the expert panel. Since the topic mostly dealt with vaccines in general, the emphasis of the discussions and questions centered around how they should be dealt with in the present. Given the presence of a pediatrician in the expert panel, a large portion of audience questions dealt with human vaccines, specifically vaccines for children, but also pharmaceutical companies and economic gains. When it came to animal vaccines specifically, the questions centered mostly around species-crossing diseases, and vaccines vs. antibiotic use in livestock farming.

The second science café took place June 25, 2016 in Amsterdam at the Nemo Science Museum as part of the two-day long Synergene Forum 2016, a large public event dealing with synthetic biology as well as responsible research and innovation from a societal perspective. Alicia Broto Hernandez (Imperial Collage) and Vitor Martins dos Santos (Wageningen University), presented the project and Markus Schmidt (Biofaction KG) served as moderator during the ensuing discussion. The event was attended by about 65 – 70 people, most of whom were forum participants from a variety of backgrounds: scientists, civil society and non-profit organizations, biohackers and policy makers. As a result, the discussion afterwards was active, diverse and also specialized, including questions about livestock farming, economic gains, wet lab activities, and about potential future human applications.

For the next two sessions, we chose more traditional science café formats, and collaborated with organizations that hold regular science cafés and relaxed talk series to produce events. This allowed us to slot our MycoSynVac science cafés seamlessly in as part of those existing series.

The third event took place May 8, 2017 and was held in Linz at Kepler Salon is a non-profit association and interdisciplinary platform dedicated to knowledge communication, based since 2009 in astronomer Johannes Kepler’s former residence in Linz. Its events based within a wealth of topics and disciplines are all slanted towards salon culture and discussion, with basic tenets including accessible talks, free entry, free seating, and much discussion. This is aided by a cosy atmosphere as well as a basic bar, with guests having the option to buy drinks before, during or after events.

Markus Schmidt (Biofaction) gave an introduction to MycoSynVac to about 15 participants, and a local journalist, Markus Sonnleitner, acted as a host and moderated questions. Given the smaller group size, we had a very active discussion portion, a very vocal participation from everyone, and critical questions about intensive livestock farming, economic gain and of course the role science plays (or should play, ethically).

Our fourth event took place June 15, 2017 and was held in Bristol, in collaboration with the very prolific Bath & Bristol Branch of the British Science Association, a largely volunteer-run charity dedicated to the task of connecting science with people via both large national events, as well as local community-based ventures. The session took place as part of a regular monthly science café series, which is held in a local community-minded pub in a residential area of town. The events are usually held in an upstairs room, with participants bringing drinks from the bar on the first floor with them as they arrive, and sometimes staying on for more discussion and drinks after the events. Alicia Broto Hernandez (Imperial College) presented the project in general and her work with the bacteria specifically to about 15 participants. This event, was organized in a traditional science café format and did not include a moderator. Bob Foster (chair of the Bath & Bristol branch) introduced Alicia briefly, but after that took a back seat during the event. 

The discussion portion was lively and went over - questions ranged from the differences between antibiotics and vaccines, the connection to intensive livestock farming, economic gains, to “the rogue scientist” and (ab)use.

In both events in 2017, we held events with smaller group sizes in more relaxed settings - because our hosting organizations encourage and organize this type of atmosphere. As a result, the discussion portions of the science cafés were lively and highly interesting, with participants not simply posing questions to our scientists (i.e. to the experts), but also debating with them, as well as with each other about questions that concerned them – such as, for example, concerns in relation to the engineered vaccine specifically or to the role of science, the moral or ethical responsibility of scientists in general. We also collected simple questionnaires from participants during these events and are analyzing them as well to see what kind of thoughts, hopes and concerns they have toward the MycoSynVac project. 

Concurrently, we also carry out ex-post interviewes in with all scientists who participated in our science cafés, in order to gain their perspectives and thoughts on the events, and to date all of them have given positive feedback to the events and their interactions with participants. As such, the events not only provided insight to MycoSynVac for an interested public, but also served as a “reality check” for our scientists when it comes to hopes and concerns from the public.