The chances of bumping into a scientist are higher in Hobart than any other city in Australia, largely thanks to its role as a center for marine research.

At the start of National Science Week, which ends this weekend, you’d be even more likely to recognize them because they wore LED badges with their name and research keyword.

These “walking scientists” populated the Beaker Street science and arts festival downtown, chatting with attendees and trying to dispel the misconception that science is done behind closed doors.

The festival has expanded in the six years since its inception to allow conversations to take place beyond the festival hub in Hobart. Attendees can go out into the field with scientists as part of the festival’s Road Trip, from a guided walk around the ancient plants of Cradle Mountain to the dark skies of the east coast.

Two of the walking scientists with LED badges at the Beaker Street Festival.  On the left is Alastair, a stem cell explorer, while on the right is Nicholas, a gene hunter.  They are sitting at a table with diagrams and pictures in front of them.  The room is bathed in pink light
Alastair, a stem cell explorer and Nicholas, a gene hunter, two of the walking scientists at the Beaker Street science and arts festival. Photo: Dearna Bond

The goal of Beaker Street, according to festival executive director Margo Adler, is to share the fact that “science isn’t just people in labs with test tubes—there’s science in everything.”

“We have a panel of deaf people who are experts in non-verbal communication … we have a conductor from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra talking about the science of baton waving,” says Adler.

By combining science with bars, live music and art, Adler says, “we’re really trying to invite an audience that maybe doesn’t normally engage with science, or don’t think of themselves as science enthusiasts.”

“It really bothers me how exclusionary science can be. You will have a university that brings in, every week, an interesting researcher to give a talk at some departmental seminar for 30 people. And the public is not invited.

“Instead, you’re just talking to the same people over and over again.”

Visitors to an exhibition at the Beaker Street Festival in Tasmania
Giving the public an insight into scientific processes can help them understand that things like climate change are not beliefs, but ‘an understanding of how the world works’, says the festival’s executive director. Photo: Sam Soh and Conor Castles-Lynch

Adler says the lack of access to science is also a missed opportunity for scientists who can end up “stuck in a tunnel,” missing out on ideas that can be generated by talking to people who think differently.

“I think it’s really important to bring non-scientists together with scientists, and have people challenge their ideas and come up with completely out-of-left-field suggestions,” she says. “Sometimes those are the best suggestions.”

Zoe Kean, a science communicator and Road Trip MC, says that engaging with scientific ideas gives people a greater understanding of the beauty and complexity of the universe, but also has a more immediate and urgent function.

“In the last two years, we’ve seen how dangerous it can be when communities aren’t given the tools to understand science; it can put those communities at risk, as with the spread of antivax messages,” Kean says.

A profile view of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki at The Beaker Street Festival in Tasmania.  He has short white hair and wears glasses and a red jacket with a black hood
Karl Kruzselnicki says he is frustrated by the uncertainty of funding for work at government research bodies, including the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Photo: Sam Soh and Conor Castles-Lynch

Karl Kruszelnicki, who has been at the forefront of bringing science to wider audiences for decades, reiterates the importance of scientific literacy for interpreting the news.

“Science is a way not to be deceived, so [people] Don’t be fooled by the lies about Covid vaccines, or the flat Earth, or climate change,” he says.

But “we must have a higher knowledge of science, simply for the selfish purpose of pressuring our politicians to do what is economically good for our country.”

An Australian study has shown that investment in health research and development provides a return of $5 for every $1 spent.

But Kruszelnicki says he is frustrated by the uncertainty of funding for work at government research bodies, including the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Setting up the weekend application registration

Adler says that letting people know that scientists “are not some weird elitist class” helps restore public trust.

An overview of scientific processes helps the public understand that accepting evolution, or climate change, is not a matter of faith, but “an understanding of how the world works.”

“The divide in our culture right now is really a problem, and I think part of what we’re doing at the festival is trying to combat that.”

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *