Skip to main content

Go get them in the subway!

Science-festivals are booming, open house events are packed and it looks like every science-institution of class has to have an artist in residence program. At the same time ‚alternative facts‘ are part of a populist surge that globally shakes societies.
What are we doing wrong?

Conventional communication addresses those who are already interested in science. We are preaching to the converted. But if scientific knowledge is to show an effect for society ‚everybody‘ has to be reached - especially those who skip the science-part in the newspaper or wouldn’t lose sleep for a science-night.
In order to reach those ‚non-believers‘ Paul-Drude-Institut has brought MTL (a concept developed by the greek organization SciCo) to Berlin, presenting science of nine Leibniz-institutes and DLR in 5 subway stations. This experiment during Berlin Science Week  was new to everybody involved. Mercedes Reischel (transfer-manager at PDI) found a wonderful partner in Berlins BVG, the Science Week put MTL on the podium of the press-conference with the Major and all Leibniz-institutes showed enormous tolerance to the little hiccups such an experimental approach brings along.
Nobody had a clue: how do school-kids react to water fleas under a microscope? What touches the senior citizen who is confronted with wildlife research? What does the streetmusician ask the ultrasound-physicist?

The experience for all sides is enormous. This format is a small but important step to find new science-friends. And yes, we did help with physics homework…

(this appeared in VerbundJournal of Forschungsverbund Berlin)


Popular posts from this blog

Academics should be blogging? No.

"blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now" The London School of Economics and Political Science states in one of their, yes, Blogs . It is wrong. The arguments just seem so right: "faster communication of scientific results", "rapid interaction with colleagues" "responsibility to give back results to the public". All nice, all cuddly and warm, all good. But wrong. It might be true for scientoid babble. But this is not how science works.  Scientists usually follow scientific methods to obtain results. They devise, for example, experiments to measure a quantity while keeping the boundary-conditions in a defined range. They do discuss their aims, problems, techniques, preliminary results with colleagues - they talk about deviations and errors, successes and failures. But they don't do that wikipedia-style by asking anybody for an opinion . Scientific discussion needs a set

My guinea pig wants beer!

Rather involuntary train rides (especially long ones, going to boring places for a boring event) are good for updates on some thoughts lingering in the lower levels of the brain-at-ease. My latest trip (from Berlin to Bonn) unearthed the never-ending squabble about the elusive 'free will'. Neuroscientists make headlines proving with alacrity the absence of free will by experimenting with brain-signals that precede the apparent willful act - by as much as seven seconds! Measuring brain-activity way before the human guinea pig actually presses a button with whatever hand or finger he desires, they predict with breathtaking reproducibility the choice to be made. So what? Is that the end of free will? I am afraid that those neuroscientists would accept only non-predictability as a definite sign of free will. But non-predictability results from two possible scenarios: a) a random event (without a cause) b) an event triggered by something outside of the system (but caused).

No theory - no money!

A neuroscientist I was talking to recently complained that the Higgs-research,even the Neutrino-fluke at CERN is getting humungous funding while neuroscience is struggling for support at a much more modest level. This, despite the undisputed fact that understanding our brain, and ultimately ourselves, is the most exciting challenge around. Henry Markram of EPFL in Switzerland   is one of the guys aiming for big, big funding to simulate the complete brain. After founding the brain institute and developing methods to analyze and then reconstruct elements of the brain in a supercomputer he now applies for 1.5 Billion Euro in EU-funding for the 'flagship-projects' of Blue Brain -and many believe his project is simply too big to fail. Some call the project daring, others audacious. It is one of the so very few really expensive life-science endeavours. Why aren't there more like that around? Why do we seem to accept the bills for monstrous physics experiments more easily? Is