TOP > Report > Danish-style Science Cafe: "Science x Imagination = NOW" --Let's talk about the present and future of science communication-- 2/2

Danish-style Science Cafe: "Science x Imagination = NOW" --Let's talk about the present and future of science communication-- 2/2


Questions and Answers

Kristian: The talks from the three guest speakers included interesting topics. We would like to have questions from the audience in order to direct us to the right direction.

・To fill the communication gap between scientists and media

A: I am from HS university. The first question is about "fear rightly" that Mr. Shirabe talked about. We need to devise a mechanism to "properly educate" the Science Council of Japan. Could you tell me your idea if you have?
Also, can science cafes discuss the issues regarding science and society, while there are professional researchers who are studying such issues?

Shirabe: It is impossible to properly educate the people in the Council. They have been raised like that, and the society spoiled them, too, I suppose. Sure some members are responsible, but changing the situation is difficult because the entire society is not working well.
 However, we have a person who is trying to devise such a mechanism here on this site. I would like to ask Mr. T from W university to answer the question.

T: My name is T from W university. I study science and journalism and am the Japanese leader of the plan by the Science Media Center, which will be started in Denmark soon. This is an effort started in 2001 in Britain for eliminating the communication gap between scientists and media. You may not instantly recognize what we are doing when you look at our website. We have been assigning Japanese specialists for inquires by oversees media, such as BBC.
 As you know, once a scientist appears on television, the same person continues appearing, and he will be the only person who is criticized. No matter what happens, only he will be criticized by being said "sponsored scholar" or "bad guy", and the scientist community cannot share the burden.
 I did not know until the accident the fact that the Atomic Energy Society of Japan had made a system called Team 110. This is a system where ten representing scientists respond to the media in emergency situations, and other one hundred scientists help them. However, when the accident actually occurred, it caused a big panic. The journalists who knew the Team 110 rushed to the ten scientist, and the entire Society could not always supported them.
 While the similar situations are seen in other areas, the Science Media Center is an organization that controls the flow of people, corrects the flow of information, and facilitates scientific discussions. The original idea of the Science Media Center in 2001 came from the idea of how we consider scientific problems in society and how we keep the quality of discussion, while the mass media was declining.
 However, situations have changed in this ten years due to the development of social networking services. After the accident, the persons in the atomic energy area did not really show their opinions on Twitter. But a lot of people were watching the learning process of persons in the atomic-related area and learned what each piece of data means. Even so, information did not spread to every person. People who got information were those who utilized Twitter and had enough time to check it, in other words, information-savvy people.
 In such cases, how we can transfer the discussions, which are not like scripted-discussions by TEPCO, to the society will be the issue in the next ten years and we are considering various discussions and mechanisms.

Kristian: SNSs have become very important media and provide the basis for the current and new media and the new communication style.

・Scientists meeting over wine

Gert: We had two good questions. First, what kind of things can scientists discuss in a science cafe. There are different ways in Denmark and Japan. We begin with a two-hour meeting in our cafe. It may sound foolish, but talks go well while drinking wine. People with the same interest talk to each other in a relaxed manner. They just look at things from different angles. So we tell them to relax and join as a person.
 A globally-famous researcher in a narrow field is good at one area but has some doubt in other parts. If we see such scenes, conversations should be very interesting.
 Another question, which is about science journalists, is really a big issue. People in this area want to cope with it successfully, but not every journalist has background in science. However, because they have to sell news paper, they need to make a story and sometimes have to exaggerate a certain element. Sometimes they write better articles than what actually happened, and sometimes worse than that.

・If we hold a science cafe in Fukushima

A: If you want to bring people to the science cafe regarding the Fukushima nuclear plant, who would you like to call?

Gert: That is a very difficult question. If I hold a cafe regarding the Fukushima plant, I would like to have a slightly different view. For instance, we talk with the press about the tragedy in Fukushima or talk with the people who study science journalism regarding how the problem was reported by the media. At the same time, we invite communication specialists and talk about what kind of communication is desirable in such a catastrophe.
 I would like to suggest not a discussion on the tragedy itself, but a discussion based on social issues and social context surrounding it.

Kristian: Mr. Shiga, do you have anything to say regarding the risk related to scientific knowledge?

Shiga: This is not an SF point of view. I studied a theory of elementary particles called the basic electronic properties in university. In this period, the popular research interest was to try to actually move the X-ray laser or the free electron laser. In the field of material science, the world changes drastically when a new experiment result is obtained. So, the teachers said "sciences are not solid buildings made of concrete, and there are always possibilities that completely different systems or theories are created in a short period of time." "When you make a mistake in an experiment and find a result that has never seen before, there is a greatest chance," the teachers said.
 In other words, science is in a tautological world where "scientific theories are correct as long as such theories are correct", and there are some kinds of limitations. If you learn engineering, you can feel it. But people majoring arts tend to think science is absolute. I was recently surprised to see a case on the Internet that a lot of people believe in one discussion because a scientist with authority said so.
 What makes me think in Mr. Shirabe's talk is that scientists do not really discuss each other. They just disclose their theories in their special fields, and there is no communication, which is a regrettable situation. Do you have any idea of what we should do?

Shirabe: I am actually feeling what Mr. Shiga pointed out at Tokyo Tech. There are a lot of good work coming from the interface of special fields as a globally advanced science. To produce such work, I hope there is a chance for specialists to discuss each other, but such a chance does not exist. In universities like Cambridge in the UK, teachers from different fields have dinner together. At The University of Edinburgh, where I studied, teachers have their own pub and they talk while drinking.
 If there were a restaurant for teachers at Tokyo Tech, would they start discussing? Probably not. We have been taught to study our own special field.
 I think we need to change this situation with twenty- or thirty-year plan. One of the keys is keyword-centered learning such as design, as Ms. Nohara does, or project-based learning. In addition, things should be better if we consider how to take in the view point of general public.

・Potential of social networking

B: As we have seen in the revision of constitution in Iceland this year, there are a lot of ideas and they are discussed on platforms including SNS. What kind of possibility can we see in Japan? Specifically, when we solve the problems of Fukushima.

Shirabe: What is difficult of Fukusima's case is that people do not talk under their real name. This is really a serious problem, and once they make a mistake, what happens to them? What is their political position? They may be criticized for their position.
 Another point is that social networking services may be fine, but they are completely different from the actual meeting and talking by scientists. What should we do with it? If they talk to each other directly, even persons in a fight can become soft and understand each other. We see a lot of battle on internet meetings, but I think the situation changes if people meet directly.

・Dialogue and debate: Difficulty in science communication

C: In the case of philosophy, Plato built sciences through dialogues. Why did we lose such ways? And also, Torahiko Terada, who we mentioned at the beginning, had multiple talents such as in physics, literature, and music. Why such people with views in both science and art have disappeared? Could you discuss it?

Shirabe: One thing I can say is that there is a difference between dialogue and debate. It is said that Japanese people cannot hold a debate. I think they cannot even hold a dialogue. They are really good at having a conversation on everyday problems. However, when a problem with conflicting interests or a very difficult problem arises, the dialogue suddenly converts to a discussion.
 Dr. Hideaki Sena, who is also a novelist, is my acquaintance, and he writes something like SF. Why a person like him does not go out into the world? Maybe in the field of SF, there are simply a lot of authors with a science education.

Shiga: Actually there are few SF authors with a science education. Clarke was perfectly an author with a science education. He also had much marketability and foresaw the future precisely. Both in and out of Japan, there are not many SF authors majoring in science. Basically, SF books by authors with an art education do not criticize science. For them, science is like a boat in rafting, and the boat itself is not a target of doubt. This has been the main stream of SF. Sure there are some books that casts doubt, but very few.

・Science cafe is a trigger

D: I have a concern about the concept of science cafe. For instance, by using the images of pop culture in science fictions, science is thought to be something that can be applied instantly, and the logical part of it is ignored.

Gert: That's a very good question. In my view, there is clearly a limit on the concept of science cafe. For example, we have only 1.5 hours. Within this period, we need to talk with the people who are not really familiar with science. So, we remain in an abstract level.
 Of course science cafe has limitations. However, it allows participants to have an enjoyable night and want to study science again. It is a trigger to study by using other media.

Shiga: Because SF is a popular culture, the precondition it has is to get a certain number of readers. But still, science is one of the most important themes in SF. In that sense, if SF is thrown into a science cafe like here today as a theme, we will have a lot of response in many ways, although SF may not be a central theme.

Shirabe: It is true that we tend to focus on application methods in science cafe. We can improve it. For example, astronomy seems abstract and unpractical, but it is very popular in science cafe. There are many amateur astronomers, and people have romanticism in stars.
 As a trial, we may deal with a topic that has nothing to do with actual application and seems uninteresting. I think it will work fine.

Kristian: We have intercultural exchanges and a Danish-style cafe in Japan. I think it is very successful. We had Interesting questions and subsequent discussions. So, stay here for another 10 or 15 minutes to talk with presenters and persons next to you. Danish-style cafe ends in such a way.
 Thank you very much, Ms. Nohara and students. And thank you very much for your interesting presentations, speakers.

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