TOP > Report > Danish-style Science Cafe: "Science x Imagination = NOW" --Let's talk about the present and future of science communication-- 1/2

Danish-style Science Cafe: "Science x Imagination = NOW" --Let's talk about the present and future of science communication-- 1/2pict


- Kristian H. Nielsen
(Researcher in STS at Aarhus University, Denmark)

- Gert Balling
(Special Adviser at Denmark Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation)
- Masashi Shirabe
(Associate Professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, STS)
- Takao Shiga
(Science Fiction Critic)

・Introducing Danish Style

Nohara: Today we are holding a Danish-style science cafe for the first time, with cooperation from two wonderful researchers from Denmark, Kristian H. Nielsen and Gert Balling.
The cafe is Danish style and will not be domesticated into a Japanese way. We hope to enjoy a Danish-style cafe for the first time with you.
 Since the earthquake disaster of March 11, 2011, the Japanese have been forced to think about science. This is very ironic because the science communication has always tried to change the people's interest in science.
 Has science communication been done sufficiently when it is historically needed? What can science communication do in an unstable society?
 Holding a science cafe or doing science communication is very meaningful now when the 3.11 earthquake disaster has unfortunately occurred. From now on, Kristian H. Nielsen, today's moderator, will handle the cafe. Kristian is a researcher in Science, Technology and Society at Aarhus University in Denmark, who has held Danish-style cafe since 2003, at the forefront of science communication.

クリスティアンKristian: I am interested in science communication and conversations between scientists and society, and my study is centered around them. Science cafe is a wonderful opportunity for conversations between scientists and the general public.
 Today's cafe has an experimental side, where a Danish-style cafe is introduced into a Japanese context. I hope you will join the experiment together.
 In a science lecture, the main part is guest speaker's presentation, and participants can only ask brief questions in a short time at the end.
 On the other hand, we give a little time to a speaker and allocate a lot of time for free discussion. So, as a moderator, I would like to limit the time for speakers and have a lot of comments or opinions from you. In this sense, this is really an open event.
 We have Masashi Shirabe, Gerd Balling, and Takao Shiga as speakers today.

Nohara: We also have students who serve as staff members of the cafe. Please let them join the discussion as participants.

Amir: My name is Isamu Amir, a PhD course student at Department of Human System Science, Graduate School of Decision Science and Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology. I will serve as a sub-moderator for the cafe today.
 Please feel free to take drinks or candies or talk to the person next to you, even while a speaker is talking. Relax and join the discussion.

・What does "fear rightly" mean?

Sirabe: My specialization is in the field of Science, Technology and Society. I have been engaged in science communication activities since the earthquake in order to think about the low-dose exposure. The topic I talk about today is that the science communication by the group called Science Council of Japan was terrible.
 Science Council of Japan is a representative organization of Japanese scientists, which plays a role in giving advice to the government or promoting sciences. The group held an emergency lecture meeting at the crisis of the earthquake disaster. The lecture meeting was titled "Fear radiation rightly," with a high-handed attitude that they will teach the general public the effect of radiation on health.
 How can they say "fear rightly," although there are a lot of unknown effects of radiation on health? I did not like their arrogance of redundantly adding "fear rightly" to the title.

・One-way communication is not science communication

Sirabe: I did not really like it, but even worse, I was stunned at the content. The first speaker said "Try to reduce the amount of radiation dose to which you are exposed." The second person talked about the hormesis hypothesis that small amount of exposure gives good effect on health. The third person said "let's look at the balance between harm and benefit and think." The forth person said "the risk of exposure is smaller than that of smoking."
 What was poor is that, first of all, the hormesis hypothesis has not been scientifically proven enough yet. That kind of talk should not have been given. Also, it is said that such a comparison with smoking as in the forth case is the worst risk communication. What they did were exactly the ways in which risks should not be communicated.
 Although these are really problematic, what is worse is that the Science Council of Japan, a scientist group, talked in a biased way. In addition, they seem to think that science communication, or more precisely, risk communication goes well if they provide the general public with the information that they think correct.

・What Britain learned from BSE problems

Shirabe: There were problems called BSE crises in Britain. To put it simply, scientists had a little wrong attitude. As a result, much of the trust in scientists was lost. This is called "Crisis of Confidence." What British people and we scientists learned is that problems will not be solved with high-handed explanations and that the distrust in science or scientists will not disappear.
 Science cafes started in Britain and France. They started an attempt to accomplish two-way communication in the situation called "Crisis of Confidence." Although I knew such things, this is the first time for me to join a science cafe and do science communication. I am looking forward to the discussion later.

Kristian: Thank you very much. Thanks for your presentation from a perspective of science in terms of how science communication should be and the facts on Fukushima. Next, Mr. Gert Balling will talk about science cafe.

・Danish style, which transfers scientific knowledge to citizens

Gert: I have been managing science cafe for 11 years in Denmark. Before that, I had been a government researcher who transfers knowledge from scientists to citizens.
 Transfer of knowledge is normally to enhance the learning ability of citizens and to return it to the society. This is not only a contribution to the society but also to universities. Universities do important researches, but citizens pay the cost for them. So, it is very important for universities to seriously think about the transfer of knowledge.

・Think about science and technology in a social context

Gert: We experiment technologies in everyday life, but the problem is we do not understand science and technology. We do not know yet how we behave in terms of technology.
 So, we need to think in a social context whether the fact that technology is used in society is good or not, and whether technology is good for me, our family, our neighborhood, and our country. For instance, clone regenration or cell phones. How the usage of cell phones changes the social behavior and the behavior of entire community is really interesting to me.
 There are studies about how citizens understand science. Fiction programs, for instance, help them learn science through TV programs or Hollywood movies. Science journalists often use movies to explain technology.

・Free imagination connects science and society

Gert: The science cafes held in Denmark often invite people other than scientists, such as artists or science fiction writers who have different backgrounds. Participants will not listen to talks if we invite only scientists. In science, we need to understand realistic aspects.
 For example, science fiction movies often convey wrong ideas about science, but they can provide audience with the entire image about how cloning, for example, is used.
 In science cafe, we can evoke imagination with such methods. We can discuss how a certain technology or science is practiced in a real life situation or how they are understood in a society.
 Scientists can explain about what a technology can do, what kind of science is behind it, and what is the vision of it, for instance. If we hold a cafe about regeneration technology in Denmark, we talk about the technology behind it. We can discuss techniques about whether you can choose your child's personality or whether you can get ova from other person. On the other hand, we can also talk about what is normal and how important it is that each of us is different person.
 I love science cafe and work as a volunteer. I really enjoy communicating with people who do not belong to universities. And we can improve the misunderstandings about technology and science one by one through the cafe.

・The coming of large-scale science and technology produced "2001: A Space Odyssey"

Shiga: I'm Shiga. I edit science fiction magazines and regularly contribute science fiction criticism.
 I just wrote "1968" on the white board. When we look back at the connection between science fiction and the general public, we can see eras that were turning points. For instance, Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" was released in 1968. The film "2001: A Space Odyssey" is a masterpiece and people who are not interested in science fictions know about it.
 Arthur C. Clarke left some famous phrases, and "Clarke's three laws" has been talked even now. The third law says "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This exactly symbolizes "2001: A Space Odyssey."
 Because the Apollo landed on the Moon in 1969, the "2001: A Space Odyssey" of 1968 was produced in face of reality, where the large-scale science and technology were advancing. NASA is said to have cooperated on the film production, and it is even now impressive and makes me think in many ways.
 For instance, what was HAL? When I look back at HAL, it was an entire-environment control system, and the crew on the spaceship Discovery depended on it to secure stable life. Is that really good? The film clearly depicts whether or not the situation where people depend on large systems or computer networks is really OK.

・"Neuromancer," which foresaw the networked society

Shiga: Another remarkable year in the SF history was 1984, I think. This is the year when William Gibson's "Neuromancer" was published. However, 1982, two years before that, was actually the start of the new era, when Vernor Vinge's novella, "True Names," was written. This work depicts the origin of the computer society today very well.
 "Blade Runner" and "Trons" appeared as movies in 1982, and they impacted on network engineers and computer scientists very much, if not on the general public. They resulted in "Neuromancer."
 "Neuromancer" attracted attention as soon as it was released, and impacted on the world, including Japan, enough to win all SF prizes of the year around the globe. The most interesting point of the work is certainly the accurate description of the attraction and risk of the networked society that was about to be born or about to spread.
 We read "Neuromancer" and had hope and hear about the networked society, and then entered into 1990s where the World Wide Web was born. So the 1990s came with a sense of deja vu that accompanied a visual perception of what networks were like. The years, 1968 and 1984, were meaningful in that the imagination of SF writers depicted the era as concrete works. The reason why SFs that have described the interface of reality, science, and technology remain flat now is that they can hardly show what the nuclear accident, social network systems, sharing, and cloud computing actually bring to us. We are waiting for such works that show us the light and dark sides of the world.

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