‘Not some weird elitist class’: Scientists bring urgent message to streets of Hobart | Science

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

At the start of National Science Week, which ends this weekend, you would have been even more likely to recognize them because they were wearing LED name badges with their name and search keyword.

These ‘traveling scientists’ populated the Beaker Street science and arts festival in the city centre, chatting with attendees and trying to shatter the misconception that science happens behind closed doors.

The festival has grown in the six years since its inception so that conversations take place beyond the festival center in Hobart. Attendees can take to 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.

Alastair, a stem cell explorer, and Nicholas, a gene hunter, two of the traveling scientists at the Beaker Street science and arts festival. Photo: Dearna Bond

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

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

By combining science with bars, live music and art, says Adler, “we’re really trying to invite an audience that maybe isn’t normally interested in science or doesn’t consider themselves passionate about science”.

“It really bothers me how exclusive science can be. You’ll have a university that brings, every week, an interesting researcher to give a talk at a 30-person departmental seminar. And the public isn’t invited.

“Instead, you just talk to the same people over and over and over again.”

Visitors to an exhibition at the Beaker Street festival in Tasmania
Giving audiences insight into scientific processes can help them see that things like climate change aren’t beliefs, but “an understanding of how the world works,” the festival’s executive director said. Photography: Sam Soh and Conor Castles-Lynch

Adler says the lack of accessibility to science is also a missed opportunity for scientists who can find themselves “stuck in a tunnel”, missing out on ideas that could 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 present them with suggestions completely out of left field,” she says. “Sometimes those are the best suggestions.”

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

“Over the past two years, we have seen how dangerous it can be to not give communities the tools to understand science; it can put those communities at risk, like with the spread of anti-vax 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 with the insecurity of funding for jobs at government research organizations, including CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. Photography: Sam Soh and Conor Castles-Lynch

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

“Science is a means of not being fooled, so [people] don’t be fooled by lies about Covid vaccines, or the flat Earth, or climate change,” he says.

But “we need deep knowledge of science, just for the selfish purpose of pressuring our politicians to do what is economically good for our country.”

An Australian study showed that investing in health research and development provides a return of $5 for every dollar spent.

But Kruszelnicki says he is frustrated by the insecurity of funding for jobs at government research organizations, including CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Registration for the integrated weekend app

Adler says getting people to understand that scientists are “not some weird elitist class” helps restore public trust.

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

“The division in our culture now, that’s definitely an issue, and I think part of what we do at the festival is trying to fight that.”

Previous Texas Band Glassing releases devastating and chaotic single "Sulk"
Next Longtime 'Lawrence Welk Show' regular to sing at fundraising gala in Cedar City – St George News