Pint of Science was born in 2012 when two Post-doctoral researchers Praveen Paul and Michael Motskin organised ‘Meet the Researchers’, an event that brought people affected by neurodegenerative diseases into their labs so that they could see the research being carried out there. The guests were fascinated by the visit, this event inspired them. They thought that, if people want to come to labs to meet scientists, why not bring scientists to people? This was the birth of Pint of Science.
They started to organise Pint of Science, looked for volunteers… and this is when I jumped in! I started as the UCL (University College London) coordinator, managing the 3 different teams from that university. The first edition of Pint of Science took place in the UK in London, Oxford and Cambridge and was organised mostly by scientists with a passion for sharing science. It was a brilliant success and talking for myself it was quite unexpected, I knew people would like it but they really loved the initiative and there were so many to enjoy it: 3,400 attendees for the first Pint of Science ever: wow!
The conquest of the world
After the successful first edition we decided to export it to some other countries, and of course I created a French branch, I couldn’t wait to see it happen in my country! This was the start of the international Pint of Science. The second year, in 2014 the festival took place in the UK but also in France, USA, Switzerland, Ireland and Australia. Mostly because friends heard about it and wanted to start it the country they were living. Nowadays the festival is a successful global initiative and every year we add more countries thanks to amazing volunteers contacting us to start the festival locally. We’ll be in Europe for the 2018 edition but also in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australia!
How does the festival expand? We’re contacted by volunteers in different countries and we discuss with them the organisation (because we want Pint of Science to be the same kind of events everywhere) and if we agree they can start to set the festival up. I was a researcher but since last year I’m the international director for Pint of Science and my job is to select and guide volunteers in new countries to establish their own festival.
Why is it such a success and why communicating science is so important?
The success of the festival rests on the very relaxed way of communicating science, where anyone has a place and people don’t think it’s very complicated or that you have to be smarter or have a higher degree to participate. Anyone can just sit in the pub during our events and enjoy the science talk which can be on anything (from atoms to galaxies and everything in between). Pint of Science works because the format is great but also because people want to hear more and more about science and not least science that happens around them in their cities.
The public sometimes have many questions, they may indulge in clichés or simply have fear. They don’t often meet scientists which contributes to our image in the media being somehow a bit distorted: there are some bad experiments on animals, some scientists do falsify results; others are simply complicated people that you can’t really understand. For all the fears the public can have on touchy subjects like GMOs or vaccines, the best is to give them access to the people doing research, so they can ask their questions and understand better. In an era of fake news, it’s good to put the real sources in front of the public and make sure that true information is shared. It’s also good to have the researchers explaining why sometimes we need do unpopular work (for example animal studies), and how we make sure it’s done correctly. I think showing some personal touch is very important, it’s vital to show the humans behind the subjects or discoveries.
It’s a tough time for research, we always need more money and politics to be on our side, but I think the way to start is getting the public to care about research and no one will be a better marketeer than researchers themselves. The work is not over after the publication of the paper in scientific journals. It’s a bit like making a movie: if it’s out at the cinema, that is not the end. If you want people to watch it you must promote it, also to make sure you will have the budget for the following one. It’s the same in research: publishing a paper is not the end, it’s the start, you need to get more grants, funders public or private and for that, you need to draw attention to your work and create a community around it so everyone can be engaged for the best of science itself.