The Future of Food, Farming and Science
I received my first complaint about the Birmingham Cafes Scientifique this month! One of the people who received my Email reminder felt quite strongly that I had made a grave error in judgement by inviting the Soil Association to come and talk to our informal gathering. Not only had I invited the Soil Association, but I had also invited their Director of Communications and she was therefore a 'poor choice of non-scientist'. The gentleman concerned made it quite clear in his Email that he would not be attending the propaganda based evening that I had clearly planned.
Complaints can be a wonderful thing; they suggest passion! The British tradition of having a stiff upper lip and not complaining - or worse, forming an orderly queue and then apologising for whatever it is that has annoyed us - is still far too prevalent in our society. Whilst I didn't necessarily agree with all of the points of the complaint, or the tone with which I felt they were communicated (dangerous territory I know, inferring tone in Emails), at least this person cared enough to let me know that they were not happy and perhaps expected more from me. The Cafes are all about open discussion, dialogue and maybe even the occasional bit of debate. They only work because they are a safe space within which to share your opinions, attitudes and dare I say it - feelings, whilst also listening to those of others. This sort of format does not work if people don't care about something.
For those people who are reading this but have not attended a Cafe Scientifique, I don't want to mislead you. You could be forgiven for thinking that we all sit around crying about science as we share bad experiences we have had with test tubes from when we were children; it's not like that at all. If people genuinely care about how the public purse is being spent on scientific research, or if they want to know why CERN is such a massive resource, then it is great that we can provide a forum for people to be able to share these opinions. I don't promise that we will be able to change anything (although some of the events have previously been linked with public consultations) but at the very least, the scientists are listening. Even if they, as individuals, go back to work the next day knowing that at least some members of the public care about what they do then that is a good start and if we, as the Birmingham Café Scientifique, take every scientist in Birmingham, one per month, and get them to go through that process, then we will make a difference to the context within which science in Birmingham takes place. That is our dream anyway!