Booze, Beakers, and Brains – The Rise of Vancouver’s Science Pub Nights
On a drizzly mid-week evening downtown, beer glasses clink as a roomful of people sit, eyes fixed to a slideshow of complicated-looking graphs. The professor leading the presentation – on anything from prehistoric megafauna to advances in robotic engineering – speaks candidly, occasionally drawing a gasp from the awe-struck crowd.
The popular science scene in Vancouver has been growing steadily and now features a wide variety of regular events catering to everyone from hardened skeptics to poetry-slamming scientists. People eager to learn more about scientific topics without having to sift through the jargon or to join the conversation on controversial subject matter have been filling venues all across the city.
Monthly gatherings organized by Café Scientifique Vancouver attract an eclectic mix of inquisitive minds congregating to get their fix of the latest in cutting-edge research. A free public lecture followed by an audience-led Q&A session is the general format of these meetings. Unlike anything you’ve experienced in school, however, here in this casual setting, you can enjoy a glass of Shiraz while contemplating on recent advancements in astrophysics.
One of the longest running science enthusiast groups, Vancouver Skeptics in the Pub, has been delivering a healthy dose of critical thinking and cracking down on pseudoscience during their monthly meet-ups. Running on the motto coined by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan – “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, regulars meet in various locations downtown, North Vancouver and Surrey to enjoy pub fare and debunk the latest conspiracy theories. They have even formed their own team of whiz kids, which has earned a reputation for being champions in the local trivia competition scene.
The Vancouver Skeptics have even been showcased in the media – appearing on a CBC Marketplace episode uncovering the facts about alternative health remedies such as homeopathy. One of the founding members of the Skeptics, Fred Bremmer, recounted their experience on the show. “We tried to “overdose” by swallowing entire bottles of homeopathic sleeping pills”, he said, proud of the Skeptics’ victory over homeopathy’s sketchy clinical claims.
Likewise, Nerd Nite Vancouver is a laid-back and highly entertaining science bar night and is held in over 70 cities across the globe. Nerd Nite is run by an exuberant trio, consisting of a parasitologist, a 3D animator and an astronomer, whose witty banter has garnered a steady following for their events on Commercial Drive. The format is simple: three unique presenters with 20 minutes to speak about anything science-related that inspires, intrigues and interests them. In February, speakers included a graduate student in numerical geophysics, a beekeeper cum social activist and a UN Youth Ambassador with a preoccupation with space. With such lively and diverse talks and with both the drinks and audience participation flowing easily, there is something for every type of nerd.
Where does our fascination with science stem from? Yet another group, Curiosity Collider, aims to answer this question and explore new ways of experiencing science through a creative lens. Run by three inspirational women, Theresa Liao, Shelly McIvor and Char Hoyt, Curiosity Collider promotes interdisciplinary collaborations with spectacular results. Anything from digital artworks to poetry and performance art become platforms upon which to delve into even the most abstract of scientific unknowns.
For instance, this month’s event showcases the efforts of an unlikely partnership between bee biologist Mark Winston and Surrey Poet Laureate, Renee Sarojini Saklikar, with a piece entitled “Listening to the Bees: A Scientist and a Poet Respond.”
Speaking on some of the most fulfilling aspects of running Curiosity Collider, Community Relations Director, Theresa Liao, commented, “When we started out, we were not sure whether people would be interested in such an organization. However, every time we read the feedback cards from our events, we are reminded that there is a community supporting us, and there is a void we can fill.”
Non-profit organizations like these and many others are popping up all over the city to cater to the ever-widening spectrum of Vancouverites’ scientific interests. Run entirely by volunteers, these organizations are driven only by the satisfaction from seeing the public engaged and excited by new frontiers in human knowledge. So grab a drink and a check out your local science bar night – you never know what you’ll learn next.
Tara Fernandez is a science communicator and Cell Biologist at UBC. Her research focuses on the molecular causes of obesity and diabetes. She also enjoys getting people excited about science, and is a facilitator for Cafe Scientifique Vancouver.