Introductions are in order at the beginning of a typical Science Café.
Those tasks both fall to Wiehe. “The video clip is very important because it is designed to galvanize the audience,” he explains. “The length is key. I try to go with something that is no longer than four minutes.”
The choice of the scientist is equally important. As the host of the Science Café, Wiehe takes an active role in facilitating discussion during each event. Nonetheless, it is still important for him to find a scientist with a good sense of humor who can talk about a science topic in a clear, understandable way. “We want someone who knows how to promote conversation in the group. The point of the event is for the participants’ voices to be heard,” Wiehe explains.
When Wiehe arrived at the Thirsty Scholar Pub an hour early to set up, he noticed a group of regulars sitting near the table he was planning to use for the event. Discovering that they didn’t know about the activity planned, he told them about it and suggested that they join in on the conversation. The men agreed to participate. Wiehe had hoped they would stay. One of the purposes of Science Cafés is to reach audiences who would not normally seek out an evening of science. So for this event, Wiehe had reached out to outdoor groups, such as the Sierra Club, which he thought would be interested because of the event’s focus on global warming and climate change.
As Wiehe finished setting up, he noticed that the pub was getting crowded. Soon all 80 seats were occupied. He and other WGBH staff members estimated that about 20 percent of the crowd was Thirsty Scholar regulars who had not come for the event. The remaining 80 percent was probably a mix of students and people who had come for the Science Café after hearing about it through fliers, e-mail alerts, friends, or community newspaper announcements.
The evening started with a brief introduction, much of which was drowned out by private conversations and the televisions; then Wiehe ran the video clip. A light and humorous treatment of a serious subject, the clip caught the crowd’s attention. It served to introduce the subject to those unfamiliar with it and to reinforce knowledge for those who knew something about the topic.
Dr. Marshall followed the video. He had prepared a seven-minute presentation designed to create a link between mass extinction, the subject of the clip, and global climate change. He concluded his brief talk with concerns about dangers to come. As an aside, he mentioned that bovine flatulence contributes to global warming by releasing the