greenhouse gas methane, a remark that provoked a chuckle in the room. Then he opened the floor for questions and comments. He had a clipboard of notes on hand, thinking he would need to refer to them during the open discussion.
The discussion started with questions from regular pub patrons: “How do we know that humans are causing the problem?” they asked. “Are there any beneficial aspects to global warming?” They also challenged what Marshall had described as people’s collective responsibility to protect the planet for future generations. “So what if humans go extinct?” they mused. “Extinctions have happened before. Maybe it’s our fate.”
Then the audience returned to the issue of bovine flatulence. “How does bovine flatulence contribute to greenhouse gases?” someone wanted to know. “What if we changed the diet of the cows?” another participant suggested. “If we all became vegetarians, would that help?”
It’s a good thing that Marshall has a wry sense of humor—and can think on his feet. For the next 10 minutes, he and the group discussed different ways to deal with this problem. They considered the possibility of feeding cattle different kinds of grains, feeding them their natural diet of grass, or cutting back on people’s weekly meat consumption. Early in the discussion, Marshall cast his notes aside. He hadn’t thought that the conversation would go in this direction, so his notes were of little use. He had to draw on his knowledge of this topic to do his part to keep the discussion going.
As it turned out, the event was a learning experience for Marshall, too. In NOVA scienceNOW’s national surveys, 38 percent of participating scientists report that their involvement in the program changed the way they present their work to the public.
After 25 minutes of conversation, Wiehe noticed that some people were starting to lose attention. So he ended the group discussion and reminded everyone to enter a prize drawing by completing the evaluation forms at their tables. The noise in the room increased as everyone started talking excitedly with those nearest them. Marshall was immediately surrounded by patrons who had more questions. Wiehe then asked him to circulate around the room, giving everyone the chance to have a face-to-face conversation about whatever interested them most. For some, this meant a technical discussion of the topic. Others simply wanted a chance to meet Dr. Marshall personally. “I’m going to tell my friends I had a beer with a paleontologist,” exclaimed one Thirsty Scholar patron. “This event reminded me of how much I love science.”
This participant is not alone in his enthusiasm. In surveys of science cafés around the country, more than 70 percent of those attending a Science Café report staying more up-to-date with current science as a result of the experience. The evidence indicates that the interest ignited through the event was sustained and incorporated into participants’ daily lives.
Throughout the rest of the evening, patrons of the pub continued to talk about global warming. The pub’s owner, delighted with the outcome of the evening, was eager to be involved in the next event. Charles Marshall also expressed his enthusiasm for the evening and his desire to participate in future Science Cafés.
Perhaps the most telling sign of the evening’s success lay in the hands of several of the regulars who decided to stay for the event: tickets to a concert they had chosen not to attend. They opted instead for an evening of stimulating discussion about science.7