“We are scientists, ask us anything!” reads the poster at the table in Small Bar in University Heights. Two friendly guys, Prithwish and Jim, greet me with smiles and enthusiasm about what questions I might have for them. I thought I detected a hint of disappointment when I brought up that I am also a scientist. “Two scientists walk into a bar” is a community program run by the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, and the premise is to set up scientists at bars around the city, allowing the general public to interact and ask any questions. They have it about every six months. I was so excited when I first heard about this event, and I came to find out how it was going and what it was like. I love the idea of providing science conversation to anyone who wants to join it in a laid-back beer-buzzed environment.
During my two hours at Small Bar, we scientists spent most of the time speaking with a group of four elementary school teachers who were on a “Two scientists” bar crawl. They mentioned that they like to discuss science when they go out to the bar anyway, but that they usually have a lot of questions, so this was a great opportunity to have those questions answered by scientists. They brought up what they had spoken about with the previous two scientists, asked us what we worked on, when and how we became interested in science, and at some point I started word-vomiting random stuff about virus evolution that I think is super interesting but I don’t remember how I got started on that. The teachers were very enthusiastic listeners. The other short conversation was with some twenty-somethings at the table next to us, who noticed Prithwish taking down the sign and decided to jump in quick to ask about hallucinogenic drugs and whether a zombie apocalypse could happen.
I asked Prithwash what motivated him to volunteer, and he said he was excited about the chance to do science outreach for adults, since there seems to be a good amount targeted for kids. Another friend I know who participated said he was excited about it because it combined his two favorite things, beer and science. That’s definitely one reason I was interested, but I’m also excited about science communication opportunities. The Fleet Science Center has been providing a lot of cool events for kids and adults as well as local teachers. I started volunteering there because I love that they provide so much science for the community, and want to support that mission.
Perhaps interactions like this between the general public and scientists will allow some communication barriers to dissolve. Often when I have told people I study science, they look at me like I have some special ability. I think the main “ability” that has led me to pursue science is the reverence I have for nature and its processes, which helps me to remember them and want to learn more. To understand anything you have to want to understand it. One of the benefits of addressing adults in science outreach events is that they have enough life experience to realize the benefits to understanding scientific concepts, especially related to health and technology and current events.
Another benefit that this type of event provides is the chance to dispel “scientist” stereotypes. Maybe not the nerdy stereotype, but if there’s still a stuffy-academic stereotype out there, this event should take care of it. Most of us love getting tipsy and discussing big questions of the day. It’s what we usually do at the bar anyway. Or maybe that’s just me. But I love talking science, especially with people who want to know more about it. Events like this show me that there are a lot of other scientists out there who feel the same way.
I had been daydreaming about the chance to advocate for vaccines or explain GMOs at the bar, but discussing the realistic causes of a potential zombie apocalypse was pretty fun too. Prithwish mentioned that he was also hoping for more challenging questions. But there are a lot of factors to consider, and we were in a small bar. That’s why it’s great that there were 24 other bars participating that night, with 50 total scientists, and I hope to find out what it was like at some of the other bars. The most we can hope for with any science communication event is just the chance to at least connect with people, and what better place than the pub to connect over ideas in science?