Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Fries or escargot? Who attends Café Scientifiques?

Heralding a new step toward democratization of science, the New York Times today covered Café Scientifiques—the idea of self-organizing forums for citizens to discuss scientific issues and invite experts to find out more about new scientific developments. Says Duncan Dallas, funder of Café Scientifique in 1998, “[f]or the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to discuss the scientific ideas and developments which are changing our lives" (for the full article in the NYT, click here).

But, of course, markets are quickly realizing that the people most likely to show up at meetings like these tend to belong to higher socioeconomic groups and that an admission fee doesn’t deter them from wanting to belong to an elite group of science connoisseurs. So for $5 or $10, the NYT reports, people can join Nobel laureates and other scientists in discussions about nanotech and other scientific breakthroughs in NYC and upstate NY.

Just like the coffeehouses of the 19th century that Habermas and other democratic theorists talked about, Café Scientifiques may turn out to be events for the enlightened bourgeoisie rather than for the average citizen. "Science for the masses (you want fries with that?)?" the NYT titles. Realistically, Café Scientifiques are probably mostly designed for niche audiences.

1 comments:

mathilde.colin@gmail.com said...

You said "Cafés Scientifiques may turn out to be events for the enlightened bourgeoisie rather than for the average citizen". For sure. But the bourgeoisie launched the French Revolution, didn't it ?...
Don't you think Cafés scientifiques may pave the way for larger debates in society ?
Did you know that a French journalist, Dorothée Benoit Browaeys, organizes 6 "Cafés du vivant" about Nanotechnology in Paris, from January to June 2006 :
http://www.vivagora.org/programme2006.php3
It coul be interesting to see who is attending and what will follow...