Jay at the Science Cafe

Celebrating science at Ironwood Stage and Grill

The punchlines were raining heavier than a Perseid meteor shower when the Discovery Channel's Jay Ingram and the University of Alberta's Dr. Valerie Sim debated the pitfalls of science reporting at a recent Science Cafe at the Ironwood Stage and Grill. As they do every month, our close neighbours – the Ironwood in Inglewood and Telus Spark in Bottomlands Park – teamed up to host an evening of scintillating scientific discussion. Who knew that a couple of white-coats could be so wildly entertaining?

Jay Ingram argued that in order to engage the lay public, science reporting needs to be entertaining as well as accurate. "I don't value entertainment higher than accuracy," he explained, "but I value it equally." Valerie Sim saw things slightly differently. For her, the most important aspect of science reporting is that it be "true, but interesting.” For Ingram, however, it's most important that science reporting be "interesting and true.” There's a subtle but crucial difference. 
Communicating complex ideas without resorting to jargon is a huge challenge for scientists. "The brush of an artist is general," Dr. Sim pointed out, "the skill of a scientist is to be detail oriented." Interviewers who only pick up on sexy data points, or who are swayed by personal bias, make for dangerously inaccurate reporting. Quipped Ingram, "Who needs data when you've got dogma?"
From discussion about the tendency of the media to prematurely report scientific advances as cures, to a revelation about the surprisingly unscientific nature of a television science show like Daily Planet, to role-playing the three most common bad interviews, the evening's engaging hosts made sure the medicine went down in the most delightful way. Resolute beaker heads and casual science tourists alike left the Ironwood a little smarter about scientific reports in the popular press. 
We're thrilled that the Science Café monthly forum is just a short stroll down 9th Avenue from East Village. We can feel our brains growing already.