by Kathy Eide Casas
Welcome to the Central Valley’s gathering of science-seekers–it’s the Central Valley Café Scientifique, a place for science in the cultural life of California’s Central Valley.
Have you ever wanted to have an ‘intelligent’ discussion with a scientist or science teacher…without worrying about what you don’t know, or wondering what kind of grade you’re going to end up with? What about being able to learn more and actually participate in discussions, to network with scientists and science-types without being intimated? If any of these scenarios sound appealing to you, then join others at Fresno’s Peeve’s for the monthly Central Valley Café Scientifiques. It’s the perfect place for you to be!
The Café Scientifiques began in 1998 in England and France as a grassroots public science initiative. Since that time, their number has grown to over 1,100 worldwide. Here in our own Central Valley, “Cafénistas” gather once a month at locally owned and operated Peeve’s Public House, on the Fulton Mall, for a night of good food and beverages, friendship and fun, and the chance to network with scientists in a “normal” setting.
Madhu Katti, an urban ecologist and professor of biology at CSU/Fresno, is one of the founders of the Central Valley Scientifique. It was founded, he said, “as a way to get science out of the ivory tower and into the public’s sphere.”
“While there are always public lectures on a campus or in science museums, the Café Scientifique is where people can actively come to look for science. We are taking science into a more public space where anybody can come and experience learning and talking about science.”
Having studied and worked in other universities in more university-centered towns, Professor Katti found that science was not a big part of the public discourse in the Valley. While there was a good literary and poetry tradition, and an active ArtHop in Fresno bringing people in from all around the valley, there was nothing similar in the Valley for science. He committed to changing that. Katti felt that, “in terms of the social and political context of our valley—it had a reputation of not being very science-friendly. All of this made me realize there’s a real need to communicate science in the public sphere here, and it’s really important to have more of that science interaction, especially in today’s days, when science and technology is shaping our lives. More and more, as scientists, we are really wanting to share the excitement of what we do.” Café Scientifique does just that.
It’s been eight years since the inception of the Central Valley Café Scientifique and everyone is very pleased with the participation. Some nights bring over 100 people, with standing room only.
Lifestyle topics tend to attract the most people and topics range from climate change to Darwin Day, animal behavior and sexual behaviors, from evolution to challenges of the drought.
Scott Hatfield, a science educator with Fresno Unified, is also one of the founders of The Central Valley Café Scientifique. “Science in a user-friendly way” is how Hatfield describes the café.
Though the topics and menu selections vary each month, the format remains generally the same. Cafénistas arrive at Peeve’s, where they’re greeted with an array of local and delicious beverage and menu selections, giving everyone the opportunity to eat, drink and visit. Then one of the organizers will spearhead a brief activity, such as a trivia contest, etc., as a fun way to engage. Upcoming events are announced and the speaker is introduced. The speaker spends 30 minutes on his/her topic, and perhaps, most importantly, Cafénistas have the opportunity to directly engage the scientist in a real-life way—important for those who might feel intimated in the regular academic meeting.
Hatfield further emphasized, “It’s good to give people the chance to ask questions about a topic that’s politically loaded, but here they can ask their questions in an open and friendly environment. We never tell anyone what to believe or not believe, we simply want them to engage in the science of the topic.”
Anyone can participate: speakers are there to be questioned and talk about their work at all levels.
Meetings are held on the first Monday of every month (with the exception of June-August)
Peeve’s 1243 Fulton Mall
Fresno, CA 93721
1•559•367•4293 (Café info) | 1•559•573•5735 (Peeve’s Pub)
Dinner is served from 6 p.m. onwards.
Talk begins at 7 p.m.
Coming soon: Central Valley Café Scientifique on 88.1 KFCF (Central Valley area affiliate of FPFA radio).