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John Snow College Hosts Café Scientifique in Stockton

John Snow College — Professor Martyn Evans, the first principal of newly-established John Snow College at the University of Durham, reports that the senior members of Snow College have recently established a Café Scientifique which brings together the members of the college and the residents of the local neighborhood. “In terms of presenting the College and its aspirations to the wider community, and in engaging our students—who study across a relatively restricted range of primarily vocational degree courses—in public discussions of science, ethics and policy,” he writes, “it has been our most successful venture so far.” The Snow College Café Scientifique is

a regular and informal conversational-style public forum bringing together interested laypeople with acknowledged experts from specific fields of science, technology and medicine, in a café setting. This is part of a national network of such Cafés within the United Kingdom (information about the national network can be found at, and our own Café is, we believe, the most recent in the U.K.

We are highly encouraged by the response we have had so far; it has been adopted with enthusiasm by a local arts centre which provides the venue, is well attended by people in the local community who as a result are aware of Snow College and its aspirations, and offers an opportunity for our students to engage with ideas and, of course, individual experts outside the fields of their own degree studies…. I am particularly pleased that, in a period when media presentation of social, ethical and cultural aspects of science is increasingly non-intellectual and even anti-intellectual, we have attracted an excellent response to topics that are very challenging: the conflict between confidentiality and the needs of epidemiological research, and the cognitive neuroscientific basis of visual perception. I think it represents a so-far successful attempt to articulate the ideals of Collegiate education in the larger sense for the benefit both of our own students and of the community in which we are located.

What an excellent tradition this is. If we look analytically we can see why: (1) it brings the fellows of the college out into the local community, raising the college’s profile; (2) it shows students that the fellows are engaged with current issues and that they play an important civic role; (3) it provides participating students with an ongoing focus for conversation; (4) it provides student organizers with a valuable opportunity to exercise their skills in planning, advertising, and leadership; (5) it gives local businesses an opportunity to participate in and support the educational work of the college, a relationship that might be formalized though college associateships; and (6) it establishes international links for the college through the college’s own Café website and through the extensive federation of Cafés Scientifiques. And all of this at virtually no cost.

There are now Cafés Scientifiques in at least nine countries, including Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Morocco, and Switzerland, as well as the United Kingdom. Not all of these are connected with academic institutions, although sponsorship through a residential college, as with the Snow College example, seems almost ideal. Take a look at the international Café Scientifique website today, and see how your college might participate.

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