Hello and welcome back!
We are about to reboot the Central Valley Café Scientifique after a longer than usual hiatus. Its been a challenging year for many of us in our lives, and with me (Madhusudan Katti, in case you’re wondering who mostly writes here) and Kaberi being away for most of it on sabbatical in India, things went into a rather prolonged lull. Many of you have been asking about when the next event will be, and we’ve been regrouping to make a fresh start. We will resume on the first monday of 2014, January 6th, at a new venue, Peeve’s Public House on the Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno. Mark that on your calendars, and allow me to look back a bit at our efforts with this cafe over the years.
I started the Café soon after arriving in Fresno as a new faculty member at the university. As a scientist, I have always felt it is important to make science a more regular part of the cultural discourse in our community. This is particularly true in the Central Valley where, for a variety of reasons, we remain somewhat behind the curve when it comes to public understanding of science and its role in helping us understand the nature of the universe, and in improving our lives. Many scientists have tended to remain within the ivory tower—either because maybe we just are socially awkward geeks, or more because we are inclined and trained to focus on our research questions often to the exclusion of all else. Of course, many of us in universities are also educators, but that too remains behind the ivy as part of formal education. We share the excitement of doing science and learning how the universe really works quite regularly with our colleagues and students, but rarely so with the broader society which enables us to pursue these passions. Meanwhile, there has been a growing distrust of scientists and science in general to the point where America is falling behind in its position as a global leader in science and technology. You may have heard me lament this also on the radio recently.
Community forums like our cafe are, therefore, extremely important to help us turn this tide around. Even as we share the excitement of all the cool discoveries and innovations coming from science in the 21st century, we must also examine the role of science in society and how scientists can do more to solve the many challenges facing humanity. Our cafe is intended to be a conversation, more than just a forum for scientists to come and lecture the public about what we do, but as a forum where we can also get to hear different perspectives from people outside academia. Just as it is important in this age for citizens to be well informed about science, it is crucial for scientists also to take more seriously their roles as citizens in a democracy.
Creating and running the Central Valley Café Scientifique has therefore been one of the more rewarding things in my life here, and one that my colleagues in the university have also come to appreciate. It was great to have active support from community members like Scott Hatfield, Rick Hutchinson, and Nancy Key who joined me and my university colleagues to organize and run this forum over the past 6 years. A huge part of our success, of course, comes from all of you, the public, who have turned up regularly, often in numbers much larger than jaded academics expected, to keep the conversation going. I remember our very first meeting in October 2007, in the now long-gone Lenny’s Bistro Deli in River Park (remember that place?). Some of my colleagues were worried that not enough people would show up for such a public science event in Fresno, and that Lenny’s might not get enough business to continue supporting us. They needn’t have, because we overflowed the bistro that night, with barely any standing room by the time the talk started.
Ironically, Lenny’s did go out of business shortly thereafter, but we kept on chugging. Those of you who are our regulars know that we’ve moved around a fair bit over the years, to a number of different restaurants throughout Fresno and Clovis. Part of the challenge of running a science cafe in a place like Fresno, unlike say in the Bay Area, is finding a venue that shares our vision of making science a part of the cultural discourse, and can provide the logistical support to host our monthly events. This hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve done well over the years in different locations (despite a drop in attendance over the past year or so). Now we have a new venue, where the owner shares our vision of community and is really keen to support us as we reboot our Cafe in January.
Peeve’s Public House is a new pub in downtown Fresno, right in the heart of Fulton Mall, and it takes the “Public House” in its name very seriously indeed. Craig Scharton, the owner, has been an active member of Fresno’s business community, and has been engaged in rebuilding community in Fresno in recent years. His eyes lit up when we approached him last month about hosting our cafe there – an enthusiasm that was more than I had dared to hope for given the lukewarm (at best) responses from many other venues. The Pub has ample space, a well-stocked bar, great locally sourced food, and all the logistical support we need with a built in projector and sound system and even an event manager ready to help us promote the cafe!
So we’ve found a new home, which we hope will become our long-term venue as we participate in building a more engaged and informed community to help make our lives in Fresno a little bit better. And we have some new members coming forward to help us run the cafe, even as some of the stalwarts in our core group have had to step back because of other demands on their times. Running this forum has certainly enriched my family’s life here in Fresno, and I hope it has yours too. It has been gratifying to know that people have missed the cafe this fall, and are anxious for its return.
You won’t have to wait long: we will resume when the calendar turns, with our first event on January 6, 2014, at Peeve’s Pub. Stay tuned for details about that event, and please spread the word among your friends and family and colleagues that the Central Valley Café Scientifique is back!
See you at the pub in the new year!