Café Scientifique

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Café Scientifique
Motto"Science for the price of a coffee"
Formation1998 (1998)
PurposeEducational, entertainment
Region served

Café Scientifique is a grassroots public science initiative currently running in more than 40 towns across the United Kingdom and cities in other countries. At least twelve cafés outside the UK are organised by the British Council alone. Similar but independent events have also sprung up in many cities using variations of the "Café Scientifique" or "Science Café" monikers. Typically, one monthly evening meeting is organised in a café or bar to which one or several scientists are invited to talk in laymen's terms about their work in a topical or even controversial area. The events are known for their informal and friendly atmosphere, and are believed to improve the image of scientists and careers in science. Cafe Scientifique aims to demystify scientific research for the general public and empower non-scientists to more comfortably and accurately assess science and technology issues, particularly those that impact on social policy making.

Many Café Scientifique organisers choose to communicate with each other by means of a centrally-managed mailing list.

There also is a series of cafés run in schools. These are called Junior Café Scientifique.[1]


Café Scientifique was first organised by Duncan Dallas in Leeds in 1998, but is based on the Café Philosophique movement which the philosopher Marc Sautet (1947-1998) started in France in 1992.

In France it was started by scientists who thought they ought to inform the public more, and in the UK it was started by members of the public who wanted to know more about science. In both countries it moved out of an academic structure into popular locations, and thereby attracted audiences.

It started at a time in the UK where COPUS, the Committee on the Public Understanding of Science[2](organised by the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science), thought that the public did not understand science and needed to be better educated and lectured to. Newspapers considered it very odd that people should go to a café, drink wine and discuss science rather than just gossip.[citation needed] However the public were becoming more concerned about topics like Mad Cow Disease, GM crops, cloning, etc.

During the last decade the subject has moved from Public Understanding through Science Communication to Public Engagement and has been embraced by academic disciplines, government departments, research institutes, politicians, educators and policy makers. When it started Café Scientifique was considered weird and avant-garde, however it is now enmeshed in a huge industry.


Although Café Scientifique is an idea rather than a particular place, the location is considered important to engender informal scientific debate. The cafe setting is selected to be relaxing, in contrast with a more formal lecture hall setting and everyone attending is given equal respect. The aim of the Café Scientifique is, according to author and neurologist Oliver Sachs "to bring science back into culture." Whereas science is often seen as boring, difficult and mathematical, the aim of the Café Scientifique is to make science relevant, powerful and important, addressing topics such as the universe, climate change, gene mapping and how our brains function. Cafes are assumed to engage and address their local culture. In Britain there is usually one speaker, in Denmark there are two (one non-scientist) and in France often four (as well as a band in the interval). In Japan more respect should be shown to old people, so questions and opinions are done by SMS onto a big screen, so that no one knows the age of the commentator. In Africa topics are down-to-earth – how to live with HIV, avoid Malaria or understand water purification. The Cafes aim to promote a cultural examination of science by local people.

Current developments[edit]

Individual Cafes have many different names and often don’t require funding – they only pay the speaker’s travelling expenses by asking for donations from the audience. So Cafes provide the opportunity for individuals and groups to initiate many different forms – street science, comedy, music, theatrical readings, dancing, demonstration, etc.

Internet technology has provided the basis for the expansion of Cafes. The main website [1] has provided support for cafes to start up in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. But now individual Cafes are using their websites to expand their audience and prolong the discussion.

Cafes have been set up in schools in France, Italy, Britain and now in Africa. Pupils are asked what subjects they would like to discuss, and are then asked to organise, advertise and chair the meeting, which should not take place in a classroom. Usually a speaker (younger rather than older) comes from a local university to talk at the school. Subjects can vary from Flying, Mobile Phones, and The Science of Love to Climate Change.

Finally, efforts are being made to take Cafes to areas which are problematic – to the countryside, Montana in the USA and Cockermouth in the Lake District, UK – to islands, Corfu in Greece and Orkney in Scotland – dangerous areas, Palestine – and immigrants or gypsies in Hungary and the UK.[citation needed]

In Melbourne, a recent development is 'Campfires and Science' - built on the same principles, but gathering people around the familiar setting of a campfire to learn, share ideas and get involved in doing science.[3][4] By organising trips into the forest and other wilderness area, the movement hopes to bridge the gap between metropolitan areas and rural areas by encouraging the public to get involved in doing science themselves, such as surveying species and mapping using drones.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Junior Cafe Scientifique Scheme". Durham University Science Outreach. Retrieved 16 December 2016.
  2. ^ "Committee on the Public Understanding of Science Homepage". Retrieved 2009-01-18.
  3. ^ "Citizen Science: Campfires and Science | About Hindawi". 2018-06-10. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
  4. ^ "Great Forest National Park Update - Autumn". 2017-05-15. Archived from the original on 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-05-15.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  5. ^ "(1) Campfires and Science". 2017-05-15. Archived from the original on 2017-05-15. Retrieved 2017-05-15.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)

External links[edit]