Caf̩ scientifique Рlost in translation?

By Grant Jacobs 27/06/2010

Does the title Café scientifique convey the wrong idea?

I made a brief comment on an ArsTechnica article about a case study of science communication in Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.* (USA), pointing to Café Scientifique as another example of communicating science and interacting with the public.

My comment received a reply which suggested the person both did not know what Café Scientifique was and had misinterpreted it’s aims from the title,

But isn’t Cafe Scientifique largely along with your peers? […]

I wrote a reply explaining what the overall aims were, which I’ve given in edited form below.

The thing I wanted to ask readers here is if you think the title is misleading or confusing.

When you see Café Scientifique, what you do you think?

Something for scientists? Or, geeks-only need apply? Trying to be erudite with faux French airs?!

Do you think something else would be better in it’s place?

I’ve tried to come up with a title that might better convey for New Zealanders what these events are, but I’m not doing well.

The French have their Bar des sciences. Or Science in the pub (Australian), or just Science Pub (Portland, Oregon; their slides are available on-line). In the USA there are science cafés. The NZ International Science Festival has reduced it to Café Sci (perhaps in part to keep a long title short).

Maybe I’m just jaded on dull grey Sunday, but these feel a bit bland to me.

It’s hard to get around that word ‘science’ too. Part of me would I’d like to though; I worry it‘s what might be confusing people if the ArsTechnica reader is representative of others.

As a slogan (as opposed to a title) phrases like Ideas, Coffee and Conversation can help convey the essence. Or Ideas, Grub, Grog & Conversation, as the case may be.

But this still leaves the title.

Y‘know that sneaky line good marketing people come up with that bites.

Hmm… Science bites?

There’s still ‘science’ in that title.

Some people desire intelligent conversation. Don’t you? I don’t mean the idealistic nonsense that romantic magazines peddle… Perhaps that’s a hook to hang it on? Not the science per se, but a place people might go to get more than inane gossip, inflated recollections of a footy match or  whatever.

Philosophy is too heavy and is perhaps a tainted word today. Many of the early societies where philosophical societies. But perhaps a twist on this might work, taking care not to demean the focus on sound science.

Pub thinkers happy hour? Doesn’t quite hit it, does it?

Intelligent stuff with your beer?


I’m really not up to it today, eh?

So, I’m calling on my readers for your thoughts and inspiration.

Do you think a better name is needed?

What do you think might be a better name?

What are Café scientifque

Café scientifique are opportunities for people interested in a topic, particularly the public, to hear an informal account of a topical issue in an relaxed setting (cafe, pub), followed by open discussion & questions. Typically a speaker or small panel of speakers give a short informal talk; it’s not lecture-styled and speakers are asked not to assume a knowledge of science (never mind the particular topic). Emphasis is on the open discussion with questions encouraged.

Part of the aim is to use a setting and approach that encourages those that would feel uncomfortable attending, say, a university lecture (even if  directed at the public).


* I want a little more formality that the potential pronunciation of this journal’s (unfortunate) acronym gives.

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To link or not to link: mainstream media and no links at all

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0 Responses to “Café scientifique – lost in translation?”

  • Well, we’ve never really had any issues with the ‘Cafe Scientifique’ label in Hamilton & Tauranga. We did vaguely consider ‘Science in the pub’ but went with the Cafe name, as much for solidarity with the European version as anything. I think I’d want to hang on to something in the name indicating the science focus; I mean, ‘Coffee & conversation’ could be about anything…

  • It may be that the person at Arstechnica isn’t representative of many people outside of science. Part of what I was idly wondering is if others outside of science sees the title indicating something for scientists rather than the public. But maybe, not.

    In thinking about other names, I was trying to think of the underlying things rather than the label ‘science’, if you like the essence without whatever baggage those outside of science might already have tied to the word.

    ‘Coffee & conversation’

    It was Ideas, Coffee & Conversation 😉 It is too broad on it’s own. Perhaps it’s not clear that what I was mentioning in passing there was a subtitle — i.e. in addition to the title, not in lieu of it — that clarifies what people do at them, the “activities” as it were.

  • I like the term Science Cafe. It is short, friendly sounding -cosy even- and reminiscent of dialogue over monologue! CafÈ scientifque is always going to sound exclusive -and probably as consequence be exclusive to a degree- how can it not when I dare say the majority of us are not comfortable trying to pronounce it correctly even amongst friends! “Hey Barry, are you coming along to the, er, uh… you know…. cafe thingy?”
    But maybe “cafe” is a problem when it is held in a pub, I can see that I guess. I like the colloqualism of a “session” down at the pub; you could call it a “Science Session”. But for the scientists this would undoubtedly be too reminiscent of a conference to be appropriately enticing.
    “Happy hour scientifque” would be a funny juxtaposition, but I think it’d only amuse me for a week or so.

    Nah, the Science Cafe does it for me. Now, where and when?

  • Jenny,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    The pub thing works both ways, eh? You don’t want to put non-drinkers off or accidentally make it sound to fixated on grog.

    Now, where and when?

    If you let people know where you are, they might be able to help.