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Science cafés were originally conceived as an informal, dialogue-based venue for public participation in science. The first science cafés took place in the United Kingdom and France in 1997–98. Two formats—one featuring a single speaker (United Kingdom) and one with a panel of speakers and a moderator (France)— resulted from these first initiatives. Since then, science cafés have been adapted to other sociocultural contexts, and today, science cafés are being conducted in many different countries and for many different purposes. We examine the emergence and development of science cafés in Denmark and Japan with particular focus on the role of science and technology studies (STS), national contexts of science communication policy, and cultures of public participation. We find that in both countries, despite different expectations of public deliberation about science and technology, science cafés have been easily embedded in the “new” scientific governance programs (Irwin 2006). This is mainly due to institutional support in the national research systems and the involvement of STS scholars who, in their support of public participation in science and dialogue-based science communication, have advocated science cafés as a meaningful way to intervene in science-society relationships. “Sipping science” in a science café, enabling public participation in science deliberations, has interpretative flexibility, appealing to a wide variety of people and stakeholders engaged in public communication of science and technology.
Sipping Science: The Interpretative Flexibility of Science
´s in Denmark and Japan
Kristian H. Nielsen, Gert Balling, Tom Hope, and Masaki Nakamura
Received: 6 July 2012 / Accepted: 15 August 2014
qMinistry of Science and Technology, Taiwan 2015
Abstract Science cafe´s were originally conceived as an informal, dialogue-based
venue for public participation in science. The first science cafe´s took place in the
United Kingdom and France in 1997 98. Two formats—one featuring a single spea-
ker (United Kingdom) and one with a panel of speakers and a moderator (France)—
resulted from these first initiatives. Since then, science cafe´s have been adapted to
other sociocultural contexts, and today, science cafe´s are being conducted in many
different countries and for many different purposes. We examine the emergence and
development of science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan with particular focus on the role
of science and technology studies (STS), national contexts of science communication
policy, and cultures of public participation. We find that in both countries, despite
different expectations of public deliberation about science and technology, science
cafe´s have been easily embedded in the “new” scientific governance programs
(Irwin 2006). This is mainly due to institutional support in the national research
systems and the involvement of STS scholars who, in their support of public
Acknowledgments We are grateful to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the
Scandinavian-Japan Sasakawa Foundation for financial support of travels and short-term visits at the
Tokyo Institute of Technology and Osaka University.
K. H. Nielsen (*)
Centre for Science Studies, Ny Munkegade 118, DK-8000, Aarhus C, Denmark
G. Balling (*)
Ved Lindevangen 32, 2, th., 2000, Frederiksberg, Denmark
T. Hope (*)
International Student Center, Tokyo Institute of Technology, 2-12-1-W1-9 O-okayama, Meguro-ku, Tokyo
152-8550, Japan
M. Nakamura (*)
Centre for Education in Liberal Arts and Sciences, Osaka University, 1-16 Machikaneyama-cho, Toyonaka,
Osaka 560-0043, Japan
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal (2015) 9:1–21
DOI 10.1215/18752160-2832109
participation in science and dialogue-based science communication, have advocated
science cafe´s as a meaningful way to intervene in science-society relationships. “Sip-
ping science” in a science cafe´, enabling public participation in science deliberations,
has interpretative flexibility, appealing to a wide variety of people and stakeholders
engaged in public communication of science and technology.
Keywords Science cafe´sdialogue-based science communicationpublic
participation in scienceDenmarkJapan
1 Introduction
There is a growing interest in the scope and meaning of public communication of
science and technology across political and national cultures. Science and technology
studies (STS) have long emphasized the need to rephrase in terms of human values,
social practices, and entangled networks the ahistorical and a-cultural perception of
science, which depicts science as nothing but universal method and pure rationality.
Similarly, scholars and practitioners of public understanding of science and science
communication are beginning to recognize the crucial importance of social and cul-
tural contexts of public communication of science. In themed sections and individual
articles on science communication outside the dominant contexts of the United States,
the United Kingdom, and other drivers within science literacy and public under-
standing of science, many authors have analyzed developments in Latin America,
the Mediterranean countries, Denmark, Japan, India, China, Taiwan, and so forth
(see, for example, Castelfranchi 2004; Chen and Wu 2007; Deng and Wu 2010;
Evangelista and Kanashiro 2004; Greco 2004; Higashijima, Takahashi, and Kato
2009; Juraku, Suzuki, and Sakura 2007; Mazzonetto 2005; Nielsen 2005;
Pitrelli 2005).
Recently, in a book dealing with how publics across the globe relate to science,
Bauer, Shukla, and Allum (2012: 1) considered the “great societal conversation about
science” that goes on around the world, noting:
From a comparative perspective, this societal conversation fluctuatesin intensity,
topics covered, engagement of the population, and focus on controversies. It is
influenced by the cultural context of language, political culture, local history of
science, and current levels of technological development. Societal conversation
implies more than opinions expressed in survey interviews. It encompasses
writings in print and news media, exhibitions, stakeholder consultations, science
policy documents, informal and formal learning by young and old, to name but
In this article, we too would like to stress the urgency of this conclusion and explore its
implications for a near-global phenomenon in science communication, namely,
science cafe´s. Within the last couple of decades, science cafe´s have emerged in
many different countries as a loosely defined format for communicating science in
informal settings. Ideally, science cafe´s take place in public venues such as cafe´ s, bars,
museums, or libraries with no or very few restrictions on entry and ample room for
two-way dialogue between the speaker(s) and the audience. The emphasis on
2 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
establishing direct communication between scientists and their audiences in relaxed,
familiar social situations has resulted in an identification of science cafe´s with public
participation in science. Science cafe´s generally are seen as tools for establishing
“a real dialogue, a two-way communication ..., [which is] the basis of negotiation,
creating an opportunity for the audience to contribute to the meaning of the presen-
tation” (Riise 2008: 303).
Science cafe´s have emerged in many different countries partly because of the
sharing across national boundaries of ideas and experience. In the process, science
cafe´s also have been adapted to local contexts that, we expect, shape the ways in which
“real dialogue” is being enacted. As a dialogue-based mode of science communi-
cation, science cafe´s form part of the international turn to public participation in
science or democratization of science and technology, which has had considerable
impact on the sciences, STS, and science policy making (Bucchi and Neresini 2008;
Callon, Lacoumes, and Barthe 2009; Irwin 2006). Moreover, there is growing concern
about the implementation of participatory events in different settings and their exten-
sion to decision-making processes that are highly dependent on technical expertise
(Collins and Evans 2007). The high aspirations attached to two-way communication
between science and its audiences need to be moderated by taking into account the
ways in which specific events such as science cafe´s are being promoted by institutions
and remain (and probably should remain) embedded in national cultures of public
A comprehensive study of the global spread of science cafe´s would have to include
these two aspects of the specific contexts in which different science cafe´ formats are
being implemented: the preceding organization and the actual performance of the
event. Since there is no widely accepted standard setup for science cafe´s, except for
the rules of thumb just mentioned, science cafe´s, like many other modes of informal
science communication such as science festivals or street science, are very flexible.
Science cafe´s may be adopted for purposes of informal science education, for debates
about controversial science and technology issues, for public outreach, for citizen
engagement, and so on. The enactment of specific science cafe´ events introduces new
contingencies, since the open discussion is impossible to predict (and should be,
according to the very idea of a science cafe´).
At the core of this article is an attempt to engage empirically and conceptually with
the emergence and development of science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan. The authors
of this article have taken active part in introducing science cafe´s in these countries and
been active players in the establishment and promotion of an international, loosely
connected network of science cafe´ organizers. With this article, we wish to present and
reflect on our own experiences by contextualizing science cafe´s in Denmark and
Japan. We believe that comparing science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan is rewarding
for two reasons. First of all, the two case studies provide interesting backgrounds for
studying the introduction and assimilation of an open, informal science communi-
cation format like the science cafe´s. We expect to see differences in how Danish and
Japanese science cafe´ organizers have adopted the international science cafe´ formats.
Second, we also would expect that similarities would be discernible across national
boundaries, owing to the existence of an international network of science cafe´
organizers and the widespread political acceptance of public participation in science.
The interplay between global networking and local adaptation is what fascinates us
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 3
about science cafe´s, and we want to tease out from our own experiences lessons that
may be more generally applicable to the field of public communication of science and
The article is structured as follows: First, we review the literature on participatory
science communication activities in different national contexts with a particular
emphasis on consensus conferences held in Denmark and in East Asia. We then present
the origins and the global spread of science cafe´s. Then follows our narrative about the
introduction of science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan, emphasizing the roleof individuals,
networks, and institutions. We also examine (some of ) the designed procedures to
promote dialogue with the audience and critically reflect on the ambition of science
cafe´ organizers to stimulate “real dialogue.” Last, we put forward our general
conclusions with respect to public participation in science in different contexts.
2 The Interpretative Flexibility of Public Participation in Science
The notion of public participation in science has roots in the 1960s and 1970s, when
ideas about deliberative democracy and public participation in decision making
related to science and technology began to flourish (Bucchi and Neresini 2008;
Einsiedel 2008). Since then, science and technology-based controversies about
energy, sustainability, biotechnology, climate change, health, and globalization
have only strengthened the need for citizens to engage in critical debates that affect
their futures (Callon, Lacoumes, and Barthe 2009; Leach, Scoones, and Wynne 2005).
At the turn of the twenty-first century, universities and other higher education insti-
tutions, along with national governments and supranational institutions such as the
European Union (EU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural
Organization (UNESCO), had fully embraced public participation in science
(Mejlgaard et al. 2012; UNESCO 1998).
As Irwin (2006) noted, the institutional support of public participation in science
was conceived largely in response to the perceived lack of public legitimacy of
science, the assumption being that consulting citizens in relation to science and tech-
nology issues generally reduces their criticisms and skepticisms with respect to
scientific knowledge and technological innovation. It is ironic that, as governments
began harnessing public participation in science to achieve what Irwin called
“new” scientific governance, enabling dialogue and participation became equal to
reducing critical voices to a minimum. Consequently, STS scholars have begun
criticizing participatory activities for framing participatory science events in terms
of technical expertise and for failing to engage with a broader public—particularly the
disengaged, the uninformed, and the uninterested, whom Horst and Michael (2011),
following Isabelle Stengers, refer to as “the idiot” (Horlick-Jones et al. 2006; Irwin,
Jensen, and Jones 2013; Kerr, Cunningham-Burley, and Tutton 2007).
There is a near-global interest in public participation in science, and the variety of
participatory activities is high (Einsiedel 2008). Just as the claim that the turn to public
participation in science engages citizens, enabling them to influence decision making,
needs to be qualified by looking closely into the actual design, performance, and
outcome of participatory activities, so does the idea that such activities are homo-
geneous across cultures. The Monitoring Policy and Research Activities on Science
4 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
in Society in Europe (MASIS) project found that there are “heterogeneous models and
levels of public engagement in science and technology decision-making in Europe”
(Mejlgaard et al. 2012: 12). Some European countries, most notably the Nordic
countries, but also Belgium, France, and Switzerland, have formalized procedures
for public participation in science and a high degree of de facto public involvement in
science and technology decision making, whereas others, including many Eastern
European countries, have no procedures and little involvement. Interestingly, the
lack of formalized procedures is no obstacle to public participation in science, as
the cases of Iceland and Austria demonstrate. Nor do formalized procedures guarantee
public involvement, as seen in some Eastern European countries such as Montenegro,
Slovenia, Slovakia, and Croatia. Nascent civil societies, lack of appropriate
institutions, or noninclusive political culture were identified as barriers for democratic
deliberation about science and technology (Mejlgaard et al. 2012: 12).
The Danish consensus conference probably is the best-known method for enacting
public participation in science. The Danish Board of Technology is usually credited
with the development of the participatory consensus conference in which politicians,
experts, and representatives of the broader public come together to perform
technology assessments. The consensus conference, which includes two preparatory
weekends and a three-day conference, results in a final document with the citizen
panel’s assessments. The document is published and circulated to all members of the
Danish parliament and relevant decision makers (Danish Board of Technology 2006).
Although the consensus conference has been widely used and recognized as a method
that “travels well (works in multiple national and socio-cultural contexts)” (Einsiedel,
Jelsøe, and Breck 2001), the method also has what Horst (2008: 272) calls
“interpretative flexibility”: it includes elements of knowledge dissemination, demo-
cratic deliberation, and negotiation between divergent beliefs and thus may be
perceived very differently by different actors.
Paraphrasing Einsiedel, Jelsøe, and Breck and Horst, we observe that the consensus
conference method has traveled to East Asia, where it also has worked well, in large
part owing to its interpretative flexibility. The first consensus conference in Japan took
place in 1998 as a smaller feasibility study conducted by a group of STS researchers
and funded by two private foundations (Wakamatsu 1999). The topic was gene
therapy. Despite initial doubts, the organizing team successfully recruited experts
and citizens who were willing and capable of acting the roles assigned to them. The
experts tried to communicate the technicalities of the topic, although obviously some
were better at doing so than others. The citizen panelists were eager to ask questions
and discuss, and they also produced a consensus document. Instead of circulating the
document to policy and decision makers, the organizers held an open symposium
about the conference and its conclusions, achieving some media coverage. The
study seemed to prove the feasibility of doing consensus conferences in Japan. Yet,
the organizers also had to conclude that it would be difficult to achieve impact on
actual decision-making processes, as public participation in science and public
accountability of science at the time was not generally accepted in Japanese society.
In 2000, for the first time, the Japanese government introduced the consensus
conference method in response to the long-lived public debate in national media
about genetically modified crops (Nishizawa and Renn 2006). Traditionally, the
scope of participatory activities has been rather limited in Japan, where relatively
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 5
closed groups of well-established experts, government officials, and industrial
representatives usually make decisions about science and technology. When in the
1970s technology assessment was introduced into Japan, citizens were never intended
to be part of the process. The official consensus conference, hosted by the Japanese
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, was an experiment in introducing
deliberative political culture into Japan, and the members of the citizen panel seemed
to be attentive to this fact, some suppressing criticism in order to allow for the con-
sensus document to have impact on policy making. They feared that the authorities
would simply ignore critical statements. Self-censorship by citizens, thus, turned out
to be the greatest problem. Nishizawa (2005: 486) concludes that even though the
consensus conference method may have been radical in comparison to conventional
conflict-resolution methods in Japan, the content of the deliberation was profoundly
shaped by “the conventional policy style of consensual and technocratic decision-
making and the conformist attitude in Japan.”
The translation of the consensus conference from the Danish to the Japanese
context nicely illustrates the potential and the challenges involved in implementing
standard formats for public participation in science in new social and cultural contexts.
The consensus conferences appeal to a broad range of actors, including STS
researchers, civil servants, and politicians in Europe and in East Asia. Moreover,
the interpretative flexibility of the consensus conference method makes it possible
to nurture different expectations of the method’s outcome and to try to make use of it
accordingly. Whereas the consensus conference method in Denmark is understood as
an input to technology assessment and policy making, the consensus conferences in
Japan have been compared to staged experiments in which the participants can play
with new, unconventional identities. This observation is supported by the fact that the
consensus conferences enacted by the Japanese authorities also have been the ones in
which the participants have found it most difficult to play along, leaving behind their
received views of the proper relationship between citizens and authorities. Owing to
the fact that they embody popular ideas about participatory science communication
and deliberative democracy, consensus conferences are easily transferred from one
context to another. Consensus conferences also are flexible enough to allow for
cultural differences in the very enactment of the method.
Like consensus conferences, science cafe´s have become popular, if not
fashionable, in the last decades. Although the two methods both are part and parcel
of the turn to public participation in science, there are subtle differences: while
consensus conferences aim to facilitate public participation in decision-making
processes pertaining to science and technology, science cafe´s are designed to
accommodate participation in public deliberations about science and technology.
Consensus conferences rely on sponsorship and a high degree of organization in
order to meet their particular aim (Bucchi and Neresini 2008). In comparison, science
cafe´s are cheap and have no fixed agenda, except for the themes chosen by their
organizers and the moderation of the deliberations in the cafe´. As a format for
stimulating public participation in science deliberations—and one that requires little
organization, little funding, and little micromanagement of the event itself—science
cafe´s, unsurprisingly, also “travel well” across national boundaries and also are
characterized by a high degree of interpretative flexibility, perhaps even more so
than consensus conferences. For the same reasons, we would accept that science
6 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
cafe´s, like consensus conferences, are easily accommodated into “new” scientific
governance schemes in Denmark and Japan, similar to those discussed by Irwin
(2006). Still, we also expect to find that different organizers and different users of
science cafe´s can have very different ideas about what constitutes “real dialogue” in a
science cafe´.
3 The Making of an International Science Cafe
Like consensus conferences, science cafe´s originated in Europe and then spread
globally. One of the first science cafe´s, known as the Cafe´ Scientifique, took place
in a wine bar in Leeds in 1998. Conceived by Duncan Dallas, who used to make TV
programs on science, the event was inspired by the French Cafe´s Philosophiques
where people turn up in cafe´s to discuss philosophical issues. The event was advertised
as “an evening where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can
come to discuss the scientific ideas and developments which are changing our lives.”
Much to the surprise of the organizer, a speaker on Richard Dawkins’s idea of the
selfish gene drew a crowd of forty to fifty people (Dallas 1999, 2006). Since then,
backed by funding from the Wellcome Trust, which enabled the appointment of an
organizer to travel the country and assist people in setting up cafe´ s in their own town or
city, the Cafe´s Scientifiques have spread across the United Kingdom, with more than
fifty or so local initiatives up and running. The Cafe´s Scientifiques in the UK have their
own website (, and there are a number of Junior Cafe´s
Scientifiques in schools (
The British format of science cafe´s involves an invited speaker (usually a scientist
or science writer), a venue (a cafe´-bar with a side room), and a topic that has a scientific
basis, but also social relevance. The invited speaker talks for about twenty minutes or
so without any visual aids; then, there is a break for drinks followed by questions and
discussion for about an hour or so. The audience is anyone with an interest in the topic
or simply going to the cafe´. Information about the events is distributed by e-mail and
possibly posters and flyers in a local library, in the venue itself, and in other places.
Importantly, all the cafe´s are run locally (Dallas 2006).
In an early reflection about the attraction of this format, Dallas (1999: 120) wrote:
There is no agenda, hidden or overt, to defend or sell science. If people don’t like
what they hear, they object forcefully. The subjects, or speakers, are picked
because they are what people want to hear and they are often controversial. The
audience sets the agenda, not the scientists. Not surprisingly, the biosciences
feature heavily, but the cafe´ has also tackled chemistry, physics, maths, and IT.
The venue, a cafe´-bar, is where the audience feels comfortable. The atmosphere
is friendly and convivial, rather than academic and competitive. This is not a
“self-improving” audience, in the way that Victorian scientific societies arose.
People don’t just want to listen. They want to participate and be heard on equal
terms with the scientists.
Around the same time in France, other types of science cafe´s were appearing. In the
summer of 1997, the Socie´te´ Franc¸aise de Physique organized a public “Bar des
Sciences” as part of their annual conference, held in Paris. Later that same year, in
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 7
Lyon, science journalist Nathaly Mermet and members of the Sciences et Citoyens
(Sciences and Citizens) club at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
(National Center for Scientific Research) began their regular series of science cafe´s.
(The Lyon group also organized the first Junior Cafe´s.) The French format, known as
the Cafe´ des Sciences or Bar des Sciences, differs from the British Cafe´s Scientifiques.
There is an “animateur” (host or moderator) introducing the topic of the event, which
is usually selected by the local organizing committee. The animateur also directs and
inspires the debate. There is a panel of “intervenants” (introductory speakers), usually
three to five persons, rather than just one scientist. The panel is selected with a view to
balancing of opinions and expertise. Typically, there are one or two scientists
(representing different fields of expertise), a representative of some form of counter-
expertise, for example nongovernmental organizations or other citizens’ groups, and a
politician. Each panelist is allotted but a brief time for presentation before the general
discussion sets off. The French model includes two important elements: the debate
primarily takes as its point of departure the questions of the audience, and different
voices of opinion, expert as well as nonexpert, will have to be expressed. Both
elements serve to increase the interaction between the introductory speakers and
their audience (Grand 2007: 6 7).
Since then, science cafe´s have emerged in many countries across the globe, such as
Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, the United States,
and several African countries. The spread of the British Cafe´ Scientifique model was
partly enabled by support from the British Council and the Wellcome Trust. From
2004 onward, the British Council has been running Cafe´s Scientifiques in more than
forty countries, from Australia to Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey. Also, the Wellcome Trust
has supported the internationalization of the science cafe´ movement. For example, an
International Engagement Award from the Wellcome Trust enabled the establishment
of a science cafe´ in Uganda, and the Wellcome Trust also sponsored the Cafe´ Scien-
tifique Organizers’ Conference, held on 12 13 March 2007, in Leeds (Grand 2007).
From 2010 to 2013, the European Commission within the 7th Framework Programme
funded a European network of science cafe´s called SciCafe´ ( In the
United States, there is a network of science cafe´s operated by NOVA scienceNOW
To sum up, two more or less well-established and well-known ways of doing
science cafe´s (not counting the junior science cafe´s) have originated in Europe: one
with a single speaker presenting his or her own research field and one applying a panel/
discussion format to open up for a discussion of broader themes involving aspects of
science, technology, and society. The international meetings, projects, and social net-
works have resulted in the sharing of ideas and experiences. Science cafe´ s are continu-
ing to expand in numbers, and organizers have been prone to experiment with new
formats. In the report from the 2007 Leeds conference, it was observed that new setups
are being engaged: comedy cafe´s, cafe´s in art and photography galleries, and play
readings (Grand 2007). Also, science cafe´s have been set up in ethnic minority areas
and in different venues such as shopping centers and theaters. The SciCafe´ network
funded by the EU resulted in science cafe´s in Second Life and online streaming of
science cafe´s. Moreover, scientific institutions and governments increasingly are
using science cafe´s as an integral part of their outreach and participatory activities.
As science cafe´s proliferate across the globe, novel concepts are being tried out; yet, at
8 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
the same time, science cafe´s, as part of the trend toward public participation in science,
have become mainstream participatory activities.
4 Denmark: Science Cafe
´s as “Consensusing”
In 2001, inspired by the early initiatives in the UK and in France, Gert Balling and
Emmanuelle Schuler initiated what they referred to as the Copenhagen School of
science cafe´s (Balling and Schuler 2002). At the time, Gert Balling was pursuing a
PhD in cultural studies of cyborgs, while Emmanuelle Schuler was active in the fields
of nanoscience and risk assessment. They based their science cafe´ on the French model
with a moderator and a panel of speakers. Like the French organizers, Balling and
Schuler wanted the Copenhagen science cafe´s to include representatives from many
different spheres of society: scientists and engineers, of course, but also artists, jour-
nalists, politicians, grassroots, and so on. Moreover, they expanded the concept of the
science cafe´ to include a preparatory dinner with a glass of wine, where the moderator
and the invited panel speakers can get acquainted before the actual event. The dinner is
seen as an important part of the Copenhagen science cafe´s, as it tends to improve the
mutual understanding between the experts, easing conversation and dialogue on stage
(Balling and Schuler 2002: 31).
The introduction of the French science cafe´ format in Danish culture was relatively
straightforward, the Copenhagen science cafe´s being received well by experts, policy
makers, and participants in the science cafe´s (see comments by participants in Balling
and Schuler 2002). This reception was to be expected. First of all, Denmark has a long
and thriving tradition of democratic deliberation on most political topics, including
science and technology. The first popular science magazines date back to the mid-
nineteenth century, and lectures, meetings, and discussion panels relating to scientific
and technological topics have been regular features of Danish public culture since the
late nineteenth century (Kragh et al. 2008). More recently, public participation in
science has featured prominently in Denmark ever since the first initiatives within
technology assessment in the late 1970s, and, later, the founding of the Danish Board
of Technology in 1985. The first consensus conference held in Denmark dates back to
1983. Today, the Danish Board of Technology Foundation operates a wide range of
participatory methods, from consensus conferences to citizens’ juries and cafe´ semi-
nars. The latest addition to the board’s method catalogue is World Wide Views, a
multisite citizen participation method designed for the purpose of making global
citizens consultations (Danish Board of Technology Foundation 2013).
Whereas the Danish Board of Technology puts emphasis on counseling decision
makers, who are not necessarily present in the participatory event, the Copenhagen
school of science cafe´ s, like other science cafe´ organizers, stresses in situ interactions
between experts and citizens. Despite such differences, bothinitiatives form part of what
Horst and Irwin (2010) called the Danish culture of “consensus.” According to Horst
and Irwin, consensus in Denmark not only refers to citizens’ and experts’ informed
coconstruction of meaning about controversial science and technology issues. Histori-
cally, since the later part of the nineteenth century, consensus building in Denmark also
has been closely related to nation building. Trying to maintain national integrity in a
period when Denmark lost territory and faced many external threats, Danish reformists
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 9
used general-education activities and experimented with extended group decision
making as a way to define a road ahead for the nascent liberal democracy.
The emphasis on what Horst and Irwin call “consensusing,” that is, the idea that the
consensus-oriented dialogue and cultural ties go hand in hand, has been central to the
Copenhagen school of science cafe´s. The crucial metaphor used in the so-called
manifesto of the Danish science cafe´s is “bridge-building between techno-science
and society” (Balling and Schuler 2002: 13). The science cafe´ is seen as a tool for
enabling common understanding between the lay audience and the invited experts, but
also for enabling conversations among the presenters. Although there is no explicit
construction of consensus involved in the Copenhagen school of science cafe´ s, there is
an expectation of (a kind of ) consensus between the representatives of science and
society that are present at the event. The science cafe´s are expected “on the one hand to
provide technoscience with a more natural place in society and culture and on the other
hand to make societal and cultural issues a more natural part of technoscientific
practice” (Balling and Schuler 2002: 13 –14). The expected naturalness of these com-
plex processes indicates the extent to which the organizers and the participants are
embedded in the national context of consensus, in which experts and citizens are
expected not only to be able to communicate on almost equal footing but also to
learn from each other.
In contrast to the consensus conferences, which have an elaborate program for the
coconstruction of consensus among participating citizens (Horst 2008; Joss 1998), the
Copenhagen school of science cafe´s aims to make use of the informal social setting of
the cafe´ to produce more “natural” relations between technoscience and society. It is
assumed that as long as presenters and audience are given the opportunity to socialize
as well as rationalize about issues and problems relating to technoscience, then they
also will be able to enact a kind of consensusing, that is, to produce deliberations on
science- and technology-related issues with equal emphasis on the voice of experts and
citizens. The informal nature of the social situation for all participants is thought to
have more or less a direct impact on the conversations that take place. While the
participants, both experts and the lay audience, may not have similar interests and
backgrounds, the experience of sharing the evening together and engaging in an open
and equal dialogue is believed to encourage natural connections (bridges) between
technoscience and society.
The Copenhagen school of science cafe´s, which today operates both in Copenhagen
and, since 2003, in Aarhus, uses a moderator to facilitate dialogue between the invited
experts and the audience. The moderator has to make sure that the experts keep to their
allotted eight minutes of speaking time, and that they refrain from using technical
language. Also, the moderator involves the audience at an early stage right after the
experts’ introduction. Members of the audience are urged to pose critical questions to
the experts and to provide their own comments on the topics of the debate. The science
cafe´s run for about one and a half hours, which means that there usually is more than
one hour for the audience to set the agenda of the deliberation. When the “official” part
of the science cafe´s is over, the audience and the experts are encouraged to “hang out”
for a while in the cafe´ to keep the informal conversation going. A good science cafe´,
the organizers conclude, has to provide the right setting for “an equal dialogue
between the interested audience and experts in an unprejudiced and civilized tone”
(Balling and Schuler 2002: 13).
10 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
The notion of consensusing extends to the level of national institutions, where idea
that public participation in science by means of dialogue-based science communication
is the responsibility of government is well established. In 2004, the Ministry of Science,
Technology, and Innovation launched a program for science communication, partly
based on the recommendations of a think tank on public understanding of science,
appointed by the ministry itself. The think tank concluded that science communication
ought to be based on dialogue and that resources should be allocated to the development
of new forms of two-way science communication activities (Tænketanken for forstaelse
for forskning 2004). The Danish science cafe´s were explicitly mentioned as “an excel-
lent example of dialogue-based events that have emerged bottom-up” (33).
Even though one of the more controversial recommendations of the think tank—
allocating 2 percent of all research grants to science communication—has yet to be put
into practice, the think tank’s advice generally received positive response (Nielsen
2005). In particular, the ministry used the think tank’s recommendations to launch a
national campaign in which increased public understanding of—and participation
in—science was seen as one of the prerequisites for boosting the legitimacy of science
(Nielsen 2005). Thus, this 2004 campaign to a large extent launched “new” scientific
governance in Denmark (Irwin 2006), and the Danish science cafe´s, which had
emerged a few years before, from the beginning were seen as important elements.
The Danish science cafe´s have benefited from their close relations with the Danish
Agency of Science, Technology, and Innovation, which is responsible for carrying out
new initiatives within science communication. From 2006 onward, a small percentage
(0.39 percent) of the profit from Danish Lotto funds has been reserved for science
communication activities, and science cafe´s have received more or less continuous
support from this source. (Although the percentage figure is low, the actual Lotto funds
available for science communication amount to about $1.2 million in 2014.) In 2009,
the Danish science cafe´s also received support for convening the fourth international
meeting of science cafe´ organizers. In the summer of 2014, at the request of the
Ministry of Science, and again with support from Lotto funds, the Danish science
cafe´s organized six events in the Science in the City program of the European Science
Open Forum (ESOF) in Copenhagen.
Whereas the consensus conference method represents a “hard” version of the
Danish consensus culture, based on the fact that the method explicitly is aimed at
producing a written consensus report distributed to policy and decision makers, we
would characterize the Danish science cafe´ as its “softer” sibling. The Copenhagen
school of science cafe´s aims for another kind of consensus between science and
society, namely, the “natural” embedding of science in society and, vice versa, the
“natural” uptake of societal input in the sciences. As we have said, the Danish science
cafe´s do not aim for formal consensus. Yet, the preceding dinner, the interventions of
the moderator, and the call for hanging out together after the event are all directed to
the establishment of smooth and easy-going relations between the audience and the
invited experts in an attempt to make such relations more “natural.” Both consensus
conferences and science cafe´s have received generous support from the Danish
government, which supports the claim made by Horst and Irwi n (2010) that consensus-
oriented and dialogue-based science communication is seen as being part and parcel of
Danish culture with strong ties to national institutions—ties that have been reinforced
by the introduction of the new scientific governance in Denmark.
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 11
5 Japan: Science Cafe
´s as Lectures with Added Coffee
Like the Danish science cafe´s, Japanese science cafe´s have profited from the intro-
duction of the new scientific governance. The government’s 2004 “White Paper on
Science and Technology” noted that even though there seems to be wide agreement on
the fact that science and technology benefit society, “if a suitable relationship is to be
built between science and technology and society, it is important that science and
technology respond appropriately to what society demands” (Ministry of Education,
Sport, Science, and Technology 2004: section Building mutual trust, while
also boosting public appreciation of science and technology, were seen as key
elements of this new, “suitable” relationship. The report argued that, due to increased
public attention given to the level of science and technology expenditures, scientific
institutions, but also individual scientists, needed to get more involved in two-way
communication with members of the general public in order to achieve public
accountability. Minister Takeo Kawamura, in his foreword to the white paper, stressed
that scientists and engineers have “to engage in exchanges with the people so as to
strengthen mutual trust, and to encourage the people to treat science and technology as
issues of personal importance” (Ministry of Education, Sport, Science, and
Technology 2004).
Public opinion polls performed by the Cabinet Office found that the public’s inter-
est in science and technology was declining, and particularly so among young people.
Moreover, most people tended to disagree with the statement that “scientists and
technologists are close and familiar people with whom I feel connected” (Ministry
of Education, Sport, Science, and Technology 2004: Fig. 1-3-23). The public also
indicated a lack of opportunities to learn about science and technology and to meet
actual scientists. The polls showed that a majority favored the idea that the public
ought to get more involved in decision making relating to science and technology. For
their part, scientists responded favorably to enhancing their opportunities to do
outreach activities, all of which led to the conclusion:
To maintain the accord between science and technology and society, it is impor-
tant to establish science and technology governance, or a means of actively
accepting the intentions of each player into discussions on policy formation,
based on the premise of a dialogue and communication between the govern-
ment, the scientific community, businesses, local communities, the public, and
other players. Furthermore, we must call for the cultivation of science and
technology communicators, outreach activities by scientists and technologists,
activities by the scientific community that contribute to society, and the other
efforts mentioned thus far, as the foundation upon which science and technology
governance can function effectively. (Section 1.3.3)
The white paper explicitly mentioned science cafe´s as one of the ways in which
“scientists and technologists [should] get out into society and speak with the public”
(Ministry of Education, Sport, Science, and Technology 2004: section It was
recognized that science cafe´s had emerged in Western countries, where the scientific
community was more used to taking part in public deliberations on science and tech-
nology. In building the new relationship between science, technology, and society in
Japan, “a uniquely Japanese form must be sought, based on Japan’s institutions, social
12 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
structure, and culture, while continuing to draw upon the examples of nations with
long science histories, such as those in the West” (section Still, dialogue was
seen as the best way to build trust by having “scientists and technologists ... share the
needs of the public and come to recognize the public’s doubts and misgivings about
science and technology” and by getting the public to “sympathize with the dreams and
aspirations of scientists and technologists” (section
The white paper’s section on science cafe´s was based on a report prepared by young
STS scholars (Kobayashi et al. 2004). The group had conducted a survey of the British
Cafe´ Scientifique format, presenting it as “a new ‘sexy’ interface between science and
society” (Kobayashi et al. 2004). Although the group generally was favorable to the
introduction of science cafe´s into Japanese culture, they also raised some concerns
about the possibility of having experts and laypersons engaging in an equal discussion.
In other words, what Norton and Nohara(2009) later called the “culture of respect” for
expert authority might be conceived as a barrier to the proper functioning of science
cafe´ s. However, referring to the experiences gained in staging consensus conferences in
Japan, where experts and laypersons had been reported to engage in a lively debate, the
group concluded that anecdotal evidence also could be used to claimthat science cafe´s
would work just fine in Japan. The group therefore recommended that science cafe´s be
adopted by scientific institutions and others in order to secure funding for actual science
cafe´ s and networking activities among organizers (Kobayashi et al. 2004: 19– 20).
Nakamura (2010) argues that the STS community in Japan has been particularly
concerned with science communication. As mentioned above, STS scholars were
instrumental in introducing the consensus conference method in Japan, and, as we
have just seen, the same goes for science cafe´s. In 2004, the STS group responsible for
the “new ‘sexy’ interface” report, supplemented by Masaki Nakamura, launched the
Cafe´ Scientifique Tokyo, which is still in operation. The organizers shared the concern
of many Japanese STS scholars that science cafe´s would end up being taken over by
the scientific establishment as part and parcel of their promotion of science and tech-
nology. To them, the 2004 white paper seemed to indicate that this was about to
happen (Nakamura 2010).
Adopting the British format with just one speaker, the Cafe´ Scientifique Tokyo was
to be a countermeasure to institutionalized outreach activities: a small-scale event,
free of charge, primarily featuring younger researchers, who in an informal and open
atmosphere would present their research with the use of no technical equipment such
as microphones and PowerPoint slides. Usually, no more than twenty people attend the
Cafe´ Scientifique in Tokyo, which means that the events can take place at one long
table in the corner of the cafe´ during normal opening hours. Typically, the presenter
and the audience are all situated around the table as ordinary guests. The presenter
usually speaks for about twenty minutes or so. Then, there is a discussion moderated
by one of the organizers. Sometimes, in order to emphasize the dialogue-based
approach, events begin with an interview with the invited expert, conducted by the
moderator and allowing for all participants to intervene with questions and comments.
The format, with all participants situated at eye level and around the same table, was
chosen in order to enable a symmetrical relationship between the scientists and the
participants and to facilitate dialogue.
Partly because of their STS background, the Cafe´ Scientifique Tokyo organizers
were concerned about the societal dimensions of science and technology. They
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 13
contextualized some of their science cafe´ events in terms of current public concerns
about science and technology. For example, the very first two science cafe´s took up
chemical marine pollution and the asbestos problem. It was believed that the science
cafe´ format was a good place in which to stimulate dialogue between scientists and
citizens about such socio-scientific issues. Another early topic was the natto
¯diet, a
traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis.In
2007, a popular Japanese TV show called Aru Aru Daijten (Encyclopedia of Living)
produced a natto
¯diet fad across the nation, and the Cafe´ Scientifique Tokyo team
wanted to bring scientific knowledge into the ongoing public debate.
Besides organizing regular science cafe´s, the STS group also tried to mobilize a
network of people interested in doing science cafe´s. They launched a mailing list,
wrote papers, gave presentations, and organized symposia for potential science cafe´
organizers. In effect, they wanted to nurture a “science cafe´ movement” in Japan,
emphasizing “the link between the science cafe´ movement and public engagement in
science and technology.” They warned against using science cafe´s as just another
“sophisticated public understanding of science tool in Japan.” Science cafe´s, accord-
ing to the “designers” of the science cafe´ movement, unintendedly echoing the new
scientific governance endorsed by the government, were to open up “new possibilities
for science and society” (Nakamura 2010: 150).
At the same time, based on the recommendations of the 2004 “White Paper on
Science and Technology,” the government and many scientific institutions also were
taking action. In 2005, science communication was adopted as a formal part of the
national science and technology policy, three major universities initiated science
communication courses, and two leading national science museums launched training
programs. These events have led Kobayashi (2007: 18) to declare 2005 the “First Year
of Japanese Science Communication.” In 2006, the encouragement of science com-
munication was explicitly advocated in the “Third Science and Technology Basic Plan
for 2006 2010” (Council for Science and Technology Policy 2006).
The 2004 white paper pointed out that the Council for Science and Technology
Policy, established in 2001 to contribute to science policy making, promote scientific
collaboration (nationally as well as internationally), and enact two-way communi-
cation between science and the public, had been criticized for having too little impact
on actual policies and on public relations of science (Ministry of Education, Sport,
Science, and Technology 2004: section In order to meet its obligations to
society, the council then launched a nationwide initiative, with twenty-one science
cafe´s being set up during the 2006 Science and Technology Week. This initiative not
only served to spread knowledge about science cafe´ s around Japan but also lent official
legitimacy to the concept.
Since 2006, the science cafe´ movement in Japan has been—and still is—dominated
by institutional actors based in research and development. Along with the STS-based
science cafe´ movement, universities, research institutions, and government bodies
have been prime movers in setting up science cafe´s in Japan, and universities and
research institutions still remain the main players in the field of science cafe´ s in Japan
(Nakamura 2010). Even though local, noninstitutional initiatives like Cafe´ Scien-
tifique Tokyo operate at the grassroots level, most Japanese science cafe´s are firmly
embedded in institutional outreach programs.
14 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
The spread of science cafe´s in Japan has been remarkable. Compared to European
countries like the UK, France,and Denmark, Japanese science cafe´s are highly diverse.
There is no such thing as a “Japanese-style” science cafe´. Moreover, the integration of
science cafe´s into the Japanese culture of science communication has proceeded at a
rapid pace. An unpublished survey in 2008 showed that more than eleven hundred
science cafe´s were held in Japan in the period from October 2004 to December 2007
(Matsuda and Kato 2008). Most of these events take place in public places such as cafe´s,
bars, and public institutions. Universities, research institutions, volunteer groups, and
nongovernmental organizations were the most frequent organizing bodies. The authors
of the above-mentioned survey divided Japanese science cafe´ s into three categories,
with the two former ones being adopted by most organizers:
.Lecture-style cafe´: one speaker gives a short lecture on his or her research topics,
followed by a question-and-answer session.
.Interchange-style cafe´: one speaker gives a short lecture on his or her research
topics, followed by a question-and-answer session and/or a chance for hands-on
experiences and social interaction with the speaker.
.Discussion-style cafe´: one or severalspeakers give(s) a short, topical introduction,
followed by discussion and debate.
Observing that discussion-style cafe´s are rare in Japan, Matsuda and Kato (2008)
concluded that few Japanese science cafe´s facilitate discussions between experts
and the public; rather, the majority of science cafe´s in Japan are organized as
traditional public lectures, some with a touch of hands-on activity included. Other
science cafe´s aim to provide room for discussions among peers; others again to
mediate partnerships between universities and industry.
6 Science Cafe
´s in Context
Science cafe´s have become a regular part of the science communication “landscape”
in many countries. Science cafe´s typically are seen as a way in which to enact informal,
two-way communication between invited experts and a smaller, self-selected audi-
ence. The movement forms part of a wider participatory trend, which has impacted
science as well as STS and scientific governance. Science cafe´s all around the world
have received considerable institutional support, and support has been given to pro-
mote an international community of science cafe´ organizers, allowing science cafe´s to
emerge in many different contexts. This article has traced the international network of
science cafe´ organizers and described science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan.
In 1999, Duncan Dallas, founder of Cafe´ s Scientifiques, stated that there is no
hidden agenda to defend or sell science, and that people simply want to be able to
participate in the discussion on an equal footing with the experts (see quote above). We
have found that, in Denmark as well as in Japan, science cafe´s, with important input
from scholars more or less connected to STS, have started as a bottom-up initiative to
stimulate new relationships between experts and members of the public, but then were
quickly adopted by the respective governments and, in the case of Japan, scientific
institutions as part of the new scientific governance based on ideas about public
participation in science as a means to boost public legitimacy of science.
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 15
In Denmark, the “discussion-style” science cafe´s promoted by the Copenhagen
school organizers were easily accepted as a way to stimulate dialogue-based science
communication and as part of the existing culture of consensusing about science,
technology, and society. There are no other science cafe´ formats in regular use in
Denmark. In Japan, government initiatives also supported the spread of science cafe´s
and authorized the use of science cafe´s as an integral part of the scientific institutions’
outreach program that, today, is the most widespread format. Japanese science cafe´s
have grown rapidly in numbers and most have adopted the “lecture-style” format, partly
owing to accommodation of science cafe´s into institutional outreach. In Denmark,
there is just one small science cafe´ network, based in Copenhagen and Aarhus.
The heterogeneous international network of science cafe´ organizers has served to
spread ideas about science cafe´s to people all around the world, making science cafe´s
an integral and lively part of the “great societal conversation about science”
(Bauer, Shukla, and Allum 2012: 1). The network has attracted STS scholars with
an interest in promoting public participation in science activities. Science cafe´s, from
this perspective, are closely affiliated with other participatory activities such as con-
sensus conferences. A somewhat “softer” version of participatory deliberation than
consensus conferences, science cafe´s aim for public participation in science through
dialogue in informal settings. In contrast to the consensus conference method, the
science cafe´ format is based on open conversations and no formalized impact on actual
decision making. It may be argued that science cafe´s, by taking a more loose and
undirected approach to participation, have very little impact outside the cafe´s in which
the events take place, but it falls outside the scope of this article to pursue this
We have traced the emergence and development of science cafe´s in two different
national contexts, namely, Denmark and Japan (see Table 1). In both countries, the rise
of the science cafe´ movement was made possible by social networking and by
mobilizing STS-oriented concerns, but also by the introduction of the new scientific
governance (Irwin 2006). Around 2003, the Danish and the Japanese governments
each launched separate programs to further public participation in science as a means
of legitimizing public investments in science and technology and stimulating interest
in the sciences and in higher education. The think tank appointed by the Danish
government in May 2003 introduced the notion of two-way science communication
based on dialogue, promoting the Danish science cafe´s as one of the ways to enact
dialogue between scientists and members of the public. The Japanese government,
along similar lines, in its 2004 white paper emphasized public participation in science
as a way of reforming scientific institutions and building a new relationship between
science and the general public. Science cafe´s also were explicitly mentioned in the
white papers, thanks to STS scholars.
The main differences between the Danish and the Japanese science cafe´ experi-
ences relate to different cultures of public deliberation and different institutional
settings. First of all, many documents about science cafe´s in Japan mention that
there is a cultural barrier for public debates between experts and laypersons, the
so-called culture of respect, according to which people generally respect authorities
and refrain from asking (critical) questions in public. Based on our own experiences
with Japanese science cafe´s, we believe that this idea is too stereotypical. Many people
refrain from asking critical questions—this happens all the time in science cafe´s all
16 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
Table 1 Summary of Major Findings
Science Cafe
´s Denmark Japan
French-style science cafe´ s with
a moderator and a panel of speakers
(including nonscientists)
Lecture-style and interaction-style
cafe´ s, partly based on the British
Cafe´ s Scientifiques
Preceding dinner with speakers
and moderator
Discussion-style cafe´ s, based partly
on the French (and Danish) format
Aims to “build bridges between
technoscience and society” by providing
technoscience with a “natural” place in
society and social issues with a “natural”
place in technoscientific practice
High degree of diversity,
compared to other countries
Lecture-style cafe´ s organized by
scientific institutions are predominant
Actors involved Science cafe´ organizers,
affiliated with STS
Science cafe´ organizers, some of
whom are affiliated with STS; most,
however, represent scientific
Ministry of Science, Technology,
and Innovation, offering financial
and political support Ministry of Education, Sport,
Science, and Technology, providing
political support
Council for Science and Technology
Policy, sponsoring and promoting
science cafe´s
Public deliberations on science
and technology are easy and smooth
Lack of understanding between
experts and citizens
Dialogue between experts and citizens
is informal and equal (critical questions
are inherent to the deliberation)
Citizens show deep respect for
scientific expertise (and refrain from
asking critical questions); experts
not used to accepting input and
criticisms from citizens
Public participation in science and
technology is embedded in national
culture of deliberation Public participation in science
and technology is a new idea to
experts and citizens alike
(new scientific
2004 campaign to promote science
communication and stimulate public
appreciation of science and technology
2004 white paper on science and
technology promotes science cafe´s as
a new, “sexy” science-society
interface that will help to build
trust between experts and citizens
Government think tank recommends
dialogue-based science communication
(Danish science cafe´ s are mentioned as
“an excellent example”)
2006 nationwide science cafe´
initiative by the Council for Science
and Technology Policy
Allocation of Lotto funds to science
cafe´ s since 2006
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 17
around the world. Sometimes, not asking critical questions may be due to (excessive)
respect, but there are probably also many other reasons. We accept that the “culture of
respect” is a strong idea among science cafe´ organizers, especially in Japan, yet we
remain skeptical as to its effects in real science cafe´s. We would hypothesize that
expectations of this particular cultural trait may in fact become a self-fulfilling
prophecy, as organizers use it as a way to support a lecture-style format.
Similarly, it is easy to get wrong ideas about the impact of the Danish culture of
consensus. It is not the case that science cafe´s in Denmark are “naturally” oriented
toward consensus formation, nor is it true that Danish science cafe´s are a “natural”
setting for science in society. We prefer to see “consensusing” as part of the
expectations of the science cafe´s on the part of organizers, decision makers, experts,
and the audience. Funding, organizing, and attending science cafe´s, people expect to
see participatory democracy in action, and, so, this is what they are going to get.
As Horst (2008) said of the consensus conference method, science cafe´s have
interpretative flexibility, which means that they can be used for many different pur-
poses and may be understood in many different, not entirely identical ways. The
embedding of one type of science cafe´, namely, discussion-style science cafe´s, in
Danish culture is a sign that there is wide consensus about what kind of dialogues about
science would be relevant to have, rather than a precise description of what is actually
going on. In other words, we suggest that “consensusing,” like “respecting,” operates
at the level of cultural expectations as to what is a science cafe´; it has little explanatory
power when it comes to the actual enactment of science cafe´ events.
Science cafe´s, as a mode of public participation in science, are flexible and may
easily be adapted to different contexts. Tracing the emergence and institutionalization
of science cafe´s in Denmark and Japan, we have documented links between science
cafe´s and STS, but also close connections to the new scientific governance based on
ideas about public participation in science. Science cafe´s can be used to promote
different kinds of agendas: from enhancing public legitimacy of science to raising
critical questions about science’s relevance for society and—vice versa—society’s
relevance for science. The openness and the flexibility of the science cafe´ format
means that it is readily adapted for specific purposes. The introduction of science
cafe´s in countries all around the world has pushed public participation in science,
although the very meaning of science cafe´s will have to be negotiated in specific
contexts. Sipping science in a science cafe´ seems easy and appears attractive to
many actors engaged in public communication of science and technology; still, as
we have shown in the Danish and Japanese contexts, sipping science has many mean-
ings and to a large extent depends on cultural expectations and institutional support.
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Kristian H. Nielsen is associate professor at the Centre for Science Studies at Aarhus University. His
professional interests include science communication and science and technology studies. He has organized
science cafe´ s on a regular basis in Aarhus since 2003. In 2008 and 2012, respectively, he visited Osaka
University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology on short-term research stays.
Gert Balling is senior adviser at the University of Copenhagen. He is working in the field of technology
transfer and science communication and has chaired the Danish Science Cafe´ s since 2001. He visited
Hokkaido University in 2006 and Osaka University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2011.
Tom Hope is an associate professor in the International Student Center at Tokyo Institute of Technology.
He moved to Japan from the UK in 2003 after conducting research for his doctorate in sociology at
20 K. H. Nielsen, G. Balling, T. Hope, and M. Nakamura
the University of York. His recent research uses qualitative methodologies to study human-computer
interaction, contemporary forms of community, and the internationalization of science and engineering
higher education in Japan.
Masaki Nakamura is associate professor at Osaka University. He is working in the field of history of
technology, research integrity, and science communication. He has been deeply engaged with the Japanese
science cafe´ movement since 2005, and he has contributed to the diffusion of science cafe´s in Japan.
The Interpretative Flexibility of Science Cafe´s 21
... The organization of Science Café events serve as a stage for public participation in science. They are often low in cost and management because a location, such as a restaurant or café, a science expert, and an audience are generally the only requirements for a Science Café to exist (Nielsen et al. 2015). Furthermore, the goal of a Science Café is to help foster a deeper connection to a science concept in a more formalized format while still maintaining a relaxed, voluntary atmosphere (Navid and Einsiedel 2012). ...
... The findings suggested that individuals who attended Science Café events to learn about nanotechnology were more positive than the individuals who did not attend the Science Café event. A comparison of Danish and Japanese Science Café events revealed some cultural differences in how audience members participated; however, Science Cafés, even in different locations around the world, are easily adaptable to most environmental contexts (Nielsen et al. 2015). Lastly, an evaluative research study measured selfconfidence in knowledge and understanding of public health topics as explored in a Science Café setting in which the self-confidence scores increased over time (Ahmed et al. 2014). ...
... For Science Café and other informal education organizers, understanding the specific needs of the community will aid in the design and implementation of similar events. As shared in previous studies, the description of Science Cafés as being appealing to community members was because of the informal nature in communicating science (Nielsen et al. 2015). This idea relates to the motivational factors described by questionnaire and interview participants in this study, as Science Café attendees shared being able to interact in a safe environment that stimulates their personal interest is important to their science learning. ...
Full-text available
Science Cafés create open, public forums to promote the exchange of ideas between science experts and the public. This study explored Science Café attendees’ interest in science content, and motivational factors in attending events as well as documenting what attendees did with the information presented at an event through the means of a survey (n = 124) and interviews (n = 17). The Synthesized Elements for Informal Learning Experiences at Science Cafés represents a merged perspective of informal learning environments, based on self-determination theory and the contextual model of learning. The synthesized elements (endogenous and ecological) may provide an explanation of the public’s motivation in attending Science Café events. Based on survey and interview data, the majority of participants reported endogenous elements (knowledge and learning; fulfills personal needs) as motivational factors to attend Science Café events. Additionally, attendees stated ecological elements, such as social interactions, with other attendees and science experts were significant motivational influences to attend events. Survey and interview respondents cited they share and discuss the information gained from a Science Café event with others in their social network (e.g., family members, friends, and colleagues). This information may inform best practices in connecting the community to science experts in order to share scientific endeavors and documenting the profound effect science has on the public.
... As an informal learning experience for adults, science cafés are valuable in both building new knowledge and replenishing the existing scientific knowledge of participants, thereby increasing learners' comfort level within a culture of science (Childers et al., 2021). Science cafés foster an understanding of science and an appreciation of the opinions of diverse members of a society (Nielsen et al., 2015). ...
Conference Paper
This paper provided a review of the studies on science cafés with the purpose of drawing attention of higher education practitioners to the importance of cafés in educating adult population.
... In the past, scientists used various means to help lay audiences engage in public participation, such as policy making, dialogue, and knowledge production [4]. Science cafés and science exhibits are used widely, especially in Europe and Asia, for the purpose of creating a dialogue [6]. However, some scientists consider interactions in science cafés ineffective or time-consuming [44]. ...
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Originally, online public engagement with science tended to be one directional—from experts to the general population via news media. Such an arrangement allowed for little to no direct interaction between the public and scientists. However, the emergence of social media has opened the door to meaningful engagement between scientists and the general public. The current study examines scientists’ perspectives on the interactions between laypeople and scientists by asking questions and sharing information on social media platforms, specifically, through Ask Me Anything (AMA) sessions on Reddit’s “Science” subreddit (r/science). By analyzing the content of six different r/science AMAs and surveying scientists who participated as r/science AMA hosts, our research attempts to gain a richer understanding of direct communication between scientists and lay audiences online. We had three main questions: (1) who are the participant scientists hosting r/science AMAs, (2) what are their experiences like as hosts, and (3) what type of discussions do they have on this platform? Survey results suggested that these scientists recognize the promising interactive nature of Reddit and are interested in continuing to use this platform as a tool for public engagement. Survey respondents generally had positive experiences as AMA hosts, but further research is needed to examine negative experiences. Overall, this study has significant implications for how scientists can engage public audiences online and more effectively communicate scientific findings to the general populace.
... The importance of two-way communication with society was strongly emphasized, leading to the rise of science cafés and science shops (Nakamura 2010). However, Nakamura (2010) and Nielsen et al. (2015) pointed out that Japan's science cafés were mostly lectures, but with coffee, based on the traditional PUST model. This suggests that "two-way communication" was not truly established; rather, it was merely adopted as a set of teaching methods, and superficial interactive practices based on the traditional PUST model had increased. ...
Given the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Japan is at a major point to reevaluate its policies on the public communication of science. However, the government’s self-reflection on their measures and policies of science communication has been inadequate. This study reviewed and analyzed descriptions of science-related public communication in the successive Japanese white papers on science and technology (S&T) from 1958 to 2015 with quantitative-qualitative hybrid approaches. Traditional enlightenment activities have always been given higher priority, even after the S&T Basic Plan aimed at two-way science communication, and have used such justifications as “the shying-away of young people from S&T,” “accountability for research investment,” and “problem-solving on issues related to S&T and society,” without considering the reality of science communication.
... As a close analogue to science festivals, science cafés are an increasingly common form of public engagement with science. Here, interested members of the public attend a small gathering with scientists and stakeholders (for an overview, see Nielsen, Balling, Hope, & Nakamura, 2015). However, as the specific goals of science cafés are seldom clearly stated, effect studies are rare. ...
Theoretically and methodologically sound research on the reach and impact of public engagement practices continues to lag behind. Using the 2015 Wisconsin Science Festival as context, we empirically investigate the impacts of a public engagement activity about a nascent and controversial scientific issue, human gene editing. Overall, we find the panel increased participants’ understanding of the complexities of human gene editing, as demonstrated by increases in knowledge and the moral acceptability of the technology among respondents, as well as the associated risk and benefit perceptions. Practical and theoretical implications for science festivals and public engagement with science activities are discussed.
Conference Paper
In this paper, we analyse some experiments of extending the practice of the science cafés, a well know participatory methodology of science communication, with the help of the possibilities offered by Internet. We describe the use of a web platform to disseminate the events and the use of YouTube for streaming and podcasting, with a comparison between costs and benefits. We have experimented and analysed several scenarios, from the streaming of traditional science cafés to the dissemination of the results of European projects.
This paper examines the colonial discourse of the global population problem in Korea under Japanese rule (1910–1945). I consider the recent call of Alison Bashford to draw attention to the geopolitical and spatial dimensions of the colonial population discourse in the non-Western Japanese Empire and to interrogate global population from the perspective of East Asian imperialism in the twentieth century. By opening up the colonial archives on population through an examination of colonial state and pro-state magazines in Korea, such as Chōsen (Korea) and Chōsen oyobi Manchu (Korea and Manchuria), I demonstrate how metropolitan and colonial elites, including imperial and colonial state officials, politicians, intellectuals, physicians and so on, at pains to build Japan’s empire, engaged in the debates on jinkō mondai (population problem) in 1920s and 1930s Korea. The details of the debate bring to light the ways in which the management of the population problem undergirded the complex issues of the peninsula and the empire at large, including emigration, Japanese settlement, the cultivation of Manchuria, the development of mining and heavy chemical industries, the Sino-Japanese War, Western imperial rule, and the emancipation of the coloured populations/races. Further, I delineate how these details were deeply imbedded in the racialized struggle between the Japanese race/coloured races vs. the white race in the global governance of the population and territory in the final phase of Japanese imperial aggression. By going beyond the Western, Anglo-Saxon debates on population, this paper seeks to showcase how East Asian imperial power responded to the white, Western discourse of ‘race suicide vs. the yellow peril’.
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Using co-authored publications between China and Korea in Web of Science (WoS) during the one-year period of 2014, we evaluate the government stimulation program for collaboration between China and Korea. In particular, we apply dual approaches, full integer vs. fractional counting, to collaborative publications in order to better examine both the patterns and contents of Sino-Korean collaboration networks in terms of individual countries and institutions. We first conduct a semi-automatic network analysis of Sino-Korean publications based on the full-integer counting method, and then compare our categorization with contextual rankings using the fractional technique; routines for fractional counting of WoS data are made available at . Increasing international collaboration leads paradoxically to lower numbers of publications and citations using fractional counting for performance measurement. However, integer counting is not an appropriate measure for the evaluation of the stimulation of collaborations. Both integer and fractional analytics can be used to identify important countries and institutions, but with other research questions.
This study examines the structural patterns of international co-institutions and co-authors in science citation index papers in the research domain of the Internet of Things (IoT). The study uses measures from the social network analysis method, including degree centrality, betweenness centrality, eigenvector centrality, and effectiveness, to investigate the effects of social networks. In addition, the study proposes a prediction model for assessing the semantic relevancy of research papers in the field of IoT (Regarding social science approach on semantic analysis, refer to Jung and Park in Gov Inf Q, 2015a. doi:10. 1016/ j. giq. 2015. 09. 010, 32(3):353–358, 2015b). For the analysis, 815 research papers were selected from the Web of Science database for the 1993–2015 period. Empirical analysis results identify China as the most central country, followed by the U.S., Spain, the U.K., and Sweden, in terms of the co-authored network. Similarly, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University were ranked first, third, and fourth, respectively, among the top five co-institutions. Northeastern University (U.S.) and the University of Surrey (U.K.) ranked second and fifth, respectively. A confusion matrix was used to validate the accuracy of the proposed model. The accuracy of the prediction model was 76.84 %, whereas recall for the model (ability of a search to find all relevant items in the corpus) was 94.47 %.
Can (and should) there be a "Mediterranean model" of science communication? For those of us who work in the field of science communication in a country which is on the Mediterranean Sea, this has always been a question that spontaneously leaps to mind. This is because we "feel" there is something intangible in our way of communicating science that is rather similar to the way of a French, Spanish (or even Brazilian) colleague of ours, whereas it is slightly different from that of an American or British one. And yet, the more in depth this question is studied in time, the more complex the answer becomes.
Controversies over such issues as nuclear waste, genetically modified organisms, asbestos, tobacco, gene therapy, avian flu, and cell phone towers arise almost daily as rapid scientific and technological advances create uncertainty and bring about unforeseen concerns. The authors of Acting in an Uncertain World argue that political institutions must be expanded and improved to manage these controversies, to transform them into productive conversations, and to bring about "technical democracy." They show how "hybrid forums"—in which experts, non-experts, ordinary citizens, and politicians come together—reveal the limits of traditional delegative democracies, in which decisions are made by quasi-professional politicians and techno-scientific information is the domain of specialists in laboratories. The division between professionals and laypeople, the authors claim, is simply outmoded. The authors argue that laboratory research should be complemented by everyday experimentation pursued in the real world, and they describe various modes of cooperation between the two. They explore a range of concrete examples of hybrid forums that have dealt with sociotechnical controversies including nuclear waste disposal in France, industrial waste and birth defects in Japan, a childhood leukemia cluster in Woburn, Massachusetts, and Mad Cow Disease in the United Kingdom. They discuss the implications for political decision making in general, and they describe a "dialogic" democracy that enriches traditional representative democracy. To invent new procedures for consultation and representation, they suggest, is to contribute to an endless process that is necessary for the ongoing democratization of democracy.
This chapter starts with a description of a Café Scientifique and the importance of it being relaxed, informal, respectful, direct and, in a public venue, not an academic one. It describes how and why different countries do it in different forms but keep the equality of dialogue between the scientists and the audience. It also provides accounts of some cafés in Pacific and Asian countries.
The function of participation in institutionalised technology assessment is discussed using the example of the Danish consensus conferences. The results of a postal survey of, and in-depth interviews with, Members of the Danish Parliament are reported. Additionally, results are given of a representative public opinion poll regarding the public's awareness of the consensus conferences. The paper concludes that participation should be understood as a facilitating mechanism of, rather than a substitute for, technology assessment by the representative decision-making institutions; and that it is more likely to be effective if it relates to a strong and articulate civil society.
chapter provides an overview of emergence of public participation in science, defines general interpretative framework, outline possible driving forces behind it as well as it potential impact in terms of changes in the production of sci knowledge