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Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications

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Abstract and Figures

Tokyo Institute of Technology (TokyoTech) has been developing a number of methodologies to teach graduate students the theory and practice of science communication since 2005. One of the tools used is the science café, where students are taught about the background based primarily on theoretical models developed in the UK. They then apply that knowledge and adapt it the Japanese cultural context and plan, execute and review outcomes as part of their course. In this paper we review 4 years of experience in using science cafés in this educational context; we review the background to the students’ decision-making and consensus-building process towards deciding on the style and subject to be used, and the value this has in illuminating the cultural influences on the science café design and implementation. We also review the value of the science café as an educational tool and conclude that it has contributed to a number of teaching goals related to both knowledge and the personal skills required to function effectively in an international environment.
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SISSA – International School for Advanced Studies Journal of Science Communication
ISSN 1824 – 2049
RECEIVED: May 24, 2009
PUBLISHED: October 29, 2009
JCOM 8(4), December 2009 Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0
Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and
educational applications
M. Norton and K. Nohara
ABSTRACT: Tokyo Institute of Technology (TokyoTech) has been developing a number of
methodologies to teach graduate students the theory and practice of science communication since
2005. One of the tools used is the science café, where students are taught about the background
based primarily on theoretical models developed in the UK. They then apply that knowledge and
adapt it the Japanese cultural context and plan, execute and review outcomes as part of their
course. In this paper we review 4 years of experience in using science cafés in this educational
context; we review the background to the students’ decision-making and consensus-building
process towards deciding on the style and subject to be used, and the value this has in illuminating
the cultural influences on the science café design and implementation. We also review the value of
the science café as an educational tool and conclude that it has contributed to a number of
teaching goals related to both knowledge and the personal skills required to function effectively in
an international environment.
1. Background and objectives
The TokyoTech (Tokyo Institute of Technology) programme “Science and Engineering Communication:
Theory and Practice” seeks to cultivate researchers with communication skills and the ability to appreciate
science’s interaction with Society. The Master’s unit is comprised of three segments. The first is a full 15-
week lecture course (with the normal 2 credits) providing knowledge about science communication and its
related theories; the second (also with 2 credits available) provides two options for practical experience in
some aspect of science communication. The first option is to take part in internships both inside and outside
Japan to obtain practical experience of science communication in museums, public policy institutions, or
media organizations. The second option for practical training is based on the science café (café scientifique),
where students must plan and execute their own science café. The course and its impact on student's abilities
via internship modules have been previously described [1,2].
The second practical option (science café) was selected because this technique has grown in importance
as the former theories of science communication (based on ‘deficit model’ of science communication [3])
have been superseded by the 2-way engagement model [4] which seeks to generate dialogue among
equals between scientists and the public [5]. However, most of the theoretical development in science
communication theory [6], and initial experience in the development and implementation of science cafés
has been outside Japan (especially in the UK [7]). In offering this option in our course, we thus had to
consider how this technique developed in Western cultures should be adapted for Japanese use, and how
designing and implementing a science café can contribute to educating scientists and engineers to act at
the interface between science and society.
This paper thus looks at the factors we considered in designing a science café process for use in an
educational (practical training) role, and the initial results obtained from the first 2 years’
implementation. Our focus is on the role of the science café as an educational tool. We thus first consider
the evolution of the science café concept and its theoretical development, and the case for cultural
adaptation to Japan. We then examine the thinking behind the design of cafés adopted by students in the
TokyoTech course and their pedagological implications. Our aim is to provide an evaluation and case
study which will allow other educators to judge the potential value of this technique in achieving their
own objectives in science communication education.
M. Norton and K. Nohara 2
2. Context: Science Café Models and Host Cultures
The first science café is generally attributed to Leeds Café Scientifique in the UK in 1998 [8]. As a result
of that initiative, some 30 cafés have been set up around the UK [9]; the UK is also the base for a well
funded initiative at the Dana Centre established in 2003 next to the London Science Museum [10]. The
idea has spread to the USA, within Europe, and elsewhere. As far as Japan is concerned, science cafés
have grown since their first recognition as a communication tool in the Government’s 2004 Science and
Technology White Paper [11]. Some are organised by professional societies (such as the Science Council
of Japan; others by private foundations (e.g. the Takeda Foundation); others by universities and research
institutes as part of their outreach work [8]. With such a range of backgrounds and implementing
organisations, this inevitably leads to diversity in aims and methods, which is important to recognise
when considering the inclusion of a science café in the educational context.
At the time the first science café was established in the UK, academic debate on the effectiveness of
science communication [5] was increasingly focusing on weaknesses in the ‘deficit’ model of Public
Understanding of Science (PUS) which had provided the main theoretical framework for a range of
government and professional initiatives since the Royal Societys ‘Bodmer report’ in 1985 [3]. This had
postulated a communication ‘gap’ between scientists and the public which was perceived to underlie
public unease and hostility on a range of science-related issues. This model attributed negative public
attitudes to a knowledge ‘deficit’, and led to extensive PUS programmes to communicate science and
emphasise its key role in society.
During the PUS era however scientific controversies, far from subsiding, grew in intensity typified by
issues such as BSE, radioactive waste and GMOs. The ‘one way’communication thinking underlying the
deficit model was challenged by the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee [4] in 2000.
Public concerns, rather than being founded in ignorance, often reflected broader psychological, social,
cultural and institutional factors that shaped public attitudes to scientific advances and technological
developments. The Committee concluded that the deficit model needed to be replaced with a ‘democratic
engagement’ model based on an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with the public. Jackson et al.
[6] provide 3 anticipated benefits from such dialogue.
increasing democracy by promoting open and transparent decision-making
greater trust and confidence in the regulation of science and the decisions taken
better decision-making.
The term ‘dialogue’ is thus linked with the process whereby democracies decide between different
futures made possible by science and technology (how ‘society’ should use science). In dialogue, a lack
of scientific knowledge should not prevent citizens from discussing ethical viewpoints, nor questions
such as their trust in the regulatory process. It also signifies that scientists should understand Society’s
moral positions. They are no longer the exclusive holders of ‘knowledge’ in the PUS model. In line with
the new (2-way) dialogue thinking, many ‘engagement’ projects have been launched in the UK and
elsewhere [7], and science cafés are often seen as part of this ‘democratic engagement’ tool-kit.
This new ‘engagement’ model implies greater equality in dialogue and less overt motives (to persuade)
than in the former PUS model. Nevertheless it would be naive to suggest that engagement protagonists
are free of motives. Scientists and scientific institutions may still hope that a more informed public will
have greater understanding of and sympathy for, science. Governments and educators may hope that
engagement with science may lead to more pupils studying science to deal with a perceived skills
shortage in ‘knowledge economies’. Others hope it will democratise science by facilitating greater
participation in science-related issues. Policy-makers may also hope it will place the policy process on a
more reasoned basis and reduce opposition they regard as irrational [5].
It has been claimed [8] that science cafés lack such specific agendas. However, their primary role of
helping science move into the public arena and interacting with citizens, nevertheless allows multiple
motives and outcomes, depending on the way the interaction is managed. A useful guide to classification is
between those which follow the earlier (PUS) model and those which embrace the later
dialogue/engagement model. For instance in many US science cafés, the focus seems to be on informing the
public about science developments in lay-mans terms. The extensive range of science cafés facilitated by
the PBS Nova Science Now organisation describes science cafés as lively informal conversation about a
scientific topic” [12]. Another cafe describes its mission as “The Science Café is a place at the intersection
of science and life where scholars mix and mingle with the like-minded” [13]. This type is often structured
3 Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications
around the ‘let's ask an expert’ model aimed at informing the audience. In contrast, many UK science cafés
typified by the Dana Centre explore controversies from both scientific and non-scientific viewpoints with
considerable care taken to place both ‘experts’ and ‘non-experts’ on an equal footing [14].
What role may the host society's attitude to the status of knowledge holders and their role in society
decision-making have to play in the style of science cafés? Americans have more positive attitudes to
science and technology and its benefits than Europeans at all levels of scientific literacy [15], which may
encourage the ‘knowledge transfer’ style cafés above. In the period during which the number of science
cafés has grown, the US has also seen a marked trend towards the politicisation of science whereby
science is (mis)used as a tool or weapon in a basically politically driven debate (e.g. [16,17]), instead of
seeking to resolve science-based controversies through rational evidence-based policy analysis. This
tendency may lead to a wish to avoid controversial issues because of the difficulty of isolating the
controversy as a scientific issue separate from potentially divisive political dimensions. In contrast, in the
UK, engagement has been seen as a means of integrating value and other belief systems of the public into
the decision-making process on scientific issues through upstream dialogue [6,7]; here there is an
presumption that the ‘expert’, far from being the dominant player, has to adapt to the broader societal
constraints arising from society’s value and belief systems.
Science cafés evolved in the UK as a methodology for implementing 2-way engagement with the public
on issues concerning science and technology, and as such can trace their theoretical foundation to the
seminal report by the House of Lords [4] on Science and Society. This was triggered by widespread public
unease on key issues such as genetically-modifed organisms, nuclear power, Bovine Spongiform
Encephalopathy (BSE) and many other issues. Common underlying themes to such issues included the
scientific treatment of risk, and how ethical values should be taken account of in the research or regulatory
process (e.g. human embryo research). This ‘social framework’ perhaps explains why UK science cafés
such as the Dana Centre actively seek controversial issues around which to generate their dialogue [10].
Compared with the situation in Europe, surveys suggest that the Japanese public too has concerns over
science and technological issues. On the subject of acceptance of GMO foods, the 2005 Eurobarometer
survey [18] found that 21-32% of Europeans (spread of four age ranges) totally agreed or tended to agree
with GMO foods, and 54-61% totally disagreed or tended to disagree. In a 2002 comparative survey [19],
Japanese respondents, in answering the question “How willing are you to consume foods with GM
ingredients?” 83% said they would avoid or were not very willing to consume GMO foods (compared
with only 18% in the USA and 56% in Norway). The public also appears willing in principle to
participate in engagement. In a survey on the relations of Science and Technology to Society (February
2004 [11]), 69.7% agreed to some extent with the proposition that In the future, the development of
science and technology is expected to have stronger impacts on the lives of citizens. The formation of
policies pertaining to science and technology will increasingly require the involvement not only of
specialists such as researchers and administrative officers, but also citizens".
Such data suggest that the Japanese social framework is favorable to the concept of engagement, and
this has been reflected in the rapid growth of science cafés in Japan referred to earlier. Such events are
normally held by organizations, such as universities, corporations, research institutes and NPOs, which
are motivated to promote interest in and understanding of science among the general public. The targets,
formats and venues for such events vary, but since their introduction has been relatively recent, they have
been able to benefit from the prior learning and experience of the original concept imported from the UK.
This has then been adapted to Japanese culture and needs; and further adjusted in accordance with the
organisers’ various formats and objectives. Some diversity has thus already evolved towards a ‘Japanese’
model or style; e.g., a group that discusses science in a pub-like atmosphere as if it is an extension of
their normal lives [20], a café created as a local event aimed for cultivating a sense of community [21], a
café with a stylish and intelligent image that also contributes to connecting participants with science [22].
The Takeda Foundation is one of the most active NPOs in pursuing science cafés and since 2005 has held
over 20, covering subjects from mathematics to brain function [21]. Recently such cafés have emphasised
their interest in generating controversy by labelling the series as views of the child of heresy (Itanji no
miru seimei). This characterises the viewpoints put forward by key speakers as out of the mainstream as
one way to stimulate interest (e.g. co-existence with microbes, life in space).
M. Norton and K. Nohara 4
3. Adapting Theory and Practice to the Design of the TokyoTech Science Cafés
3.1 The Design Process
Students who participate in the course “Science and Engineering Communication”, plan and organise a
science café as described in Section 1. The students are solely responsible for selection of themes and
speakers, structure of the proceeding, and the design of the place of meeting. The meeting is held either
once or twice per year, depending on the number of participating students. Themes selected are in table 1.
The students have the generally accepted significance, possible formats, and history of science cafés as
a part of their knowledge acquired through the lectures provided in the course. Based on that knowledge,
they create the image and design of the café freely on their own. Since it is a part of the second semester
(of the Japanese academic year) curriculum, they plan and execute the project during the five months
from October to February, but in reality the amount of time available is limited by the demands of
lectures and their own research studies. Consequently, much of the preparatory work is through the
exchange of ideas via a mailing list. The volume of their mail exchanges is large, and gets particularly
heavy towards the end of the preparation. The teaching staff try to maintain the studentsfocus on their
objective by watching the discussions in real time (especially on aspects such as soliciting professionals’
cooperation, securing a meeting place, general scheduling), and occasionally correct them and provide
optional ideas. Despite this input, it is the students who debate and develop the concept of their own
science café. They tend to focus on two criteria: “what type of café event Japanese participants
(especially the target group) are likely to enjoy” and “what type of café event they themselves, as young
scientists and engineers, can deliver effectively”. They are fully aware that it is not easy to achieve an
active discussion with strangers on a scientific issue, especially in a country where specialists’ opinion is
traditionally respected and uncontested (next section). What they come up with at the end of their
preparation is a practical model of a ‘science café’ which they believe suits the Japanese public and
achieves their own expectations.
Topic & Targeted Participants
Future energy and electricity
General public
(science museum)
Eye tiredness and computing
General public
TokyoTech campus
Rocket- fighting gravity
High-school students
TokyoTech campus
Solar cells & fuel cells
General public
TokyoTech campus
General public
Coffee shop
General public
Local pub
Table 1. Science Cafés Held 2005-8.
Audience composition was monitored at each café and a questionnaire issued to determine age and
profession. Gender balance was 50:50 in the 2007 and 2008 cafés. In contrast, the 2005-2006 cafés (apart
from the one for high-school students) showed more male dominance. We attribute the high female
attendance in 2007 to the topic selected (the human mechanism of feeling sweet/sour) and the popular title
used (“Science Parfait”); while in the case of the 2008 event, this seemed to have attracted many of the
regular pub customers. Participants in the two recent events also exhibited more diversity in age from
teenagers to late 60s, and in professions (engineer, journalist, student, office clerk, housewife, retired etc.).
Without such special factors, we observed that a science café tends to receive more male attendants in their
30s-60s whose work is related (however remotely) to science or technology. However our later experience
is reassuring in that it appears possible to attract more attention from females, youngsters and people with a
variety of jobs by selecting an appealing topic carefully and putting more effort into publicity.
5 Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications
3.2 Engaging the Audience and ‘Dialogue’
The Course emphasises the starting points for science café as a means of promoting dialogue the
process by which opinions, ideas and information are shared between two or more parties; moreover
dialogue involves a presumption of equality, so that information and opinion based on a citizen's own
belief system should be treated with the same respect as that based on professional expertise. For
instance, the Dana Centre has developed a theoretical model for encouraging and measuring
dialogue [14] in the context of developing its own model, in which the role of facilitator is important. The
degree of success in delivering dialogue can also be measured by recording who asked how many
questions, what comments were made from what position/location in the room, and analysed for insights
which can improve the degree of dialogue.
Some of these aspects transfer readily to Japanese culture because of its tradition of respect for other
individuals’ opinions and avoidance of direct challenge and conflict. However this culture of respect
towards teachers, doctors and other professional groups has the associated weakness (from the science
café point of view) of their knowledge being accepted without scepticism or questioning. To adapt to
such cultural realities, the Takeda Foundation science cafés use a facilitator who leads the discussion in a
subtle way [21]. Although participants are actively voicing their opinions, they adapt their thinking
towards the issues the facilitator provides, so that opinions can be steered to match the topic, and the
discussion not derail from the prepared scenario. In other words, it is possible to have a ‘pseudo debate’
of a Japanese kind, where there is a scenario prepared to a degree, and guided by ‘authorities’. Even
under such a format (in other words, where discussions are not quite of the autonomous and spontaneous
kind which develop into full engagement), participants can still have some sense of achievement as a
result of voicing their opinions and sharing a scientific theme and information. The TokyoTech Science
Café uses a similar approach in providing a leader figure, but since this is being planned by the students
there is a presumption that this figure should be one of them. To make it easier to guide, they prefer to
include experiments and/or demonstrations in the event, or to make use of performance factors as a
means of communicating information to the participants from the organisers (see section 4).
3.3 Café Participants
The general motive of science cafés is to involve the general public, but what kind of public? The 2002
survey on public attitudes towards scientific developments in the UK [23] proposed the six attitudinal
groups in table 2, rated according to their attitude to the role of S&T in Society, the ability of government
to control science, trust in scientists, ability to cope with change, level of interest and appetite for more
Interest in
more science
Confident believer
Not sure
Not for me
1. Role of S&T in society
2. Ability of Governments to control
3. Trust in Scientists
4. Ability to cope with change
5. Level of Interest
High +++ ++ + - -- Low
Table 2. Attitudinal Groups in UK Survey (23).
Different designs of science café will attract different audiences. In the case of the PUS model, it may
be the "like-minded individuals who can discuss how science enriches their lives[13]. Such a model is
likely to be attractive to ‘technophiles’ and ‘supporters’;Concernedwho attend to raise their concerns
M. Norton and K. Nohara 6
may not feel welcome. On the other hand the Dana model actively seeks to engage those who are focused
on the issues as well as those who would normally never consider an event based on science- the ‘Not
sure’ and ‘Not for me’ groups, with a particular focus on adults in the age range 18-45.
In considering the target participants for the TokyoTech Science Café, the students considered:
The likelihood of attracting an audience
The likelihood that attendees will participate once they were there
The likelihood that participants will receive positive impressions on science through the event.
There points are reflected in the decisions TokyoTech students make in selecting the subject (table 1).
Although numbers are too low to support detailed audience profiling, the audiences have all decided
themselves to attend based on limited publicity which suggests a dominance of ‘technophiles’ and
‘supporters’. We have noted that students try to stimulate some interaction between people of different
backgrounds. However, they are not yet at the stage of targeting certain categories of people, such as
‘confident believers’ or “concerned”, but more focused on first establishing a reproducible framework
which can support casual dialogue on science which is not available elsewhere in Society. Organising an
event targeting certain specific groups is something more advanced which may follow progress on
addressing controversy (next section).
3.4 The Role of Controversy in Promoting Dialogue
A key tool in generating dialogue in science cafés can be controversy; without controversy there may be
little motive for some to attend an event or once there, contribute [14,24]. Brante et al. [25] differentiate
between Science-fact and Science-based controversies. Science-fact controversies arise where knowledge
is still developing so that there is ample room for multiple and competing interpretations. For example,
the degree of genetic contribution to common diseases, the interaction of diet and health, health effects of
drug use, effects on behaviour of screen violence, are all areas of contention within the expert community
and thus ‘Science-fact controversies. In contrast, a Science-based controversy focuses on the
implications and consequences of scientific knowledge for society -risks, ethics, costs, political response
etc. The latter focuses on interactions between scientific and non-scientific knowledge (personal beliefs,
individual experience and opinion), and can be more accessible to the non-expert citizen. For instance,
societal responses to climate change, drug abuse, nuclear energy etc.
This differentiation also gives us a basis on which to define the purposes of individual science cafés.
We can consider a spectrum from one way PUS, through Science-fact controversies through to science
issue controversies involving 2-way engagement.
Figure 1. A model of Science Café type and Dialogue Depth.
For instance, the New York science café programme for December 2007 looked at “how red wine helps
the heart and other chemical mysteries [26]. This is PUS. The Southern California science ca event
for July 2007 was “global warming; the facts[13]. This subject has emerging science and therefore the
potential for Science-fact controversy. However, since there was only one speaker, this may have tended
towards PUS. A model of having experts with different viewpoints would be conducive to a Science-fact
controversy. Here the audience can enjoy, participate, and be informed by the debate, but is unlikely to
possess scientific knowledge which will materially influence the outcome of the ‘Science-fact’ debate.
In contrast, the Science-based controversy favoured by the science cafés typified by the Dana Centre
(such as the extent to which personal behaviour change can influence global warming, ethical
implications of stem cell research, whether drugs in sport are fair-27) helps participants to contribute on
7 Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications
an equal footing by focusing on the societal implications of scientific development, where ethical, moral
and personal judgements are an essential part of the controversy. Such questions place the lay
participants on a more equal footing with the experts.
Dialogue based on controversy may pose particular challenges in Japan, since it is often pointed out that
Japanese may be reluctant to verbalise personal opinions, and especially reluctant to advocate these in a
controversial context. It is said that this is due to a lack of instruction in schools on how to express one’s
opinion and how to pursue a discussion with other people, and also that it is considered improper in
social manners to press one’s opinion forward against the general trend of the group. For these reasons,
we judged that it would be difficult to create a science café based only on controversy and also difficult
to create an environment for a free and spontaneous discussion.
The result is (table 1) that the subjects chosen by the students with some advice from the teaching staff
have steered away from controversy. There have been mainly three criteria for subject selection: 1)
whether the students think the subject is attractive enough for a group of ordinary people to attend; 2)
whether they obtain an appropriate speaker or specialist to the event, 3) whether they believe the event
will produce satisfaction and a positive feeling towards science among the participants. The last point has
attracted a high priority because one of the main course lectures is given by a TV science programme
producer, and he provides a ‘professional’ comment on the students’ plan and its ‘presentability’.
While the students have tended not to choose Science-based controversies which could trigger
substantial debates on ethical or moral issues between experts and lay people, they did hold cafés on
future energy (2005 and 2007), which had the potential for such an approach. However, they did not
choose to lead or promote the event in the direction of active discussion on moral topics so that it
remained dominantly scientific and factual. This suggests that in practice the TokyoTech Science Café
has positioned itself in the territory around PUS education and Science-fact controversy in figure 1.
However, as the degree of interaction between science and society grows – especially in the field of
issues related to sustainability, we anticipate a greater willingness to embrace science-issue controversies
and thus see a need to educate with this in mind. This should provide support for the students’ science
café to develop in this direction once they recognise the significance. Training is thus being provided in
identifying suitable subjects and the qualities which contribute to controversy: for instance
Many controversies are related to risk, perception of risk or debate over who should accept the
Controversies are often time-limited, and therefore topicality is a key factor. This means that
students need to develop an ability to scan the media for potential topics.
Ethics and moral values often feature, so that students may require training in identifying
different groups who have different senses of right or wrong on that issue.
Finally, controversy is particularly intense where it affects individuals differently. Thus if the
controversy’s personal and social relevance can be emphasised this may help motivate
contributions to the debate.
4. Pedagological Results and Insights
The previous sections have set the development of the TokyoTech Science Café against an historical and
international background. Now we wish to comment on the science café as an educational tool and the
effects we have noted on the participating students. Our research group consists of four members of
academic staff who are involved in science communication studies and education at TokyoTech,
occasionally with some temporary members of staff. Each is originally from a different academic
discipline: translation studies (including intralingual and intersemiotic translation), linguistics, chemistry
and biology. In observing and analysing students’ activities in science communication, each researcher
uses his/her own methods and perspectives, for example, discourse analysis and contrastive text analysis
for looking at recorded and transcribed interviews. The main source of data and materials for evaluation
is the recorded interviews of the students after each event, and the e-mails exchanged during the
preparation phase.
As listed in table 1, the theme and format of the cafés has tended to vary so that it is difficult to develop
a general theoretical model for the science café plan. However, from staff observation of students
preparations, as well as our participation in and observations of outside science cafés, we can deduce the
M. Norton and K. Nohara 8
1) The students tend to try to map out a direction, and anticipate what kind of summary or
conclusion may result from their discussions at the event;
2) they prefer to include experiments rather than just talks in the event;
3) they prefer to make use of performance factors as a means of communicating information to the
participants from the organisers.
The first observation shows that they prefer to develop a vision of the way in which the discussion will
develop, with the objective of adhering to that vision if they can. We see some misgivings expressed over
what they can predict and achieve (e.g. the significance of the conclusion) through a free and spontaneous
discussion, so that they feel obliged to guide the discussion in a certain way as an ‘authority of science’.
(“I wanted to guide the people to some shared conclusion by the end of the evening but it was impossible.
I felt very powerless” - facilitator student after the 2005 electricity café).
The second indicates that students adhere to the presupposition that just ‘talking’ science would not
attract sufficient participants. “We, scientists, are engaged in science because it is interesting to do
experiments (student after the 2007 rocket café). This leads to the third observation that they prefer to
present scientific information in forms such as a prepared original video or a skit. These tendencies may
reflect the way in which the students see science information as being provided or handled in Japanese
society (especially TV). However, students also prefer to communicate with participants by ‘playing up
science, because they lack experience and rules’ for communicating with non-professionals, and are
conscious that they are away from their normal environment where communication is between science
communities in laboratories or professional conferences. (“We disguised ourselves as various characters
[such as “Captain Armstrong the navigator” “Mr Gravity” “school kid” and “Miss Rocket”] and
managed to entertain the participants. Apparently some of them went to another science café afterwards
and I find it very successful ” - student after the 2006 rocket café).
The factor of performance or more specifically stage-acting thus emerges as a strong factor in our
analysis of the educational role of science cafés. This obviously helps the students who are not used to
interacting with lay people, and the role (medical doctor, spaceman or even mad scientist) seems to have
a liberating effect for them. The students are usually conscious that they are shy, not fluent and not a
good communicator in general” (class participant 2006). They say they perform on the stage “in order to
give the participants, especially young ones, a good time (facilitator student after the taste café) and it
certainly relaxes the other participants - many of them laugh (or at least jokingly sneer) at their
colleagues’ performance during the event. Although we need to make more systematic observations on
the impact of ‘playing up’, it appears that this factor contributes to the production of a relaxed
atmosphere, and helps prepare the ground for dialogue between individual Japanese who may be unused
to public discussion.
As an example of one role play, one science café addressed the theme of taste. A student played the role
of a Taste Scholar’ wearing a white coat and thick glasses to convey the stereotypical boffin’ image,
and explained the mechanism of how a tongue senses tastes such as sweetness and sourness. A leading
expert in the research of gustatory sense was present as a guest, so there was no real need to have fake
experts. However, the fake doctor skit proved an effective strategy for providing sufficient elementary
grounding in the science and creating a relaxed atmosphere, from which the debate could then proceed
with the involvement of the ‘true’ professional. This approach had been modelled on the use by the
DANA Centre of professional comedians and performers to present information and create a relaxed and
entertaining atmosphere tacit knowledge acquired as a result of certain students’ participation in the
international internship scheme [1].
However, this approach starts by dividing the participants into a ‘stage’ of those who know’ and a
‘floor’ of those who don’t know’ about the science. This distinction appeared to be preserved in the
minds of the participants for the rest of the event as characterised by the audience’s adherence to ‘ask an
expert’ behaviour rather than contributing as equals based on their own personal taste experiences or
opinions. Based on the observations of the students at the DANA Centre, this was unanticipated since the
‘ice-breaking’ was expected to encourage a reduction in inhibitions towards full engagement. This raises
the question of whether we could have taken preventative measures to avoid such a divide between
science professionals and general participants to reflect a possible difference in reactions to performance-
like presentations in Japan? It will be important to analyse more cases to evaluate positive and negative
effects of delivering information through performance-like presentations, and whether this can be refined
9 Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications
to reduce the barriers between professionals and the general public, and encourage a mind-set of shared
participation and responsibility between constituent elements of society.
As pointed out earlier, students are conscious of the hesitancy in Japan to express one’s opinion
assertively, and relate it to the meeting context. In addition there are the social pressures not to be a ‘nail
that sticks out’ by pressing one’s own opinion forward in a group. However, in the context of preparing
students to work in international companies and markets, it is essential be able to discuss various subjects
objectively with people of various nationalities, using skills and communication techniques which are
competitive- even though this may conflict with social customs in Japan. To this end, we started a
Science and Culture Café in English in 2007 with the aim of attracting a broader range of participants,
contributing to the Japanese students’ abilities to communicate in English, and also encourage certain
types of discussions that are not possible in Japanese with its indirect structures.
This allowed foreign students whose English was better than their Japanese to join the mail discussions
in English, and thus mail exchanges tended to became bilingual, which was beneficial to the Japanese
students from a language educational point of view. Broadening the cultural spread of participation also
helped students to recognise the importance of encouraging debate and communication based on
objective needs rather than social norms. In particular, they have come to see the purpose of the science
café as being to deliver richer wisdoms thorough the sharing of science between professionals and the
general public, where poor discussion capability is clearly a block.
With regard to the earlier separation of science cafés according to their degree of equality in dialogue
(figure 1), we note from the cumulative experience of developing and applying the TokyoTech Science
Cafés that awareness of the significance of shared scientific information between professionals and the
general public is accelerating and spreading. However, encouraging unguided and free discussions on an
equal standing between professionals and non-professionals, whereby an awareness of science’s societal
implications are explored in a wide variety of values and contexts, is still unusual. A science café where
someone guides the discussion in a way which is more familiar to Japanese is still preferred by the
students; as well as role-play style methods to relax themselves. These methods can also serve to create
an atmosphere for free discussion, but the supplementary mechanisms required to generate a fully
productive debate (engagement) remain to be developed.
5. Conclusion
The current ‘Japanese style science café’ can create a feeling of satisfaction and a sense of
accomplishment (students and local participants 2007), in which a sense of togetherness emerges through
sharing topics and having voices heard. However, for the next step, we should explore the possibility of
enabling discussions towards a real engagement model and heighten an awareness of science through
exchanging new opinions and thinking. For that reason, participants need to have capabilities to conduct
flexible communications that can evolve into a new level beyond presentations and performances, and we
believe it is desirable for the educators to help the students to acquire such capabilities through guidance
on the planning and execution of future science cafés aimed at this more challenging objective.
Notes and references
[1] K. Nohara, M. Norton, M. Saijo and O. Kusakabe (2008), Overseas Internships as a Vehicle for
Cultivating Meta -consciousness regarding communication, Journal of Science
Communication 7(1): 1-12.
[2] O. Kusakabe, K. Nohara, M. Saijo and A. Higashii (2006), The Role of internships based on
industry-public sector university collaboration, Kogaku kogyo kyoikukenkyu koenronbunshu,
Japanese Society for Engineering Education, pg. 258-259.
[3] Royal Society of London (1985), The Public Understanding of Science, London.
[4] House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology (2000), Science and Society, 3rd report,
London, HMSO.
[5] M. Bauer, N. Allum and S. Miller (2007), What can we learn from 25-years of PUS Research?
Liberating and Widening the Agenda, Public Understanding of Science 16: 79-95.
M. Norton and K. Nohara 10
[6] R. Jackson, F. Barbagallo and H. Haste (2005), Strengths of Public Dialogue on Science-related
Issues, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 8(3): 349-358.
[7] M. Norton, K. Nohara and M. Saito (2009), Science Communication history and development- UK
and other EU countries’ history and approach, pg. 111-126, in Introduction to Science and
Technology Communication, Baifukan Publishers, Japan.
[8] Café Scientifique Organisers Conference, Leeds (2007)
[11] MEXT (2004), How should Science and Technology comunicate with Society?, Chapter 3, White
Paper on Science and Technology, pg. 34-53
[14] E. McCallie, E. Simonsson, B. Gammon, K. Nilsson, J.L. Lehr and S. Davies (2007), Learning to
Generate Dialogue: Theory, practice, and evaluation, Museums and Social Issues 2(2): 165.
[15] NSF (2004). “Public Attitudes and Understanding”, Chapter 7 in Science Indicators, Washington,
[16] Lahsen, M. (2005). “Technocracy, Democracy, and U.S. Climate Politics: The Need for
Demarcations”, Technology & Human Values, 30 (1), p. 137-169.
[17] M. Norton, N. Allum and G. Kass (2007), Combating Spurious Science, Science and Public
Affairs, Dec 2007, p18.
[18] G. Gaskell et al. (2006), Europeans and Biotechnology in 2005: Patterns and Trends, Report to
the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research, 113pp
[19] W. Chern and K. Rickertsen (2002), Consumer Acceptance of GMO: Survey Results from Japan,
Norway, Taiwan, and the United States, Ohio State University, Working Paper: AEDE-WP-0026-
[23] OST and Wellcome Trust (2000), Science and the Public- A Review of Science Communication
and Public Attitudes to Science in Britain, Wellcome Trust, London
[24] Science Museum Visitors Research Group (2004), Naked Science- Evaluation of 18 months of
Contemporary science dialogue events,
[25] T. Brante, S. Fuller and W. Lynch (1993), Controversial Science: From content to contention,
Albany, State University of New York Press.
[26] New York Academy of Sciences Café Scientifique
Mike Norton is Professor at the Innovation Management Institute, Shinshu University, with a PhD in
Chemistry from Bristol University. He worked for the UK Government on environmental protection and
biotechnology research and policy (1974-1989). He was Director of the UK Parliamentary Office of
Science and Technology where he participated in a number of UK public engagement projects (1989-
1998) and was Counsellor in Science and Technology for the British Embassy in Tokyo from 1998-2004.
Kayoko Nohara received her D. Phil in Translation Studies from University of Oxford. She worked in the
Faculty of Oriental Studies at University of Oxford, Gakushuin University, Japan, Katholieke
11 Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational applications
Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and is currently an Associate Professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology,
teaching Linguistics, Japanese and Science Communication, and recently leading a new research project
in science and art in Japan. Recent publications include: An Introduction to Science and Engineering
Communication (Kagakugijutsu Communication Nyumon), eds. M. Kaji, M. Saijo and K. Nohara,
Baifukan: Tokyo, 2009. E-mail:
HOW TO CITE: M. Norton and K. Nohara, Science cafés. Cross-cultural adaptation and educational
applications, Jcom 08(04) (2009) A01.
... Outside the context of formal education learning spaces, there are informal spaces to learn science at science fiction conventions. Similar to science cafés (Childers et al., 2022;Dijkstra, 2017;Norton & Nohara, 2009) and science festivals (Jensen & Buckley, 2014;Rose et al., 2017), engaging science-themed spaces and activities, such as science fiction conventions, have increased in popularity and access for the public. These conventions provide educational opportunities to learn from science experts about current and future trends in scientific research, and the science fact in science fiction, in addition to a variety of sessions dedicated to the fictional aspects of the genre (Slater & Slater, 2019). ...
Science fiction conventions are places where individuals with an interest in diverse genres and mediums can engage with a community that bridges the world of science fiction and fact. Many of these conventions provide a science "track" where science experts share their expertise and research on scientific findings and applications of science with science fiction enthusiasts. This study explored science fiction conference attendees' (n = 241) interest in science, as well as how attendees (n = 172) plan to utilize science shared at science track sessions. Survey responses were analyzed within "STEM career" groups by comparing science track and non-science track attendees, and documenting what science track attendees plan to do with the information gained at a science track session. There were no differences in how science track attendees and non-science track attendees with STEM careers reported their interest in science. For the attendees that did not report having a career related to STEM, science track participants reported higher interest scores than non-science track attendees. Over half of the science track attendees (66%) shared they will apply what they learned from a science track session to their own personal context. Furthermore, the demographics of the survey respondents may suggest that science fiction conventions are an untapped science learning environment connecting to a younger, more diverse community. Overall, recognizing the benefit of science fiction conventions is crucial to provide spaces for accessible venues of science communication to foster an interest in science for a diverse, public audience.
... estudiar cómo se percibe la ciencia por sus interlocutores, o como estrategias para promover acciones vinculadas con la misma. Algunos casos que muestran la gran variedad de objetivos perseguidos por las iniciativas como por las investigaciones sobre cafés y bares de ciencia son: favorecer un mejor entendimiento, actitud y aceptación de la biología sintética en Canadá (Navid & Einsiedel, 2012); reconocer la percepción del riesgo sobre nanotecnología en personas que asisten a cafés científicos vs los que no asisten en Dinamarca (Dijkstra, 2017); las motivaciones de los científicos japoneses para dialogar con el público (Mizumachi et al, 2011); la pertinencia de los cafés científicos como escenario para el desarrollo de capacidades comunicativas trasculturales en estudiantes japoneses (Norton & Nohara, 2009); o como parte del programa de concientización sobre la importancia de la vacunación en zonas previamente tomadas por los talibanes en Pakistán (Yusufzai, 2012). ...
... There are few studies providing an understanding of the characteristics and affordances of those who attend Science Cafés. Norton and Nohara (2009) ...
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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.
... Contributing to this divide is the fact that the general public does not interact with science or scientists to an appreciable degree [Allum et al., 2008;Collins and Evans, 2007;Gauchat, 2011;Merton, 1973;Miller, 2004;Moore, 2008;National Science Board, 2018;Shapin, 2008]. Accordingly, there has been a vocal call within the scientific community to more effectively engage with the public to enhance knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes towards science and scientific research [Dallas, 1999;Norton and Nohara, 2009]. The hope is that these efforts generate a more scientifically literate public and electorate such that science is more highly valued in terms of funding and consultation in public policy development. ...
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The goal of Science Cafés and Science on Taps is to encourage open discourse between scientists and the public in a casual setting (e.g., a bar) in order to improve the public understanding of, and trust in, science. These events have existed for over two decades, but there is no research studying their efficacy. Data presented here demonstrate that a yearlong Science on Tap series induced little change among the attendees with respect to attitudes, emotions, and knowledge about the nature of science. Ultimately, we found this event may be preaching to the choir rather than changing hearts and minds.
... The work being done by the SBC program takes place in understudied public spaces. Informal science education has been shown to provide meaningful gains in public knowledge [Falk and Needham, 2011;Norton and Nohara, 2009;Navid and Einsiedel, 2012]. However, much of this work, as in the sources cited, takes place in STEM-designated spaces such as museums, science cafes, and STEM festivals, where community audience members are actively seeking out supplemental science education. ...
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The National Center for Science Education's Science Booster Club Program piloted a no-conflict approach to free, informal science activities focused on climate change or evolution, holding 64 community events at two sites over the course of 15 months, engaging with more than 70,000 participants. In the participating communities science literacy increased over time as did community engagement as measured by local financial support, requests for programming, and event attendance.
... The popularity of Science Cafés around the world and their success at engaging people in the discussion of science has been documented in at least one book and numerous newspaper and journal articles. 1,4,16,17,18,19 While the interest in Science Cafés demonstrates that the public has a desire to learn about or engage with science, little is known about participants' views of the Café or their perception of the Café experience. This presented an opportunity for us to examine both public views towards emerging biotechnologies and public perceptions about the Science Café format for discussing such issues. ...
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Engaging the public on emerging science technologies has often presented challenges. People may hold notions that science is too complicated for them to understand and the venues at which science is discussed are formal and perceived as inaccessible. One approach to address these challenges is through the Science Café, or Café Scientifique. We conducted five Science Cafés across Canada to gauge public awareness of synthetic biology technology, its potential applications, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the Science Café platform as a knowledge-translation tool. Café participants were excited about the potential benefits of synthetic biology technology, but also concerned about the potential risks. And while participants trusted scientists to carry out their research, there was limited confidence that regulators would ensure public safety. Science Cafés as a forum for science to meet society were viewed positively for the relaxed atmosphere, small crowd size and informality of the venue. We conclude that Science Cafés are an effective upstream engagement platform for discussing emerging science technologies.
... Although the group generally was favorable to the introduction of science cafés 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 cafés. 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 claim that science cafés would work just fine in Japan. ...
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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.
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Science Cafés are events designed as public engagement tools that create the opportunity for open dialogue between members of the general public and experts on the issue being discussed at the event. This study explores the nature of questions being asked by audience participants during discussion sessions of Science Café events. It was conducted by coding audio recordings of audience participant engagements at 41 Science Café events held between 2010 and 2019. The result of this analysis produced a novel taxonomic framework to describe audience participant behaviors in terms of their learning goals. This framework was evaluated by applying it to samples of Science Café question data selected by Science Café topic theme. Comparisons between question-asking behaviors for specific Science Café topics and overall trends in question-asking behaviors for all Science Cafés revealed significant changes in audience participant learning goals when asking questions at Science Cafés centered on different topic types. Implications for understanding Science Café audiences and potential developments for Science Café events as public science engagement tools are discussed.
It is increasingly difficult to solve social problems using fragmented knowledge when our environment is constantly fluctuating, the future is unpredictable and people have diverse, often contrasting values. When tackling issues, it is desirable to keep an open mind and incorporate the perspectives of others, not bound by the assumptions and traditional culture of each discipline. This review discusses how science and technology can be integrated with other fields to generate more creative questions and solutions, and what theoretical discussions prevail around such transdisciplinary practice. It introduces the notions of science communication, which aims to produce a dialogue between scientists/engineers and the lay public, and STEAM education and thinking, which view scientific and technological knowledge as continuous to that of other disciplines and ways of thinking. The author also discusses the mechanism of science and technology as social symbols from the perspective of semiotics and translation studies, looking at how rubber and latex are interpreted beyond their functions, using the fashion and media scenes as examples.
Various science events including Science Cafés have been held in Japan. However, there is the question whether these are events in which all people in society can participate? In particular, methods for checking whether or not the event attracts the participants targeted by the organizers have not yet been well established. In this paper, the authors have designed a simplified questionnaire to identify the participants' attitudes toward science, technology and society, which can then be grouped into four clusters. When applied to various science cafés, the results revealed that participants consisted of Cluster 1 "Inquisitive type" and Cluster 2 "Sciencephile" who are interested in science and technology. The cafes studied did not provide sufficient appeal to people of Clusters 3 and 4 who are not interested in science and technology without applying some inventive methods. Our method provides a means of objectively evaluating the tendencies of participants in science communication events in order to improve the spread of science communications within society.
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The objective of this paper is to estimate the consumer willingness to pay (WTP) for genetically modified (GM) foods in Japan, Norway, Taiwan, and the U.S. There are notable differences in the attitudes and perception of GM foods across countries. Americans are more willing to consume GM foods than Norwegians, Japanese and Taiwanese. A majority of respondents in all surveys supports mandatory labeling of GM foods. The students in the U.S., Japan, Norway, and Taiwan are willing to pay premiums of 50-62%, 33-40%, 55-69%, and 17-21%, respectively, for non-GM vegetable oil. The WTP values for avoiding the GM alternatives indicate that the average Norwegian consumer demands price reductions of 55%, 54%, and 67% for GM soybean oil, GM-fed salmon, and GM salmon as compared with the conventional alternatives.
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A BSTRACT This essay describes the value and validity of public dialogue on science-related issues. We define what is meant by 'dialogue', the context within which dialogue takes place in relation to science, and the purposes of dialogue. We introduce a model to describe and analyse the practice of dialogue, at different stages in the development of science, its applications and their consequences. Finally, we place the practice of dialogue on science-related issues in relation to the wider political process and draw out implications for scientists in particular.
Over the past decade in the UK, communities of scientists, governmental bodies, and informal learning organizations have increasingly promoted public engagement with science. One of the most visible features of these efforts within museums is the staging of adult-focused, face-to-face forums-commonly called dialogue events-that bring scientific and technical experts, social scientists, and policymakers into discussion with members of the public about contemporary science-based issues. This article clarifies the difference between non-policy-informing dialogue events and other interactions in museums. It then describes how one institution, the Science Museum's Dana Centre, London, has conceptualised, implemented, and refined its understanding of dialogue events based on iterative processes of theory-building, practice, and evaluation. It concludes by outlining future directions for promoting a broader culture of engagement through dialogue related to science and society.
Ulrich Beck and other theorists of reflexive modernization are allies in the general project to reduce technocracy and elitism by rendering decision making more democratic and robust. However, this study of U. S. climate politics reveals complexities and obstacles to the sort of democratized decision making envisioned by such theorists. Since the early 1990s, the U.S. public has been subjected to numerous media-driven campaigns to shape understandings of this widely perceived threat. Political interests have instigated an important part of these campaigns, frequently resorting to ethically problematic tactics to undermine attempts at policy action designed to avert or reduce the threat. The disproportionate influence of such interests suggests the need for a more level political playing field characterized by more equalized access to power and influence.
Science Communication history and development-UK and other EU countries' history and approach, pg. 111-126, in Introduction to Science and Technology Communication
  • M Norton
  • K Nohara
  • M Saito
M. Norton, K. Nohara and M. Saito (2009), Science Communication history and development-UK and other EU countries' history and approach, pg. 111-126, in Introduction to Science and Technology Communication, Baifukan Publishers, Japan.
Public Attitudes and Understanding
  • Nsf
NSF (2004). "Public Attitudes and Understanding", Chapter 7 in Science Indicators, Washington, NSF (
Combating Spurious Science
  • M Norton
  • N Allum
  • G Kass
M. Norton, N. Allum and G. Kass (2007), Combating Spurious Science, Science and Public Affairs, Dec 2007, p18.