Well, another World Science Festival is in the books. And what a trip it’s been. One attendee at this year’s festival suggested that, as if conjuring the gravity of a supermassive black hole, we must have slowed down the passing of time in order “to do so much in 5 days.”
Accusations of timespace manipulation aside, there were plenty of magic moments during the 40+ events throughout the run of the Festival. From Professor Stephen Hawking’s poignant speech in front of a packed house at Lincoln Center during the Opening Night Gala to the all-day celebration of science in the heart of New York City that is the Street Fair, several of the experiences we shared made this year special. Here are a handful of them:
» Neil DeGrasse Tyson holding court (and debunking 2012 in the process) until the wee hours of the morning during the Star Party at the base of James Webb Space Telescope model in Battery Park. (Thanks to Kris Hite—who trekked all the way from Colorado to volunteer at the festival—for capturing the footage.)
» The world premiere of Icarus at the Edge of Time, which ABC News described as a “multimedia masterpiece.” (Alert to our overseas friends: The European premiere will be July 3, performed live with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall in London.)
» Nobel Laureate physicist John Mather hosted an enlightening discussion with area high schoolers, as well as students from Kansas, Florida, and even Ghana for a special forum that award-winning science journalist Carl Zimmer deemed “the model of how scientists can stoke the passion of young people.”
» In a dialogue about consciousness, Alan Alda asked Charlie Kaufman why he chose to explore the inner mind of John Malkovich in his breakthrough work. Without pause, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker replied in his characteristic dry wit: “Because ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’ is funnier than ‘Walkens, Walkens, Walkens.’”
» Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, and Shamit Kachru blew minds with a consideration of dimensions beyond our sensory experience. Krauss suggested how fluid we experience the fabric of space and time (“One person’s space can be another person’s time” !?!?), while Greene put the scale of these dimensions into brain-hurting perspective: “A tree is to entire universe as a string is to a single atom.” Video replay of this session coming very soon (please bear with us!).
» At an arty outpost in Brooklyn, Seth Shostak, Lawrence Krauss, and Eric Horvitz discussed science’s influence on science fiction (and vice versa), the plausibility of things like wormholes (technically possible), and the science behind Star Trek.
» Inventors at the edges of science, engineering, and DIY ethic showcased surprising solutions for developing-world problems: a battery powered by dirt; camels tripped out with solar-powered refrigerators; and bionic rice.
» Putting the “world” in World Science Festival, our live webcast this year reached tens of thousands of people from over a hundred countries. Check out replays of these streams and read through the online live blog commentary now. A big shout out to Evan Lerner and Erin Johnson from our blogging partner ScienceBlogs, as well as Columbia physics student Mike Kennelly, for helping me with the live blogging.
Have a story of your own from the 2010 World Science Festival? Tell us!
We’d like to express our exceeding gratitude to the more than 100 participants who made the 2010 Festival so special, by generously donating their time to engage in meaningful conversations and illuminate complex phenomena. And we’d also like to thank the literally hundreds of volunteers (some coming from other states or even countries) who helped make the whole thing possible. We really couldn’t have done it without you. And, finally, a big thanks to those of you who attended this year’s Festival, whether you were able to make in person or were one of the thousands who tuned in to the webcast.
Although this is an end, it’s also a beginning. Stay tuned here for continuing developments, content, and announcements that we’re all very excited about. We’ll be rolling out all the high-end video broadcasts from this year’s festival.
Thank you, Greg. Was a pleasure working with you and the rest of the staff - permanent and volunteer - which made the World Science Festival the success it was, though, it might be said that in some respects, it didn't quite cover the ground that was covered in last year's event (I am thinking especially of programs emphasizing conservation biology in honor of Festival honoree E. O. Wilson, the utility of nuclear power and contending with global climate change. But noticeably absent was any substantial discussion on evolutionary biology and its importance to society, including the arts and humanities, when it was the Darwin bicentennial. A similar dearth was quite apparent this year as well.).
Hope the World Science Festival succeeds in getting more input and participation from several research institutes which are among the major reasons why New York City remains a global center for research in science; the Wildlife Conservation Society (which owns the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium and operates the Queens and Central Park Zoos for the City of New York), the New York Botanical Garden, and last, but not least, the American Museum of Natural History. Would also think it desirable to work too with organizations like the Linnean Society of New York, New York City Audubon Society, The River Project, Wings World Quest, The Explorers Club, and other related metropolitan New York organizations interested in science and in public outreach.
Left unsaid in your summary is recognizing that, unfortunately, several prominent New Atheist scientists criticized the World Science Festival again this year for having both a session devoted to science and faith and to have it and several others supported by the John R. Templeton Foundation (I am an agnostic with regards to whether this foundation should be involved in funding scientific research and public activities, such as festivals, which publicize science.). Unfortunately, one of these critics, Cal Tech cosmologist Sean Carroll (a 2009 WSF panelist), had his comments distributed widely through the blogosphere, including, the Richard Dawkins Foundation website. This raises the distinct possibility that Richard Dawkins may be among the festival's harsh New Atheist critics next year, and should this happen, such adverse publicity may dilute the impact and importance of WSF and what it is trying to accomplish on behalf of a public interested in science, both those who attend and the countless others fortunate to view its events online.
In lieu of a Science Faith session next year, may I suggest instead one devoted to Science Denialism (why the public refuses to accept as valid science, anthropogenic global warming and biological evolution)? An ideal panel could consist of ABC News Correspondent Bill Blakemore (as moderator), American Museum of Natural History astrophysicist - and Director, Hayden Planetarium - Neil de Grasse Tyson, Brown University cell biologist Kenneth R. Miller, National Center for Science Education Executive Director Eugenie Scott, and last, but not least, Columbia University philosopher Philip Kitcher in a freewheeling format that would discuss these issues, with the possibility of some discussion on faith as it pertains to science denialism.
As for future financial support by the John R. Templeton Foundation, I suggest that WSF should note who the sponsors of the forthcoming USA Science and Engineering Festival (to be held in Washington, DC over a two-week period in October) are. None have any interest in or any affiliation whatsoever with religious issues.
Courtesy of Tom Paine's Ghost:
Excellent summary and hope that World Science Festival links to it if it doesn't use all of it. Unfortunately, that session led me to an entirely different conclusion as to the necessity of having such a discussion. Reluctantly I have to agree with both Sean Carroll and Jerry Coyne's condemnation of having this panel discussion, especially when last year's session - also moderated by Blakemore (Incidentally, he has moderated all three, including the first one in 2008.) - was far more informative in trying to determine how religiously devout scientists should comport themselves when working as scientists and then, in private, as devoutly religious adherents of their faith.
With the notable exception of Francisco Ayala - whom I might add is a prominent contributor to our organization, the National Center for Science Education (http://www.ncse.com) - none of the commentary was as insightful or as noteworthy as the comments stated by last year's panelists; philosopher Colin McGinn, physicist Lawrence Krauss, planetary scientist - and Vatican Astronomer (and Jesuit brother) - Guy Consolmagno and cell biologist Ken Miller. By far Elaine Pagels was the worst, and her comments clearly demonstrated that she could not add much intellectual depth or respond effectively to the comments uttered by her fellow panelists.
In lieu of this panel discussion, the World Science Festival should instead, host a freewheeling panel discussion - which could be moderated by Blakemore - on how to deal with science denialism, with an ideal panel consisting of NCSE Executive Director - and physical anthropologist - Eugenie Scott, cell biologist Ken Miller, astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson and philosopher of science Philip Kitcher. Such a group could also delve into questions of faith as it pertains to science denialism. I also believe that their commentary would be far more interesting and insightful than what transpired for reasonable discourse at this year's World Science Festival Science Faith session.