Festival aims to bring science to the people

Science festival begins in May

Switzerland is hosting a science festival in May to try to improve contacts between the scientific community and members of the general public.

This content was published on May 2, 2001 - 13:42

From Geneva to St Gallen and Basel to Lugano, debates, plays, exhibitions and experiments have been organised in ten Swiss cities.

Festival director, Daniel de Roulet, told swissinfo the week-long spectacle was designed to promote dialogue.

"Normally the scientific community comes out on the street only when they have a big problem or when they are angry about something which affects their research.

"In 1998, there was a referendum about restricting genetic manipulation and everybody suddenly realised it was necessary to have a discussion. We want people to talk in a festive atmosphere before the 'science war' is openly declared."

Recent opinion polls show that a third of young people in Switzerland think science does more harm than good. De Roulet said the scientific community simply could not afford to alienate the public in this way. ·

"If 35 per cent of young people are against science, then we have a big problem. In the long term, public support is essential for scientific research."

Discussion panels and exhibitions will form an essential part of science week.

While medieval recipes are being cooked up in Zurich, a play about cloning will take place in Lucerne. Geneva is concentrating on science and the paranormal.

"One highlight is taking place in Basel," said de Roulet. "The theatre director is swapping jobs with a chief researcher in the chemical industry so that everybody can compare the problems in the world of culture with the problems in the world of science."

Organisers said the festival was not just a public relations exercise for the universities and the scientific community but a chance for members of the public to air their views too.

"All these questions are about nature," said de Roulet. "Is nature just something you can change and do anything you want with or is it something you have to preserve and not touch?

"Between these two positions, we think a dialogue is possible. The hardliners will probably not agree but they only make up two or three per cent."

De Roulet said the quality of the discussion generated by science week would be important and he hoped the dialogue would continue, long after the festivities ended.

by Vincent Landon

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