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A Celebration Of Science With A Popular Touch
以通俗化方式颂扬科学
2017/4/20 11:21:47 来源: 《英语文摘》

By Karen Weintraub

With the applause just winding down for a scantily clad all-girl rock band, John Durant climbed onstage, carrying his 2-year-old son.

His assistants handed out cardboard placards emblazoned with “X” or “Y.” Dr. Durant asked the women in the crowd to hold up an X, the men to hold up a Y.

Their letters, Dr. Durant told them, marked the tail end of a two-mile-long scale model of the human genome that stretched from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the stage in Harvard Square. They cheered as they became the symbolic 23rd chromosome, the one that determines sex.

That was at the inaugural Cambridge Science Festival, in 2007; this year’s — the sixth — begins April 20. And if the science festival can be said to have an animating spirit, Dr. Durant — whose day job is director of the M.I.T. Museum— would be a good candidate.

He is 61, an evangelical minister’s son from England who strikes a ramrod posture, favors pressed Oxford shirts and speaks with a BBC accent that gives little hint of his boyhood in a subsidized housing project in Norwich. Like his father, he devotes much of his life to spreading the gospel — in his case the gospel of science festivals.

Thanks in good part to Dr. Durant’s advocacy, more than 20 science festivals were held across the United States last year, in science hubs like the Bay Area and in communities not known for their science, like Dayton, Ohio, and Colorado Springs.

He bristles when asked if a science festival is the same as a science fair. His answer is definitely no — although, he hastens to add, there’s nothing wrong with science fairs, which typically challenge students to design and conduct their own experiments.

每当有人问他科学节是否和科学展览是一回事,他都会发火。他会回答说绝对不是一回事——尽管他会立马补充说,科学展通常要求学生自己设计并动手做试验,并没有什么不好。

A science festival has more in common with a film, art or food festival. Festivals aim to bring in tourism dollars, introduce people to scientists and demystify science in an era when researchers and large sectors of the public diverge on major policy issues like climate change, vaccines and embryonic stem cell research.

科学节则与电影节、艺术节或是食品节更像。科学节旨在赚取游客收入,向人们介绍科学家,并在当今这样一个时代揭开科学的神秘面纱。如今,研究者和大部分公众在诸如气候变化、疫苗和胚胎肝细胞研究等重大的政策议题上都有分歧。

“People are living with tensions between what they think about science in one area and what they believe in another,” Dr. Durant said. Science festivals help bridge those gaps. “We shouldn’t just be trying to shove science down people’s throats. It never works and it’s very uncongenial.”

杜兰特博士说:“人们生活在一方面思考科学问题而另一方面对信仰相信不疑的矛盾状态中。科学有助于消除这种分歧。我们不应该只是设法把科学生硬地灌输给人们。这从来不起作用,也令人反感。”

Each science festival capitalizes on regional strengths, expertise and creativity. But their underlying idea is the same: Bring as many people as possible into contact with science.

每届科学节都会充分利用举办地的优势、专长和创造力。但它们的根本设想是一样的:尽可能让更多的人接触科学。

Two years after inaugurating the Cambridge Science Festival, Dr. Durant won a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to set up an alliance that would help start four festivals and inspire a few more. The Science Festival Alliance, based at the M.I.T. Museum, now expects more than 30 festivals next year, and sparked the first such festival in Egypt; it begins in Cairo on April 21.

Dr. Durant says the growth of science festivals is part of decades of efforts by him and others to integrate science and popular culture. In his early days, he said, he and his friends felt like missionaries.

“Today, it’s pretty mainstream,” he said. “I don’t feel anymore that I’m in a minority of ridiculously evangelical advocates.”

Dr. Durant’s success stems only partly from his charm. He also sweeps people up with enthusiasm and idealistic vigor.

“He’s smart enough to use that British accent and style to his advantage to make the science more fun,” said P. A. d’Arbeloff, director of the Cambridge Science Festival. “He’ll make a joke about the way he phrases things or a term that he uses,” she said. “He’ll phrase it in such a British way that he’ll pull you in — it’s disarming.”

After his modest upbringing, he earned a full scholarship to Cambridge University, where he went on to earn a Ph.D. in the history of science — driven to answer questions raised by his father’s religious convictions. As a graduate student in the early 1970s, Dr. Durant was disappointed that the talk on campus so quickly turned from the radicalism of the ’60s back to more capitalistic concerns. He didn’t enjoy teaching undergraduates, for whom learning was often only a means to an end.

As the most junior member of the History of Science department, Dr. Durant was asked to teach a continuing education class to adults in a nearby town — an assignment none of his colleagues wanted. But he found it so exhilarating, he pursued continuing education, rather than an academic career.

“I’ve always found that talking about science to people who are not specialists — who have a general interest and are prepared to ask any and every question that occurs to them — really compellingly interesting,” he said.

By 1990, he was working at the Science Museum in London, which he thought overemphasized the past. There were too many exhibits about the steam age and not any about science in contemporary London, Dr. Durant said.

“It seemed not to engage anywhere with anything that visitors might be directly encountering or experiencing to do with science in their daily lives,” he says now. “I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my museum career trying to think about what it means to do something realistically in the museum environment which isn’t exclusively about the remote past.”

There’s a bit of unspoken rivalry between the World Science Festival in New York City and Cambridge’s festival. Cambridge held the first, in 2007, as Dr. Durant points out; but New York had started planning its 2008 festival even earlier, as the World Science Festival founder and director, the physicist Brian Greene, retorts. The men have met only in passing, and each is far too gentlemanly to speak ill of the other, though each clearly favors his own formula.

Our focus is on creating very high quality, highly artistically produced programs that bring together worlds that usually don’t talk to each other,” said Dr. Greene, a physics and math professor at Columbia and well-known popularizer of science. “We’ve tried to inject the drama of science into these highly produced programs, so people leave the event saying, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that’s what science is like.’ ”

Many events for the New York festival, which this year runs from May 30 to June 3, charge fees and sell out quickly. Organizers expect 300,000 people to attend this year.

The Cambridge Science Festival cost $400,000 last year, with support from corporate donors, M.I.T., Harvard University and the state and local governments. About 50,000 people attended the festival, which aims for a more economically diverse audience, with most events free, and a somewhat lighter tone.

The most popular adult event in recent years has been Big Ideas for Busy People. Ten of the region’s exciting thinkers, in just five minutes each, explain their big ideas. They then take five more minutes to answer questions. The free event was so packed last year that Dr. Durant’s staff found a bigger venue for this year.

Other science festivals have largely followed Cambridge’s model, because their regions lack New York’s celebrity firepower and large audience. Last April, Philadelphia’s first festival teamed up historians of science with comedians. They re-enacted famous scientific flops. In North Carolina, the inaugural festival in 2010 featured the science of winemaking, a rap guide to evolution and a science carnival for children — the one feature common to festivals nationwide.

Dr. Durant wants to push beyond the constraints of a single, 10-day annual festival. He is extending the festival’s outreach across Massachusetts and to an ever more diverse audience. At the Caribbean Festival in Boston in the fall, science festival staff handed out 800 backpacks and experiments in two hours.

“It’s important that we don’t only celebrate science where it’s already flourishing,” Dr. Durant said.

(冯雪 译自The New York Times Apr.9, 2012)

(责编:MIDO)

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