Research shouldn’t happen in a bubble. It is in everyone’s interest to push boundaries – and as the world’s problems get more complex, everyone should get involved.
Although the pandemic made it impossible to gather physically in the city, the annual string of online events that are Science in the City promise to still bring the abilities to think critically, question things and conduct research closer to everyone.
With Pre-Festival events underway; and the festival starting next week, Newspoint caught up with the brains behind Science in the City, Dr Edward Duca.
‘Engage, empower, enable’. How engaged, empowered and enabled are today’s youth?
A tough question to answer. But at Science in the City, we want people to think critically, to shift through fake news and find the facts (or what research is showing us right now) so they can live better, safer lives. In a time of COVID-19, this know-how is key.
At Science in the City, we want people to think critically, shift through fake news and find the facts.
We also want people to act on their knowledge, to turn it into tangible actions that would result in a positive change in their lives and those around them.
Malta has a large number of NGOs. I’d like to see this passion for volunteering enter all sectors, especially research. I’d love to see more youth being involved in communicating and being part of scientific research. I’ve already seen a big difference since we started running Science in the City. Many of the local people who intern for the festival over summer would have participated in the festival before. It’s beautiful to see.
How long a time do you spend preparing for such an event? And what is different this year?
Science in the City soaks up a massive amount of time. We have 5 part-timers, 13 interns and I working all summer (some of us throughout the year) to make the festival happen. It’s the only way to keep the festival growing and high quality. The festival wouldn’t be possible without their passion and hard work (and all the researchers, students, performers, and others who take part).
The festival has gone completely digital for this year! At first, we tried to do a hybrid event, but COVID-19 infection numbers have skyrocketed. Digital was the only scientifically sound and morally responsible approach. The team's effort to go hybrid won’t be wasted and will be introduced in next year’s festival. The festival this year is going very well.
What was fun and what was challenging about turning the entire programme of events virtual?
Science in the City was my brain child, supported by a host of people who believed in the idea (a big thank you to Prof. Alex Felice, Wilfred Kenely, Karen Fiorini, Angele Galea, Sean Buhagiar and many more). I’ve been running it for 9 years now. Going entirely virtual required a major effort for the team but it was fun to overcome the challenge, and I think we have done a brilliant job coming up with innovative, involving and entertaining events for people to experience remotely.
Going digital let us work with people from America, Ireland, the UK, and many countries in Europe. We have created videos featuring researchers from over 9 different countries, online escape rooms simultaneously in Malta and Ireland, and have already attracted hundreds of people into our Zoom chat rooms and thousands have watched our live streamed events. It has been a worthwhile challenge.
Regrettably, I also broke my leg during this time. So, my biggest challenge become running such a large team completely remotely, but they have done a stellar job. We also have never run a Zoom webinar or hosted so much digital content online. We had to learn quickly.
The pandemic has been a real strain. It’s hard to keep a team’s spirits high when you cannot do anything social. But, I think it helped provide a challenge which we overcome. It really helped us innovate.
The pandemic really helped us innovate.
You’re giving the public a forum to discuss euthanasia, ethics and marijuana usage – as well as other hot topics. Is this because you believe they are not being discussed in enough places, and are these discussions to be held by all or by the few?
Research is integral to these topics. How can we discuss Marijuana use without considering the science behind these issues? I believe we need to have informed dialogues about these issues. For people to know what’s the evidence out there then make a decision as a society for the benefit of all in Malta. I sound very idealistic but I do think we have to strive for this goal in our society. Cultural events like Science in the City need to be a place for these sort of important discussions. Entertainment can be hard hitting and meaningful.
Events like Science in the City need to be a place for these sort of important discussions.
Who are this year’s events intended for?
They are targeted to all groups you can imagine: from theatre lovers to children, from techophiles to students.
Although led by the University of Malta, the Science in the City consortium includes researchers from the Malta Chamber of Scientists, MCAST, Esplora, Malta Enterprise, and more. How important is the collaborative and multidisciplinary aspect in understanding science?
Most research in Malta happens at the University of Malta, but it doesn’t happen in a bubble. Industry, government, other educational institutions, and NGOs all should perform research. We need research to understand the world around us, how human beings behave, understand messages and interact with the world around them. Research is integral to being human as it is tied to our curiosity, for me that means that more institutions need to support or be part of research locally.
The world’s problem and questions are becoming more complex. A term has been coined called “wicked problems”. These issues need groups from every discipline to try and solve. The COVID-19 pandemic needs communication experts working with health practitioners, pharma needs to work with logistics companies, while government needs to balance all stakeholders’ interests. Consider climate change or our educational systems, these also need diverse groups of people coming together to develop research and actions to improve the current situation.
Just check out our programme, you’ll find something suited for you.
Take the plunge you’re in for a treat. Events can be booked online.