The fourth biennial Science Matters (SciMat) conference “Humanities as Science Matters: History, Philosophy and Arts” was held at the emblematic Casa do Infante, Porto, Portugal, October 15-17, 2013.
The conference was held in the picturesque city of Porto in the North of Portugal. The historic venue overlooked the River Douro which runs through the heart of the town. The participants were from the sciences, arts and humanities and in parallel with the conference there was an art exhibition at the Port Wine Museum.
According to Jean-Patrick Connerade (Imperial College, London and European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, France) the root of anti-science is in the bungled image of science portrayed by scientists over the last fifty years. From the European perspective, ordinary citizens do not consider that science is part of culture. Faced with a literary backdrop of science as “modern devilry” in the Gothic novel tradition, scientists have not responded to this “peculiar” view. Scientists, according to Connerade, need to reconnect science with its cultural identity. Connerade is himself a published poet and in his role as President of the European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters works to bring together poets and scientists.
Lui Lam (California, USA and Beijing, China) set the scene for the conference with a talk on the history of “Science Matters”. The conference series is part of what Lam refers to as a new discipline that treats all human dependent matters as part of science. This unified perspective is traced back to Aristotle.
Co-chair of the conference, Maria Burguete (Bento da Rocha Cabral, Portugal) traced the birth of experimental medicine in Portugal, which was important on the international stage in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Alexandra Nobre (University of Minho, Portugal) has been involved in a number of projects making science more familiar to the general public. In particular, she has pioneered the use of crochet to depict three dimensional models exhibited in various museums.
Engaging the public through humour has a history as long as there have been human beings. In more recent years comedy, as an approach to communicating science, has been a growing phenomenon. Hauke Riesch (Brunel University, UK) highlighted many examples of comedy applied to science, but cautioned that humour, particularly if it relies on stereotypes, can have a negative effect in breaking down barriers between science and the public.
Gwendolyn Smith (Attune Institution, Suriname) has worked for many years with the Trio indigenous people living in the Amazonian rainforest in Suriname. She described her experiences in terms of local environmental knowledge that from the bottom up informs a non-western world view of values and beliefs which are important.
Elena Bastidas (Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA) described a number of projects she has been involved in with indigenous peoples and conflict resolution involving social cartography – a communication tool involving participatory mapping of collective memory of a region as well as the natural landscape.
David Schmool (Perpignan University, France) has just written a textbook on Solid State Physics published by the Pantaneto Press. He shared with the audience some of his experiences of teaching and writing a book and also entertained the audience with interesting demonstrations of magnetic levitation and magnetic nano-particles.
Neuroarthistory uses neuroscientific studies in the practice of art history. Kajsa Berg (UEA, UK) described the history of this new subject area, which brings the sciences and the humanities together for joint research.
Anne-Sophie Godfroy (Sorbonne, France) talked about the history of gender and science and Françoise Icart (European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, France) who helped organize the art exhibition at the Port Wine Museum, spoke on taste in art.
The conference also heard talks from Rita Vasconcellos (Lisbon, Portugal) on: What is Architecture? Filipa Ribeiro (Porto, Portugal) on the strength of strong values, Maria Manuela Lopes (UK & Portugal) on art in scientific laboratories and Marièva Sol (France) on child education.
I apologise to other speakers I have not mentioned.