Opinion: Science at the heart of everything

As the politics of the year take their grip on Scotland and lines are drawn in the sand, Edinburgh International Science Festival is in a unique position to tackle the independance discussion anew

Feature by Chris Rumbles | 03 Apr 2014
  • Science Festival

In a year dominated by political tumult, it is little surprise that this year’s Edinburgh International Science Festival launched with ‘science at the heart of everything’ for its theme. The festival’s inclusion in its varied programme of Scotland Decides, a series of debates discussing the future of science and technology in an independent Scotland, is a welcome decision accepting that, for better or worse, the spheres of politics and science are inseparable.

The festival’s theme works on two-levels; the first aims to raise awareness of just how embedded science is in our daily lives and the second is promoting the impfortance of embracing this idea. The second aspect has much to do with the festival’s ability to make events as accessible and relevant as possible and, going by this year’s programme, it may yet pull such a feat off.

Beginning in 1989, the EISF can proudly claim to have been the founders of the world’s first celebration of all things science and technology but the distinct problem organisers of EISF always face is running a programme that will appeal to all without appearing to ‘dumb down’ content. Employing a tact that separates the EISF programme into a ‘family’ section and an ‘events’ section goes some way to addressing the dilemma of how a science festival can attract visitors without compromising on content. In fact, the timing of the 16 day event coincides with school holidays, which is conducive to the festival’s goal of drawing crowds. This year’s initiative to offer students half-price ticket rates for selected events means those who are broadly academically-minded have even less of an excuse to not sample some scientific spectacles.

Nobel prize-winning physicist and one of the most talked about scientists in recent times, Professor Peter Higgs, will do some talking himself as he discusses his life’s work with fellow particle physicist Professor Frank Close. A free 'Celebrating the Higgs Boson' workshop to enlighten people of the significance of Prof Higgs’s work; giving mass to the masses if you will.

For those interested in political and social psychology, Dr Tiffany Jenkins will be joined by speakers including everyone’s favourite psephologist Professor John Curtice for In Two Minds? to dissect what influences individuals' voting decisions. Elsewhere, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party promises to be one of the festival’s more outlandish offerings. Ethnobotanist Dr Ian Edwards of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and foraging ambassador Miles Irving serve up some unique tea-time treats in this somewhat psychedelic discovery of drugs and intoxication. Think Irvine Welsh meets The Beechgrove Garden.

Precocious palaeontologists will feel at home at the Walking Like Dinosaurs event hosted by the BBC’s Dr Phil Manning while Energise will enable inquisitive youngsters to explore a model human digestive system while learning about how they can keep their own one fighting fit.

With two of Edinburgh’s biggest arts festivals already declaring they won’t be including referendum-specific events in their respective programmes this year, it has been left to science to fill the void. Perhaps this is the beauty of science. Full of logic and a willingness to debate the evidence at hand, science is arguably an appropriate frame in which to approach politics given its rhetoric and complexity. The decision by the main arts festival and the book festival in Edinburgh to shun politics in the most political of years is one that plays kindly into the hands of EISF organisers. 

Edinburgh International Science Festival takes place from 5-20 April. http://sciencefestival.co.uk