Cambridge Nights, an Online Late-Night Science Talk Show

MIT’s Media Lab is producing an online show called Cambridge Nights, consisting of interviews with distinguished scientists about their research and their lives. It’s an interesting effort at bringing scientists into the public spotlight, which I fully support – we rely on science for everything, so understanding how and by whom it’s done is pretty key.  

From PhysOrg:

Similar to how Leno, Letterman, and John Stewart interview interesting people in pop culture, Cesar Hidalgo, ABC Career Development Professor at MIT’s Media Lab, interviews academic professionals about their research, their life stories, and their views of the world.

So far, eight episodes have been filmed, each about 30-45 minutes long. The episodes are being released every Wednesday, with the fourth episode appearing this week. The three episodes that have been released so far feature interviews with Marc Vidal, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School; Geoffrey West, former President of the Santa Fe Institute; and Albert-László Barabási, director of Northeastern University’s Center for Complex Networks Research.

Due to the laid-back setting, the guests are able to tell stories that span their careers, peppered with interesting bits of trivia. For instance, as West discusses his research on how metabolism scales with an organism’s body mass, he notes that life is often marveled at for its diversity, but no less intriguing is how the characteristics of all known life forms follow some simple physical and mathematical laws. Even the arrangement of trees in a forest follows a formula, despite looking random, he explains.

As the shows are not pressed for time or commercial breaks, the guests are allowed to take their time while talking without being cut short by frequent interruptions or confrontational questions.

“Guests are not asked to simplify or condense their narratives,” according to the “Cambridge Nights” philosophy. “We invite them because we want to hear what they have to say, and we want to give them the time to say it comfortably. There are many high-speed formats out there. ‘Cambridge Nights’ is an alternative where thoughts can be developed and reflected upon without the need to rush.”

You should check it out. Be warned, the videos are ~40 minutes each, but you can just listen to it in the background in any case, if you’re the kind of person who can do that (I’m not, sadly). I really hope growing public interaction with scientists becomes a trend – and we can get closer to a society something more like this.

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