The Post-Truth Science Festival

Brad Gross threatens to play the theremin at Bright Sparks

Brad Gross threatens to play the theremin at Bright Sparks - Credit: Archant

Richard Robinson from Brighton Science Festival on what to expect at this year’s event

I have nothing against the creative industries, but they don’t mix well with maths. Creative writing is fine. Creative accounting isn’t. Nor creative politics, but politics has become a creative industry now in the Post-Truth era, with statements that are true if everyone repeats them often enough, and become truer the louder you say them.

In case you think truth has been flushed away at the Science Festival, go and have a look. On the first weekend of February half-term each year three thousand children and parents stream around Hove Park Upper School at the Bright Sparks event, designing drugs for medicine, rapping with robots, making molecules, petting pythons, building brains, juggling genes, conjuring in the kitchen, digesting digestion. There is colour, creativity and light, and a slight sense of panic as everyone tries to get round everything. So has truth been put away for the day? No, truth there is a-plenty, skip-loads of it, great copper-bottomed, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled lab-loads of it. The world around us couldn’t be constructed without technicians and engineers using the truths and facts supplied by scientists and mathematicians. We use truths for our delight.

But we ignore truths at our peril. Look at the immensity of our industries, the vast quantities of CO2 we pump into the atmosphere, and the slow but inexorable way this ramps up the floods and storms. Face it, what we have done to the planet is awesome. Look again and see the way we can build our way out of our self-created crisis, with wind-turbines, solar panels, clever batteries and better organisation. Hands-On Half-Term, through the whole week from 11-19 February, is helping to inspire the next generation of scientists. For instance, at Al Campo Café on Monday 13 you can use Minecraft to understand water distribution around Sussex, by becoming a raindrop. Trickle down into an aquifer, get sucked up into a lavatory cistern, then go white-water rafting down the toilet and out to Peacehaven to be treated. The technology of computers and the creativity of Block Builders, who run the workshop, allows young people to design flood defences and water distribution systems, so they become stakeholders in the future of their communities. A sound use of truth.

Something for the grown-ups? Richard Wiseman has a fine magic show on Saturday February 18, Smoke and Mirrors. But it’s more than magic – he explains how magic works - how easy it is to fool people into believing anything. At the end of half-term we can go home having had fun, but also perhaps a little better equipped to spot the difference between belief and knowledge, hope and possibility, truth and lies.