From May 28 to June 1, "the most exciting city in the world is going to become even more exciting," according to Alan Alda. That's the weekend staked out for the World Science Festival, a scattered constellation of panels, interviews, debates, workshops and cultural events in New York City. (Full disclosure: Scientific American is a media sponsor of the event.) At a press conference this morning at New York University, Alda and the festival's organizers -- physicist and author Brian Greene and Emmy-winning television journalist Tracy Day -- and leaders of the city's educational institutions described highlights of the event's lineup. Think of it as a The New Yorker Festival for the science-savvy. But instead of Adam Gopnik, Seymour Hersh and Salman Rushdie, you get Greene, Robert Butler and V.S. Ramachandran. (New Yorker contributor and neurologist Oliver Sacks will be there, too, creating a human gangway between the two events.) "We all start as little scientists, unabashed explorers of the unknown," Greene said, before lamenting how most people lose that love of discovery on the path to adulthood. He and Day want to connect the general public with science, using, among other things, art. The Festival is designed, in part, to so that attendees would "come for the art and leave with the science," Day said. "They'll have a honeymoon at the World Science Festival!" added Alda. One couple that is unlikely to have a honeymoon at the festival is religion and science. NYU president John Sexton, who holds a Ph.D. in religion, lamented that "too often, we have posed a false dichotomy between science and the soul." He called out Richard Dawkins for attacking "the straw man of an anthropomorphic god." (He probably should have checked the semi-functioning website before he prepared his remarks: Dawkins is on the festival's advisory board.) Greene hopes the event will spawn other versions of itself around the country and the world. It was hard, however, to shake the feeling that, at least in its first year, the event tilts toward an upper middle class demographic. One of the signature events is a screening of the Bourne trilogy at the Museum of Modern Art followed by a discussion led by a neuroscientist-to-be-named-later. Another is a dance choreographed by the renowned Karole Armitage based on principles of quantum mechanics held at the Guggenheim. I asked Greene about the demographic the event was likely to attract. He said a number of yet-to-be-announced programs will fill the gap. He also emphasized the youth and family events involving Scholastic's Magic School Bus, robotics and artificial intelligence workshops with Walt Disney Imagineering, and and an opportunity for New York City high school students to interview Nobel laureates. Even a Muppet scientist made an appearance at the press conference. "My string theories are just as close to being proven true as yours," Bunsen Honeydew said, as Greene pulled silly string off his right ear and shoulder. -- Edited by nikhil swaminathan at 04/02/2008 4:11 PM
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