CLEMSON, South Carolina – Many Americans don’t understand the science headlines that appear in the news, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted last summer.

The survey results, released in September 2017, found that much of the American public jumps to conclusions about how to apply new research findings in their lives. In addition, 40 percent say they find it hard to distinguish between low-quality and high-quality scientific reports.

Vicki teaches in a classroom

Victoria Corbin is the director of Clemson University’s Life Sciences Outreach Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University College of Science

Victoria Corbin, director of the Clemson University Life Sciences Outreach Center, has been changing the public’s perception of science one beer – or one meeting, rather – at a time.

Corbin’s “Science on Tap,” which began in 2014, is a monthly forum for scientific discussion, featuring an expert speaker presenting his or her research knowledge to the community. While dining on bar food and beverages, listeners can learn about some of the most fascinating topics in science.

“I didn’t make this up – there are things like ‘Science on Tap’ all over the country, all over the world, and I thought it was a good idea to start one in the Upstate,” Corbin said. “I really want more citizens to have access to science.”

Corbin said it’s important for scientists to explain to the public what they do and why they do it.

“As taxpayers, citizens pay for a lot of scientific research, and they have the right to learn what their money has paid for. If the results are presented accurately and in everyday language, then there might be more understanding and support for science research,” Corbin said. “That was my motivation.”

mason speaks to crowd

Jennifer Mason, an assistant professor in genetics and biochemistry, speaks about DNA repair during “Science on Tap.”
Image Credit: Clemson University College of Science

Previous sessions have informed listeners on deep space planet formation, alcohol’s effects on the brain and the modern gene editing technique of CRISPR-Cas9. Hot-button topics in the news – like climate change, synthetic opioids and the 2015 outbreak of the Zika virus – have all been discussed by expert speakers, whom Corbin recruits from Clemson University, Furman University, the Greenwood Genetic Center and other institutions.

Many of those who attend “Science on Tap” do so because they want to become better informed about science.

Margaret Warner, an adjunct faculty member in the department of education and human development, said that she thoroughly enjoys “Science on Tap,” even if it is far out of her knowledge base.

“The best part of ‘Science on Tap’ is that it challenges my thinking. It puts me in an area I don’t know much about, especially the meetings about chemistry. I enjoyed chemistry as an undergraduate student, but I haven’t thought about it for a long time. Now I view it a bit differently,” Warner said. “I just think it’s totally fascinating.”

Amy Smedberg – an admissions counselor in Clemson’s undergraduate admissions office – said that she attends “Science on Tap” to be a constant learner.

“Personally, I don’t have a strong background in science, so I like to learn as much as I can,” Smedberg said. “I’ve followed ‘Science on Tap’ for a long time, and I’ve come to many different talks. It’s a good way to get out and learn something new.”

Lisa Rapaport (far left), an assistant professor of biological sciences, presents her research on monkey behavior during “Science on Tap.”
Image Credit: Clemson University College of Science

Elizabeth Kunze, a former geologist-turned-ESOL teacher, attended the October meeting of “Science on Tap” in support of her colleague, Lisa Rapaport, who was presenting.

“I think this is a good way to make science readily accessible to people who haven’t been exposed to it in the past. I’m a big believer that science should be the foundation of many, many things,” Kunze said.

Corbin said there are “regulars” who always attend the sessions and also newcomers, depending on the topic being discussed.

“I’ll get this whole other subset of semi-regulars who come only for the anthropology meetings, the health meetings, the chemistry meetings – you know. Usually, the people who come say it’s a great time,” Corbin said.

“Science on Tap” meets in Pendleton at the Viva Wine Bar on the second Thursday of each month, and in Greenville at Coffee Underground on the last Tuesday of each month. Both meetings begin at 6:30 p.m.

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