On Wednesday night (28th September) I went along to The Manchester Salon (in association with Cafe Scientifique), a public discussion forum at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester.
I have to admit to feeling a little nervous on the way there, this was to be my first discussion/debating experience since starting my degree. My radio background has meant I have had to interview those in positions of responsibility, and I have never shied away from asking difficult questions and tackling issues head on. But this felt different.
I know exactly what it was, I still feel a little unsure about my ability to appear confident in a psychological arena. Even though I’m about to enter my third year (in Open University part time years, they’re like dog years but feel longer), it is still the early stages of the course. I walked in with a real fear that I was going to appear stupid and trying to punch way above my weight. Luckily this wasn’t the case.
From the moment I walked into the venue it felt such a relaxed atmosphere (if not a little warm and stuffy, but as I know very well, you can’t control the weather in Manchester). A small queue for the bar, and decent coffee for a reasonable price, I then grabbed my seat in the arena. Arena sounds very grand, it was a presentation style layout but still felt very informal. I was impressed with the turnout, there must have been at least 80-90 people in the room. There was a buzz which gave me the impression everyone was raring for a heated debate.
The guest speakers were introduced, Dr Stuart Derbyshire and Professor Anthony Jones to present the two sides of the argument, to be followed by the audience taking the discussion from there. I have to admit as soon as Professor Derbyshire started speaking I felt much more at ease. The discussion was delivered at a very accessible level, even I understood it, and I should say both speakers delivered very convincing arguments. On one side, do animals have the consciousness to experience pain, and on the other if we are not sure, can we take that chance.
Once the discussion was handed over to the room, predictably the discussion moved to animal rights. I did wonder whether anyone would be willing to stand up and say that animal testing was necessary, surprisingly it didn’t take long. I won’t transcribe the whole discussion as The Manchester Salon kindly upload the audio after the event so keep an eye on the website for that. What I will say is, I came away from the event feeling a little more informed, but more importantly I really valued the opportunity to be around such a diverse group of individuals from academics to students, to those who just thought it sounded interesting.
A few people stuck around for a drink afterwards which I would have loved to have done, continuing the conversation, but unfortunately the train home beckoned.
I would whole heartedly recommend that you went along to either a Manchester Salon event, or Cafe Scientifique, I certainly intend to.
Interestingly, I came home and on the recommendation of the discussion chair (Penny Lewis), looked up my local Cafe Scientifique, there is a Preston branch but it is currently on hiatus due to lack of venue and volunteers. Hmmmm…..I wonder.
In case you’re wondering where I stood on the whole “do animals feel pain as humans do?” discussion, I think its too complicated to even hazard a guess. Evidence appears inconclusive, the definition of pain is on such a huge continuum that we all could interpret it in varying ways, just as the old “do you see red as I see red argument” goes. Funnily enough, that did come up a few times.
Anyway, surfice to say I enjoyed the evening and will certainly be returning. I am now going to sit and have a flick through the brochure for the rest of Manchester Science Festival to see what else is going on. I would suggest you did the same. In the meantime, I took along my trusty iphone (other high-spec phones are available) to grab a few interviews with the speakers (I couldn’t resist, the journalist always shines through), to give you a flavour of what you missed.