Nerd Wars: The Battle for Science Audiences in Atlanta

By Amielle Moreno

Science lovers’ calendars are filling up on weeknights, thanks to the weekly and monthly events hosted by Atlanta’s growing science/nerd scene. While both Atlanta Science Tavern and Nerd Nite can satisfy your science and booze cravings, they’re distinctly different in subject and clientele. Both organizations are hungry for speakers, so here’s the scoop before you decide to present or decide to attend.

Alright, who has a 401K?
Figure 1: Alright, who has a 401K?

Atlanta Science Tavern has scientists from around the Atlanta area, including Emory Professors, give professional talks about their research. Like a light version of our Frontiers seminar series, these events allow you to get a glimpse of the research going on around the city, while you share a table with someone who looks like your Uncle Hector.  If you’ve never been, this is as good a time as any to explain why you’re sitting next to a 65 year-old guy, who you have to split your check with. The Science Tavern generally occurs at the great Atlanta meeting house, Manuel’s Tavern, whose large wood tables have eight person capacities, giving you a chance to meet some new “friends” before the lecture begin.

This has to be the worst part of the Atlanta Science Tavern; the other audience members. Built into the start time of each event is an hour of what will be the most mundane conversation of your life. With a mean age of 65, your fellow patrons might be aggressively lonely people who have out of date social skills. To address or cause this issue, Atlanta Science Tavern hosts a monthly 40s and older singles group, which adds to the ‘recently divorced’ vibe of its events.

I love the spirit and the diversity of lecturers and events the Atlanta Science Tavern puts together, but it’s hard not to notice the sizable age gap between me and all the other attendees. The annual Trivia night was all science and impressively hard core, but not a single song played between questions was younger than the most recent turn of the century. Although I’ve tried to block it out of my memory, I heard one woman try to start a conversation for the table by stating “I have no idea what being a student is like now with the Internet.” (*insert Saved by the Bell time out*) She wasn’t asking anyone a question. She didn’t want to talk to us about this transitional technology and how its changed world views or education. She was talking at us about how hard she had to work, 40 years ago, in college. I can’t imagine a more effective combination of whining and ego, to push strangers away and, by the time the Georgia Tech professor began his presentation on the evolution of mRNA, I had reached the half-way point in chewing through my arm.

Now I can already hear some detractors now; “Amielle, I had a wonderful conversation with people at Science Tavern!” And to them, I say, stop #$%&ing on my point and let me talk at you some more.

Figure 2: Hey baby, I like those genes ...
Figure 2: Hey baby, I like those genes …

Enter Science Tavern’s cool younger brother, Nerd Nite. This hipster sweat fueled organization has chapters across the country and has just started up in Atlanta. Appealing to a much younger demographic, Nerd Nite invites speakers to talk about subjects they’re close to and inevitably ends up having at least one science-related speaker. But the speakers end up being the biggest detracting factor of these events. They rarely seem to cater to or understand the nerd audience and our love for facts or processes. It quickly becomes obvious and frustrating when you realize that speakers have cut and pasted a presentation from a sales pitch or another event for the Nerd Nite audience. They range the gamut from self-involved narcissist hungry for limelight (a presenter who used make-up to turn an audience member into a zombie and then had the gall to insult Mystery Science Theater Three thousand) to sales people hawking their own personal scenes or businesses (a woman from a DIY co-op eager to get new members). And the science is very watered down. At a recent Nerd Nite, a fellow Emory student and I were left uninfected by a superficial microbiome presentation. Although, there are surprises, such as when what I thought was going to be the most boring speaker of the night broke down how he was able to drive from NYC to LA in 28 hours. He shared his nerdiness by focusing on the extensive details and planning involved in his cannonball run, winning hearts and nerd minds.

Also hosted by Manuel’s Tavern, these events allow you to interact with a much younger crowd. Conversations at the table tend to flow easier without a generation gap … or two. Presenters could easily sit at your table, such as my favorite speaker, who works with three endangered species of lemurs, and presented on these ancient primates’ migration to Madagascar and their various environmental niches. It’s easy to make new friends, exchange ideas and numbers, while you discuss previous presenters during the musical breaks. This isn’t to say that all the conversations are gems.

Me (to table mate): So, what are you nerdy about?
Sack of @#$*: I’m not a nerd…
Me: … Oh… (silence) … Well, what do you do for work?
S o S: I’m in IT.
Me: Isn’t that kinda nerdy?
S o S: I don’t wanna talk about it…

In summary, go to the Atlanta Science Tavern, be the youngest person in the audience, bring friends and enjoy hearing professional scientists discuss a subject that fascinates you.

And/Or:

Go to Nerd Nite, soak up the 2:1 girl to guy ratio, enjoy one out of the night’s three speakers, and get some numbers.

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