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  • The Not-so-secret Science Club
Feb 2012
Feb. 29, 2012 — The neuroscience talk is totally full, the sign said. “Stick around, though. We are playing the audio in the front bar.”

That would be the front bar of The Bell House, a converted warehouse on a lonely, formerly industrial stretch in Brooklyn, a chic little joint a couple of doors down from a furniture materials supplier and a stone’s throw from The Gowanus Studio Space and The Brooklyn Dog Training Center.

It was the February meeting of the Secret Science Club and cognitive neuroscientist David Carmel, of NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, was speaking about … well, something suitably mind-boggling, I’m sure. I couldn’t follow the audio in the front bar; I suffer a rare, totally self-diagnosed disorder where any public address in a crowded room sounds like a New York subway conductor in the eighties. According to the club’s website, though, Carmel was planning to talk about using imaging techniques to explore the ways in which the brain constructs perceptions of the world and how those perceptions might be manipulated. Intriguing stuff.

Anyway, it was clear that many of us in the front bar had in fact come to hear the talk. A hush fell over the room when the sound system came to life, as everyone craned to hear the introductions. And when I eventually worked my way to the back I found dozens of would-be audience members crowding around the door of the room where the talk was under way, so I couldn’t get close enough even to peer in.

None of this was unusual, apparently. As I’ve since learned, the Secret Science Club regularly sees such crowds at its meetings, which have featured presentations by three Nobel Prize winners and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson among many others.

There’s a simple reason for this: Folks are curious and there’s no barrier to entry. “People may not know how interested they are until they come,” co-founder Margaret Mittelbach told The New York Times in January. “That’s why we keep it free. People don’t have anything to lose.”

The free-flowing booze and convivial atmosphere probably don’t hurt either. The atmosphere at the events is reportedly nothing like that in the lecture halls and seminar rooms where Carmel and other speakers might have taught earlier in the day. By all accounts it’s loose, informal, even a bit jocular. Really, it’s not a bad way to learn a thing or two.

The Secret Science Club meets monthly at The Bell House. Um, get there early.

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