Mathematician Jeff Haag presents at Science on Tap at Blondies on March 7. Photo by Nick Kemper.

“If you can’t be rational, at least be real”


A conversation with science and beer.

Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician, died from an angry mob because he refused to cross a field of beans.

Followers of his cult, the Pythagoraeans, believed all numbers were either whole or ratios of whole numbers, which means they have either terminating or repeating decimals. To a Pythagorean, a number such as 1.1234567891011… did not exist. The Pythagoreans believed this so strongly that they killed Hippasus, a fellow Pythagorean, by throwing him into the ocean when he proved the square root of two is an irrational number.

The square root of two’s origin story was presented by Jeff Haag, a professor from the math department, as part of his talk, “If You Can’t Be Rational, At Least Be Real,” at Blondie’s Science on Tap event on March 7 in Arcata. This is Haag’s second time presenting at Science on Tap.

”My primary goal for coming back is to spread the joy of mathematics,” Haag said. “I want to take every opportunity to help people understand simple things deeply. I also enjoy coming back for the free beer!”

Science on Tap is a monthly public science talk hosted at Blondies. Attendants can be found drinking beer and munching on snacks while learning about a new science-related topic. C.D. Hoyle from the physics and astronomy department brought Science on Tap to Humboldt State.

“I first got into Science on Tap because there was one at University of Washington where I went to graduate school,” Hoyle said. “I started the first Science on Tap at HSU in Dec. 2011. There was a huge turnout for the first one. Someone from NOVA the TV show came up to help us promote the event as part of their Cosmic Cafe program.”

Chris Harmon, a professor from the chemistry department, was fascinated with Science on Tap when he first arrived at HSU.

“I really thought that Science on Tap is what science [communication] should be — having fun with a broad audience about science topics, and not just learning about these topics in class,” Harmon said. “When [Hoyle] went on sabbatical, I took over with organizing the talks and I enjoyed being involved.”

Harmon and Hoyle, now co-organizers of these talks, credited Johanna Nagan, the owner of Blondies, for providing the means necessary to make Science on Tap happen.

“Blondies helped to promote our event on their websites,” Hoyle said. “Johanna installed a projector screen system so we don’t have to bring our equipment over for the talks anymore.”

Now in its seventh year, Science on Tap continues to receive strong support from students, faculty and community members.

“Blondies would often get calls from community members who want to know when the next Science on Tap is scheduled. We usually have a full room at every event,” Hoyle said. “When I send out talk invitations to faculty, I get volunteers pretty quickly.”

Harmon is one of the faculty who has given a few talks at Science on Tap.

“I think that preparing for a Science on Tap talk is more difficult than preparing for a seminar at a conference or for class,” Harmon said. “I have to engage a broad audience without leaving out the experts in the audience. Even though this is challenging, I find it to be really fun as well.”

John Rosa, a HSU biology alumnus (‘79) and community member, has regularly attended Science on Tap for the past three years.

“The talks at Science on Tap do make sense to me, and I feel that I actually learn more when I don’t know anything about the topic to start,” Rosa said. “There was a talk about stem cell biology by Dr. Amy Sprowles that I found really interesting. There was also a political science talk on how science is having a tough time in the current politics that I enjoyed.”

Hoyle believes public science communication avenues such as Science on Tap are important in today’s political climate.

“In the past couple years, science has been under attack by politicians,” Hoyle said. “Public exposure to how evidence-based science works and the confidence limits in science will lead to more sound decision-making.”

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