Tuesday, February 19, 2008

AAAS wrap-up

I just returned from five days in Boston for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) - the world's largest general scientific society. It was a fun meeting - although these things are always kind of exhausting, aren't they? It was especially interesting to go to a general scientific meeting and listen to talks well outside my realm of expertise. Definitely makes you appreciate someone who can clearly explain his or her research well.

The reason for attending was because UCS released a report that I helped write. Entitled Federal Science and the Public Good the report outlines the systemic and harmful changes the Bush administration has made to the federal scientific enterprise ... and what needs to be done to reverse them. We also released a call-to-action endorsed by a group of senior scientists, organized a conference session on science policy in the next Presidential administration and my boss was a guest on NPR's Science Friday.

A busy weekend, to say the least. A few of the other highlights:
  • Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, spoke about his ambitious plan to invest a large fraction of Rwanda's GDP in science and tech.
  • The world's oceans are doing poorly and a their status and conservation was a big theme of the meeting with talks on dead zones and declining fisheries.
  • There was one session on my thesis topic: gamma-ray bursts. It was great nerdy fun to dip back into the topic after a year and a half doing other stuff, although I have to admit I was a little disappointed to find the field hadn't really advanced much in that time-frame. I was sort of hoping to learn the exciting new developments...
  • Not surprisingly, climate change has really blossomed into a Major Scientific Theme in the past few years, and there were a number of interesting talks at this meeting. My friend Holmes Hummel organized an interesting session on the next steps in organizing an international framework to reduce carbon emissions - and she closed with a surprising summary of the many bills currently under congressional consideration.
  • There were also two good talks on the communication of science to the non-scientific world. Andy Revkin, the NY Times's cracker-jack energy and global warming reporter, gave an engaging talk to a packed room on how to report about complex scientific topics in a media-saturated world. Matthew Nisbet applied his 'framing science' theory of communication to global warming and the evolution/ID debate, and biologist Kenneth Miller called for evolutionary theorists to adopt (co-opt?) the idea of 'design' when talking about evolution.
  • Finally, I dropped into a session on environmental toxicology and heard two terrific talks pitched to the general scientist: one on the discovery of a genetic pathway that predicts Alzheimer's disease, and the other on recent advances in understanding endocrine disrupters (specifically DES and BPA).

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