Category Archives: AAAS Annual Meeting 2008

Do the maths

The first AAAS meeting was held on 20 September 1848. So, not including this one, how many meetings do you think they’ve had so far? 160? Wrong. According to page one, paragraph six of the FAQ section of the press pack, the AAAS’s meetings haven’t been as annual as they would have you believe. On some years there have been two meetings. On others, rudely interrupted by events such as the Civil War, there has been none. All in all, the AAAS has had 174 meetings.

Troubled as to why some years have been special enough to warrant two science smorgasbords, I wandered back over to the Hynes centre to tap on some shoulders. “Oh, that must have been way back in…I don’t know,” Molly McElroy, the AAAS press officer told me. “Maybe they doubled-up to make up for when they missed a year.”

I’m not convinced. Still, Molly did recall a fat book back in Washington that “probably has the answer in somewhere.”

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A resolvable contradiction

“Boston…is America’s science town,” began David Baltimore at a breakfast buffet this morning. He was speaking to a room full of journalists in the Hynes Convention Center with the intention of giving a taster of his formal address later this evening. Before he started I had just got a quick introduction with the few other people at my table. On my right, a retired local freelancer who wrote, not to make ends meet, but to “pass the time”. On my left, my colleague Liz Kalaugher from environmentalresearchweb.org, and beyond her a couple of excitable Georgian reporters.

Baltimore’s brief talk centred on the growing amount of science research being performed in developing countries; potentially bad news for the US as the current leading research nation. Home to almost half of the world’s population, China and India have a long-term advantage over the West if they are to benefit from a research-driven economy. Last year, China produced a million science graduates. “Europe and the US will lose our advantage if we don’t pay attention to development in the future,” Baltimore said.

So which is more important: having a stronger global scientific community, or having that community strongest in the US? “It’s not an irresolvable contradiction,” he went on to explain. In essence, Baltimore advocates the encouragement of scientific research both nationally and globally — presumably as long as the bias stays right. “The world has gotten flatter, but it is still tipped toward the West,” he added.

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Science and technology from a global perspective

The 2008 meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is perhaps the biggest general science fair of the year. Not only is it a chance to catch up on all the latest breakthroughs in physics, it is a chance to see physics as it should be: seamlessly integrated with all the other sciences.

David Baltimore, AAAS president and co-recipient of the 1975 Nobel Prize for Medicine, puts it better than I can. In the introductory blurb for the press programme, he writes that the theme of the meeting, Science and Technology from a Global Perspective, “emphasizes the power of science and technology as well as education to assist less-developed segments of the world society, to improve partnerships among already developed countries, and to spur knowledge-driven transformations across a host of fields.”

Clearly, not everyone has either the opportunity or time to go to Boston, but even those of you who are going to attend the meeting will be unable to sit-in on every talk (and I’ll refrain from making a hackneyed quip here about quantum superposition). Needless to say, neither can a lone reporter for physicsworld.com, though I can invite you to experience my own random walk through the symposia. So, from global warming to gamma-ray bursts, from nanotechnology to nuclear power, from optics to open access, from planets to particle physics, from radiation to religion and from quantum information to questionable ethics — over the next five days I will report on as much of it as possible.

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