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Science  30 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6076, pp. 1593-1595
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6076.1593

30 March 2012

Edited by Edward W. Lempinen

AAAS Annual Meeting

In a “Flattening” World, Innovation Must Be Global, S&T Leaders Say

VANCOUVER, British Columbia—With the world’s population pushing toward 9 billion by mid-century, humanity must find ways to meet unprecedented needs for food, water, and energy without further damaging the environment. It’s a daunting challenge, and experts gathered at the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting said that global research collaborations will be critically important for solving these complex and urgent problems.

In the address that opened the meeting, AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff described one of these problems in stark relief: Scientists must find ways to double the world’s food supply by 2050, the influential plant biologist warned, but major crop yields have declined by roughly 10% for each degree of global climate warming.

Communication innovation. Hans Rosling used a humorous but compelling prop to explain world population growth at a standing-room-only discussion on public engagement with science. On the right, panelists Frank Sesno (top), Olivia Judson, and James Hansen.

“We need to develop crops that thrive in a hotter world on land we now consider unfarmable, using water we now consider unsuitable for agriculture,” Fedoroff said. She suggested that the challenge will be met only through innovations born out of stronger partnerships between the developed and developing world.

The problem-solving potential of such collaborations was a recurring theme during the 16 to 20 February meeting in Vancouver, the first to take place outside the United States since 1981. Under the theme “Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society,” more than 11,000 scientists, educators, journalists, and others explored ways to encourage research across borders.

“Much of the responsibility for building and maintaining international research connections falls to research institutions and scientists,” wrote University of British Columbia President Stephen Toope and AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner in a Vancouver Sun commentary published before the meeting. “We must expand our international perspective whenever possible, join in multinational projects, and serve as mentors when colleagues in developing nations ask for our help.”

The meeting itself was a multinational project in many respects, with participants from some 50 nations and a significant presence by the event’s Canadian hosts. David Lloyd Johnston, the governor-general of Canada, addressed the AAAS crowd at a reception following Fedoroff’s address. Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean and Canadian senator and First Nations member Lillian Eva Dyck gave prominent lectures. AAAS’s free Family Science Days drew a record crowd of more than 6400 local children and their parents and teachers.

The meeting offered a range of perspectives on the contributions of science in a flatter world. Sessions explored how new marine reserves can be governed across political boundaries; how surveillance at major ports like Vancouver has kept emerging “superbug” viruses under control; and how breakthroughs in artificial meat production could satisfy the world’s growing appetite for beef and pork.

But effective communication also will be essential for building public interest and support for initiatives in climate change and other global issues. The best approaches for public engagement were highlighted in a passionate and sometimes raucous discussion, moderated by former CNN anchor Frank Sesno and featuring NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies head James Hansen, international health statistician Hans Rosling, and author and biologist Olivia Judson.

Scientists must experiment with new techniques to deliver the message of climate change, the participants agreed, but they also suggested that a more fundamental shift is necessary. “What I would like to try and change is not so much the way people understand the facts,” Judson said, “but the way they look at the world and ask questions about it.”

The meeting’s participants also addressed social and political implications of global scientific challenges, including the impact of the Arab Spring movement and reverberations from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Ismail Serageldin, director of Egypt’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said science’s principles of “tolerance and rationality” can guide his nation and others in the region as they rebuild their governments. The best “defense against extremists is not by censorship or autocracy,” he said in a videotaped plenary address. “It is by embracing pluralism, and defeating ideas with ideas—and here science has much to say.”

The competition of ideas also fuels scientific innovation, said Canadian entrepreneur and BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis. But in his plenary speech, he suggested that governments and businesses must invest in ideas without obvious applications, even when practical solutions are needed for a host of global challenges.

History tells us, Lazaridis said, that it’s impossible to guess at the impact of today’s scientific breakthroughs and to predict which will solve the planet’s emerging threats. But “it’s the ideas themselves that got us this far,” he concluded, “and it’s new ideas that will get us even further.”


Science & Diplomacy—A New AAAS Quarterly

Transforming history. Forty years ago, U.S. President Richard Nixon (left) and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai signed the Shanghai Communiqué, which identified science as one way to build mutual understanding.

[CREDIT: White House photo]

With interest in science diplomacy growing worldwide, AAAS has debuted an online, quarterly publication intended to build dialogue between the science and foreign policy communities and to encourage the intellectual development of such diplomacy in a variety of forms.

Science & Diplomacy was launched by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy just days after the 40th anniversary of the Shanghai Communiqué, in which Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and U.S. President Richard Nixon signaled that the two Cold War rivals should normalize relations and that science and technology were areas critical to building understanding.

Today, many of the most important issues facing humanity are regional and global in nature, and a new generation of science diplomacy is building relations between nations and supporting international research cooperation.

The first issue of Science & Diplomacy includes articles by senior scientists, diplomats, and policy-makers, including U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R—Indiana), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and an expert in arms control; Robert D. Hormats, U.S. under secretary of state for economic growth, energy, and the environment; South African Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor; and Alice P. Gast, Lehigh University president and U.S. science envoy to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Editor-in-Chief Vaughan C. Turekian, who also directs the Center for Science Diplomacy, and senior advisory board chairman Norman P. Neureiter, who was the first science adviser to the U.S. secretary of state, said that the new publication will be a resource for foreign policy professionals, scientists and research administrators, journalists, educators, and students.

“We believe the time is right to catalyze greater thought and discussion about issues at the interface of science and diplomacy,” they write in the first issue. “Our goal is a foreign policy that can fully address the increasingly complex technical dimensions of 21st century international relations.”

The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, founded in 2008, has emerged as a leading international influence in the field. The publication was developed with the financial support of the Golden Family Foundation.

Workforce Development

A “Call to Action” on Minority Men in Science

The numbers tell a troubling story: Between 9th and 10th grades, about 25% of African American and Hispanic young men drop out of school. Among those who enroll in college and study science-related fields, nearly one-fifth work 20 or more hours a week to make ends meet. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that while African American, Hispanic, and Native American men in 2008 accounted for 35% of the college-age male population in the United States, they received only about 12% of bachelor’s degrees in science-related fields.

Some education experts have struggled for years to understand and address the low numbers of minority men in science, technology, engineering, mathematics—the STEM fields. Today, there is growing agreement that, if the United States is to build a bigger, stronger science-skilled workforce, it must cultivate talent across the full population. The question is: What are the most effective strategies?

At a 28 February symposium sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and AAAS, participants explored recent research that offers some clear, practical guidance.

“We identified the challenges and best practices,” Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for education, told the audience convened at his agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. “Now it is time to go the next step and really have a call to action to increase minority participation in STEM fields.”

A key focus of the day-long event was a new APLU report, “The Quest for Excellence: Supporting the Academic Success of Minority Males in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Disciplines.” Based on a survey of more than 1600 minority students, higher education faculty, and administrators, it drew a sharp set of conclusions:

To succeed in science-related studies and professions, motivated men from underrepresented minority groups need active engagement and mentoring by college faculty, hands-on involvement in undergraduate research, and adequate financial support. Many successful students credit rigorous Advanced Placement classes in high school with preparing them for college. And many faculty and administrators say that their schools need a deeper commitment to the success of minority men.

Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, told the symposium audience that schools need to collect better data on minority students to see not only who is admitted, but what they study, and what they do after leaving school.

Students who overcome the challenges find a range of rewards, said Nicole Smith, a senior economist at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Earnings are relatively high. And compared with other sectors of the workforce, there is less of a pay gap between minorities and women on one side and white men on the other. In the United States, Smith said, science “is one of only a few equal-opportunity occupations.”

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