First day of AAAS 2017 – Policy, Climate, and Social Media

Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne. 

Suzanne is attending the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, MA, and we hope you enjoy her dispatches from the meeting.

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Part of the joy of attending the meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the multiple tracks: everyone is going to choose sessions for their own reasons and everyone’s experience will be different. My first day started with the “Wicked Problem” of Climate Change. Wicked problems (if you’re not from Boston) are complex with no clear paths to solutions. They are often dependent on rapidly changing conditions and can’t be tackled in a linear way. The session ended up focusing a lot on how to work with people and the importance of seeing climate change discussions from different angles. For example, there were discussions about religious ecology, the neuroscience of denial, and not getting distracted by politics.

I liked the logic of working not globally or locally, but regionally. Instead of working within state lines, look at the ecosystem. For example, think about coastal wetlands instead of Florida. One of the speakers mentioned that farmers in the Midwest are adapting to changing climate conditions. They think about how to increase yield in the different climate, but they won’t say the words “climate change.” So scientists need to find ways of communicating that don’t invoke politically charged terms. There was a fantastic question from the audience from a high school teacher who pointed out that because the problem is multigenerational, we need to look very carefully at educating middle and high school students to continue the research.

The theme of this year’s conference is “Serving Society Through Science Policy” and there are many policy sessions on the schedule. The concerns about the new US administration’s approach to science and data is certainly fueling a lot of discussion in the hallways of the conference center. There are flyers and information about the March for Science, and panels about how to get involved in crafting government science policy.

The hallway conversations about the other big panel of the day, Social Media and Online Engagement, was much lighter than the talk fallowing the policy panel. It’s been interesting to watch this topic evolve in the six years I’ve been attending this meeting. At first, it was scientists seriously discussing whether it was appropriate for them to have an online presence. There were also presentations about Second Life and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Now we’re talking about using Twitter to network and create communities. There are stories of universities encouraging social media posting and tenure committees who see time spent building those communities as valid and important scholarly work. As one of the presenters said, “It’s not a distraction from my career, it is essential to my career.”

My day ended with the address from Barbara Schaal, AAAS President. This began with a recognition of the Junior Academy of Sciences winners, which made me think fondly of my own experiences in the Virginia chapter. Next, there were some awards presented and it was noted that many of the planned presenters, attendees, and one of the award winners were unable to attend due to the immigration ban. This set the tone for the rest of the evening with the President’s address focusing on the importance of science to society and the necessity to defend basic research.

That was my impression of day one. Tomorrow, things start in earnest with deep dives into specific topics of interest. I haven’t set my schedule in stone, but I look forward to discovering new topics and questions.

If you are also attending the AAAS Meeting, let us know what sessions and panels you attended and what you found interesting.