By Randy Dotinga/Wired News
The biggest general science conference in the world is shaping up to be unusually political this year, with an emphasis on global warming and sustainability. There's even a workshop on how scientists can fight anti-evolutionists on local school boards.
"It's a smorgasbord of all research in every field," said Ginger Pinholster, spokeswoman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS, which begins its annual meeting Thursday in San Francisco. "It helps to foster dialogue between scientists and the public and with policy makers."
Much of the research presented will look at the effects of global warming on glaciers, Antarctica and the ocean. In one speech, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who studies decision-making and public policy is expected to talk about how science can "induce urgent action" regarding climate change.
"The purpose of science is to tell us about the nature of the world whether we like the answer or not," said Alan I. Leshner, CEO of the AAAS.
The AAAS' annual meeting attracts about 10,000 attendees, including more than 1,000 journalists from around the world, giving the conference a loud, global voice.
The main theme will be sustainability, with a focus on bringing "a greater understanding to the fact that sustainability means more than environment or just energy," said Leshner, former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Sustainable well-being has to do with health and the economy, environment and climate and agriculture."
Among other things, the conference seems likely to break news in research areas such as climate change, life on Mars and the health of the ocean. Other topics range from the anti-evolution movement in Europe to the challenges of making clean water available worldwide.
Reflecting the AAAS' advocacy, the annual meeting's website proclaims that "many of the most powerful governments and corporations cling to their 'wait-and-see' stance on whether regulation of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is required."
Global warming is simply a "reality," said Leshner. "I'm sure you can find eight scientists who don't (agree), but the vast majority of scientists around the world agree about the need for alternative energy sources."
One topic -- stem-cell research -- is largely missing from the agenda for the meeting. But Leshner said there's no conspiracy. "The truth is we didn't get many proposed symposia," he said. "It's not that anybody is less optimistic about stem cells. We just didn't get lots of submissions this year."
Previous AAAS meetings have coached scientists on how to get on television and deal with the media. This year there's a new workshop on another kind of public outreach -- running for school board.
Evangelical Christians have targeted school boards for more than 15 years, and Jon Miller -- a political scientist and professor at Michigan State University -- argues that scientists need to do the same thing.
He'll run a workshop Friday to teach scientists about running for office. He estimates that at least 100 scientists -- and possibly more -- serve on U.S. school boards today. He wants that number to grow.
"For several years, I've been telling people that if you're serious about this, don't just wring your hands. Run for this," Miller said. "There's no reason for scientists to exempt themselves. They need to get into the arena."