February 21, 2014
Written By Nick Saab, AGU Public Affairs
Between the Arctic conditions and what felt like hurricane-force winds, Chicago was not the most enjoyable place to be in February. But did we let that dampen our spirits while attending the AAAS Annual Meeting? Absolutely not.
Those following us on Twitter were able to see that there was no shortage of sessions and plenaries we attended that covered nearly every aspect of the Earth and space sciences. Thursday was the official start of the conference, and kicked off the meeting with all day sessions touching on science communications. Topics covered how scientists can best engage with journalists, social media, and in public events. The large takeaway, one that we continuously work to promote, is that scientists more and more need to take off their “scientist” hat and put on the “public engagement hat.” Kim Cobb, an AGU member active in Social Media with a large following, had a fantastic presentation on the challenges and opportunities facing scientists in the Social Media universe. A summary of her talk, which we highly recommend reading, can be found on her blog.
For the rest of the meeting, we hopped around between various sessions. “Hydraulic Fracturing: Science, Technology, Myths and Challenges” was a packed room, and we were pretty lucky to have nabbed a seat. Michael Webber, Associate Professor at UT-Austin and Deputy Director of the Webber Energy Group, gave a great presentation on the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water resources, as well as thought-provoking policy solutions.
Another fantastic session was “The Golden Goose Award: Highlighting the Value of Federal Support for Basic Research.” Notable speakers included Noble Prize winning Neurobiologist Martin Chalfie and Congressmen Randy Hultgren (R-IL-14) and Jim Cooper (D-TN-5), both of whom are outspoken proponents of federal support for science. Congressmen Cooper and Hultgren implored members of the scientific community to become more active and engaged in advocating the benefits of scientific research to their elected officials, and that individual stories are more important than facts and figures. To that end, we’ve got some great materials that discuss best practices for engaging with members of Congress and their staff.
The plenaries were highlighted by the presence of former Energy Secretary Steven Chu. He gave a talk on the future of innovation in the United States, as well as the threats facing us should we stay the current course on carbon emissions. The notable line “All greenhouse gas is secondary smoke – we’re smoking but our grandchildren will be the ones dying” drew the most applause from the crowd. But it wasn’t all sound bites that the former Secretary delivered. He came prepared with slides augmenting his speech and hit home the key points that current technology, engineering, and innovation are able to mitigating climate change, and that all we require is the willpower. The entirety of his speech, as well as those of the other plenaries, can be watched on the AAAS Annual Meeting website.
Overall, we had a great time. Even though the crippling snow on the East Coast claimed many attendees’ and speakers’ flights, it was imperceptible and certainly worth it. AAAS deserves a standing ovation for this year’s Annual Meeting, and we can’t wait to see everyone in San Jose next year.