AAAS Annual Meeting 2017: report from the ALA Liaison

The American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, held February 16-20, 2017 at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston, Massachusetts, focused on “Serving Society through Science Policy.”  Evidence-based science policy has always been essential for a healthy, prosperous, and just society.  Meeting, as we were, just weeks after the inauguration of President Trump and literally on the day that the Senate confirmed climate-change denier Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, sparked a new urgency among conferees to “speak up science.”  Nearly every session I attended, as the American Library Association liaison to AAAS, made mention of the critical need to effectively communicate science research to the public.  Working productively with Congress and federal agencies, amid unease and uncertainty regarding anticipated changes in administrative policies, was a repeated theme.

That unease was brought to the open in the Rally to Stand Up for Science held on Saturday, Feb. 18 at Copley Square.  The rally was not sponsored by AAAS, but hundreds of conference goers left the Hynes Center to march a block north, where scientists, advocates and science enthusiasts listened to speeches and voiced their approval.

Plenary lectures and selected other live-streamed events are archived online, open access, for public perusal.  I highly recommend “The Scientist as Sentinel” by Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming (co-authored with Erik M. Conway).

Beyond the high-profile plenary lectures and rally, there were dozens of symposia – panel sessions of brilliant people, talking about gene editing, climate science, honey bees, social responsibility, implicit bias in STEM education, the perils of newsfeed algorithms in social media, the ability of “super sharers” in Twitter to perpetuate fake news, teaching critical evaluation skills through editing Wikipedia, and a packed session on using Reddit to communicate science directly to the public, to name just a few.  We heard that Reddit is the 7th most popular website in America, that 60% of its traffic comes from mobile devices, and that the majority of Reddit users rely on it as their primary news source.  Scientists in the audience were given a brief tutorial on hosting an effective AMA (Ask Me Anything) on – a platform with 1400 moderators, with strict posting and commenting rules.

AAAS again paid the meeting registration fee for 30 librarians, and I facilitated the session for sponsored librarians and anyone else interested in attending.  We heard presentations from AAAS staff and lightning talks from colleagues.  The slideshow from that session is posted on Slideshare.

The mood at AAAS regarding likely decreases in federal funding for fundamental science research, potential loss of access to science data on federal websites, and perceived threats to scientific integrity in the Trump administration led me to collaborate with Joseph Straw, ALAO Government Relations Liaison, to write a letter in support of science and evidence-based policy from ALAO members to the White House.  As of March 2, 2017, that letter was co-signed by more than 90 members.  The letter, with its signatures, will be sent to the White House on March 6, 2017.

Related news stories

-Alison Ricker, ALAO Procedures Manual Coordinator, Oberlin College

This entry was posted in Vol. 35 no. 1 (March 2017). Bookmark the permalink.

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