I am just back from this year’s American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS – “triple A  S”) annual meeting in Washington.  The theme was Science without borders, and it was certainly a more open, international meeting than I remember from last year.

AAAS  attracts over 5,000 scientists, researchers and journalists.  The quality of the four day programme is very high, and includes highly stimulating symposia, plenary lectures and an exhibition with bespoke families’ and schools’ days.As usual, there was an eclectic mix of symposia and events, ranging from the light-hearted The science of comedy: communicating with humour to the rather darker Using quantitative content analysis to assess the likelihood of terrorist violence; from the enticing The science of eating: perception and preference in human taste to the less savoury Oral sex is still sex and can lead to cancer.   There were  a number of  affectionately titled “tweet and meet” sessions in between. 

The Royal Society’s policy team  led two symposia – one entitled Education, science and innovation as tools for new engagement with the Islamic World and the other asked Can global science solve global challenges?  We also working in partnership with the  University of Nebraska  to produce a session on Estimating the earth’s human carrying capacity.  I am pleased to say that all three generated a lot of interest, with standing room only.    We had secured high profile speakers:  three knighted Fellows – Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith,  Sir Magdi Yacoub and Sir John Sulston; a Foreign Member and US science envoy,  Dr Bruce Alberts; the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Malaysian Government , Dr Abdul Hamid Zakri; and the champion of science academies and interacademy cooperation, Professor Mohamed Hassan.  Thanks to all of them for their stimulating contributions.

The Q&A sessions generated some interesting discussion and it was pleasing to see a wide variety of audience (researchers, students, policy analysts, press and public alike) also engaged in issues that we think are really important.  Perhaps most prevalent on the programme were sessions on research integrity and citizen science – bringing home to me the timeliness of both our new project (working title) Science as a public enterprise and the global science academies’ collective desire to work together on research integrity.

Finally, the icing on the cake was the AAAS Past Presidents’ black tie dinner – a rare occasion to dust off my evening dress, don an elegant pair of shoes and the spend the evening in the company of the “ Who’s Who?” of the US science community. There were several Nobel laureates, a contingent of US science envoys and, more surprisingly,  Glenn Close sitting on the next table to me. Quite a spectacle for those of us who don’t get out much.

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