In The Field

AAAS: Happy Days are Here Again

As the annual meeting of the world’s largest general scientific society kicks off in Chicago, Illinois, this morning, there’s an atmosphere of celebration despite the chilly temperatures outside. It’s not just the double anniversary of both Darwin’s and Lincoln’s birth. For scientists, the election of U.S. President Barack Obama is a real thawing of the cold shoulder they have felt from Washington, D.C. for the past eight years, said James Mc Carthy, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Obama recognizes that science is “not just … a way of keeping these strange members of our society employed who want to go and do quirky things,” McCarthy said, and believes that “[scientists] do play an important role in society.”

As proof, McCarthy pointed both to Obama’s list of all-star scientists appointed to key positions in his administration, and his support for the inclusion of science funding in the massive economic stimulus package now working its way through the U.S. Congress. “This is going to be a very, very important time to recenter our international thinking and contribute to international leadership” on issues such as climate change,” McCarthy said. “I am optimistic.”

The major themes of the meeting will be climate change and evolution, and McCarthy spoke to the connections between the two. He pointed out that while Darwin was penning his revolutionary book, “On the Origin of Species,” published in 1859, inventors were developing the technologies that would spur the Industrial Revolution and result in massive alterations to our world – such as climate change. But McCarthy argued against those who have said that scientists should cede the climate issue to policymakers now that climate change has been proven to exist.

“Some people would say the science is clear and now scientists should get out of the way and let economists and decision makers proceed,” McCarthy said. “But the choices to be made are not simple ones. The efficacy of technologies and the potential risks that will come with some of those technologies needs a very critical eye, and scientists need to be involved in all of these discussions about what we might do.”

*This entry previously stated that the American Association for the Advancement of Science is the largest scientific society in the world, but has now been corrected to state that it is the largest general scientific society in the world.


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