ASM was invited to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting held at the Mariott Wardman Park, Washington DC from 14 to 17 February 2019.
The 2019 meeting was themed “Science Transcending Boundaries”. The four-day meeting hosted an interdisciplinary blend of more than 120 scientific sessions, plenary and topical lectures, flash talk sessions, e-poster presentations, and international exhibit hall.
The annual meeting centred on how science can bring together people, ideas, and solutions from across real and artificial borders, disciplines, sectors, ideologies, and traditions.
A welcome address was delivered by the President of AAAS, Margaret A. Hamburg.
GLOBAL SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATIONS: NEW TRENDS
ASM was invited to be a discussant on one of the Scientific Sessions, titled “Global Scientific Collaborations: New Trends”. This session was moderated by Visiting Scholar in Science Policy at AAAS, Kei Koizumi.
This session discussed partnerships across diverse fields to draft more effective public policies and strategies, as well as foster relationships in science & technology (S&T).
A common point that was agreed upon was that science and technology is an increasingly global phenomenon, aided by advanced information and communication systems as well as emerging trends of open science and open innovation.
However, counter-currents were identified, which have been determined to impede global and cross-sector collaborations. Examples of these impedance include tightening restrictions on institutions, international mobility and migration, as well as differences in national policy particularly on data sharing and intellectual property.
Elizabeth Lyons, Head of the National Science Foundation’s Tokyo Regional Office, talked about international collaborations. She cited the NSF’s own 10 Big Ideas programme, which was launched to boldly advance major research frontiers and the processes to shape them.
She stated that some projects (dubbed “Ideas”) under the programme would very much flourish with the variety of cultures that comes with international collaboration. In addition, some Ideas would benefit much from sharing of facilities, which accelerates discovery.
Dr Philip Shapira from the University of Manchester talked about the role of research universities in expanding global knowledge and people exchange networks through institutionalising research centres and partnerships outside their home countries.
He highlighted the positive implications of international university research ventures (IURVs) on knowledge production, human capital, international development, and university trajectories.
Following that, Deputy Director of National Institute of Science and Technology Policy (NISTEP) Naoki Saito presented the current effort to analyse, explore, and identify the hottest and promising R&D fields by integrating comprehensive analysis and mapping with sciento-metrics and foresight practice in a global context.
He also provided some proactive evidence for the merit of international science collaborations.
COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE: PROTECTING THE BALANCE IN AFRICA, ASIA AND EUROPE
Another scientific session attended by ASM was titled Competitive Advantage: Protecting the Balance in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Moderated by UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences Flavia Schlegel, it focused on global developments toward building and sustaining national, regional and global ties with science as the common trend.
In this session, the President of Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) Michinari Hamaguchi noted the increased investments in S&T as well as elevated policy-making by the Japanese administration.
Aside from mentioning issues faced by Asia such as rapid urbanisation, natural disasters and an aging population, Hamaguchi also highlighted the continent’s diversity, in addition to the UN SDGs, as strength points on which the continent can leverage upon to successfully tackle local, global and regional issues.
EuroScience President Dr Michael Matlosz elaborated on the possibility of a United Europe of Innovation States.
According to him, countries across the European continent must strike a balance between being individual sovereign nations competing fiercely in international scientific environments and cooperating as EU member states on a broad array of supporting agencies and programs to overhaul the continents research & innovation landscape.
CLIMATE CHANGE: UNDERSTANDING FEEDBACK FROM NATURE, CULTURE AND SOCIETY
Much was discussed about feedback from nature, culture and society in this scientific session moderated by Marianne Lucien, International Communications Officer of ETH News.
Feedbacks are processes initiated by fluctuating environmental conditions, which will either accentuate or minimise climate change.
Knowing which feedbacks accelerate or dampen climate change will help climate scientists to create accurate forecasts and to promote focused strategies to mitigate the onset.
By using indicators such as the biological carbon dioxide cycle, valuable insight to climate feedbacks might be discovered, which scientists can use to model the natural climate response in different ecosystems.
However, there are gaps in understanding societal and cultural feedbacks, arguably the ones which can be best controlled. Humans feel the impact of environmental changes in fluctuations of water resources, viable agricultural land, and increased vulnerability to natural disasters. Yet their response continues to accelerate climate change, rather than lessening or slowing it.
Laura Duncanson, Assistant Professor University of Maryland stated that monitoring the carbon flux of Earth’s forests is critical for improving our carbon cycle and climate models.
According to Duncanson, the Earth’s forests are one of our biggest natural allies in the effort to mitigate cimate change. When managed sustainably, forests can serve as long term sinks of atmospheric CO2, but when deforestation or degradation occur, forests can be a source of even more atmospheric CO2.
She also mentioned the United Nations’ Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program as an example of a climate mitigation strategy.
Duncanson also mentioned a new NASA mission called the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) (Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation), which takes stock of the carbon content of Earth’s forests
GEDI is the first spaceborne laser mission specifically designed to measure Earth’s forests in 3D. GEDI utilises Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), which sends laser beams from the ISS to the Earth’s surface and records the time elapsed between when a beam is emitted and reflected back to the ISS.
Amount of stretching of the emitted laser beam = the height of trees on the surface. Reflected beams (lidar waveforms) = estimated aboveground carbon storage.
Thomas Crowther from ETH Zürich continued the session by looking into how carbon cycle feedbacks can be used to predict climate change at a large scale.
By utilising the largest global dataset of forest inventory data from the Global Forest Biodiversity Initiative, data of above ground and below ground ecology can be used to identify regions of high priority for biodiversity conservation.
Additionally, the feedbacks that determine atmospheric carbon concentrations over the rest of the century can be understood; as the soil warms, carbon emissions from the soil will increase, particularly in the high-altitude arctic and sub-arctic regions.
Matto Mildenberger from the University of California rounded up the session with his presentation on the Political and Policy Feedbacks in the Climate System.
Matto elaborated on how political scientists study the psychological, cultural, and political factors that drive public responses to extreme weather, the effects of these experiences on climate perceptions, and how public opinion shapes political incentives to mitigate climate change.
Political feedback process includes non-linear policy feedbacks; changes resulting when policies reshape political opportunities by redistributing resources away from climate policy opponents or creating new pro-reform actors.
Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world’s largest multidisciplinary science society, fulfilling its mission to advance science society, fulfilling its mission to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.
It does this through a broad array of initiatives focused on communication, public engagement, education, scientific responsibility, public policy and science diplomacy.