This was made clear in countless ways, including an opening talk by Rwanda's President Paul Kagame. The AAAS also made sure that the message got out to the world; over 20 percent of the attendees were press, and scientists were given many opportunities to interact with them. Most talks were targeted so that even nonspecialists—both the press and researchers in other fields—could follow them. Even the show floor was designed to appeal to an audience with a broad range of science sophistication.
Specific sessions focused on a variety of global concerns. First and foremost of these was climate change, where the current thinking on the relative role of human and natural influences was discussed in detail. Even if you doubt the scientists that tell you the sun isn't responsible for the recent rise in temperatures, a second session reminded everyone that dumping lots of carbon into the atmosphere could have drastic consequences for life in the oceans. Stay tuned, as we have notes from sessions covering one potential solution for energy sustainability, biofuels.
Other panels discussed the global integration of the scientific community, as projects such as large telescopes, big physics, and genome sequencing have all gone international. Since physics went this direction first, the lessons from their large-scale collaborations were presented as a way of informing current and future efforts. Unfortunately, these collaborations may increasingly leave the US out. Examples such as elimination of funding for the ITER fusion reactor and the International Linear Collider are suggesting that the US is simply an unreliable partner for long-term collaborations.
Not all the news was grim, though. International efforts still rule space exploration, allowing NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to provide a triumphal recap of the golden age of robotic exploration. One of the successes highlighted was the joint US-EU Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. A separate panel looked back on all 50 years of the space age, and considered what they meant for humanity's future in space.
The future for space exploration and all science will continue to require them to engage the public's imagination and thirst for progress. Here, there were silver linings amidst the gray clouds; Fermi Lab's work on the International Linear Collider, despite its cancellation, demonstrated that the public can care deeply about the esoteric world of high energy physics when they're suitably engaged. But scientists need to know how to engage the public, as discussed in a session on how the public assesses the credibility of scientific information. Other discussions of public engagement took place during the meeting, and should appear shortly.
Overall, the meeting covered a tremendous amount of ground, from the basic science to how the public perceives it, on topics of truly global significance. It was like a Davos meeting filled with the people who tell the actual Davos attendees what's important.
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