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Thoughts on the AAAS Forum on Science & Tech Policy

May 5, 2014

The Forum started with a panel on the budget context. There were some comments about the FIRST act, which I need to understand better.

Hunter Rawlings (President of Association of American Universities) spoke about policy for science issues such as the negative impacts of regulatory burden, need for immigration reform, PhD program reform controversy, and intellectual property/patents issues. He also emphasized the need to treat science as an investment vs. spending and the need for academic freedom.

As reported below by the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, David Wilson (President of Morgan State University) pointed out that Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) are disproportionately responsible for graduating black engineers. Given the changing demographics of our nation, we need to worry about educating black engineers to ensure our nation stays competitive. Based on his talk, I believe we need better programs at top schools to support black students to get degrees in science and engineering (like the Meyerhoff Scolars Program at UMBC). Given the disparities between outcomes at HBCU’s and other institutions, there are clearly negative forces at work that need to be confronted.

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In the afternoon, I went to a breakout session on “Strengthening Engagement of Scientists and Engineers in the Policy Process“. A couple of interesting notes that came up include:

  • COMPASS is a resource for communicating science to policymakers
  • There are many science policy fellowships
  • The Center for Science & Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists is tracking how policy and science work together
  • If you are at Purdue University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University, or University of Washington, you can participate in the Emerging Leaders in Science & Society
  • Antioch University has a program for translating research into policy
  • The importance of listening when communicating science
  • The broadness of policy from drafting bills to executing programs
  • A couple of bold ideas came out such as forming a younger version of the National Academy of Science
  • NIH offers “Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) awards, [which] provide support for institutions to develop novel ideas in training and workforce development”

The following day, there was an interesting session on Reproducibility in Science that I live-tweeted. I learned about the Open Science Framework, which I plan to use for my current project. We also discussed incentive problems such as the file-drawer problem, the difficulty of publicly critiquing senior scientists as a junior scientist (e.g. in PubMed comments), and incorporating experimental design into research ethics trainings. I also learned about the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) and the EQUATOR network, which is enhancing the quality and transparency of health research.

There was also a session on emerging technologies such as 3D printing and nanotech, which emphasized that technology can both solve and cause problems. Finally, there was a showing of an episode of Years of Living Dangerously – which featured Christmas Island, a place I have actually been to.

Overall, it was an interesting conference but tended to get repetitive and had a clear bias toward the natural sciences. For all the talk about the importance of the social and behavioral sciences, there were not a lot of social scientists being highlighted. The vast majority of the audience seemed to be future, current, and former AAAS fellows so there was a strong sense of preaching to the choir. While I found some of the speakers tedious, I was impressed by some of the issues that were brought up during the question and answer sessions. I definitely learned about some great resources and am looking forward to exploring the science & technology policy space more in the future!

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