News: AAAS News & Notes
24 June 2005
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Science and Society
In Vision 2033, Scientists Mull How to Tame Future Threats
Seen through the lens of popular culture, the future often seems like a time disconnected from the present. The view tends toward strange and dystopic—think 1984 and 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and The Matrix.
But when AAAS convened nearly three dozen top thinkers in science and technology policy to contemplate the year 2033, the perspective was strikingly different. The future, as they saw it, is familiar; many of the perils likely to confront humanity then are already evident today. While there are ominous portents in climate change, mutating viruses and emerging technologies for body and brain enhancement, they agreed that scientists, engineers and policy-makers can limit or prevent future problems—if they begin acting now.
The experts' views of the horizon three decades out come together in Vision 2033: Linking Science and Policy for Tomorrow's World, a new book from AAAS. The panel was assembled in May 2004 for a slightly delayed celebration of the 30th anniversary of the AAAS Science and Technology Fellowships, which have brought hundreds of scientists and engineers to Washington, D.C., to learn firsthand about the federal government and apply their expertise to policy. (The event was originally scheduled for September 2003, but was postponed as Hurricane Isabel bore down on the mid-Atlantic coast.)
"As the book demonstrates, our civilization faces a host of complex and difficult problems," said Albert H. Teich, director of Science and Policy Programs at AAAS. "Science and technology can help us solve them and can also create opportunities that beggar today's imagination, but this won't happen automatically. It is up to our leaders as well as our scientists and engineers to shape our policies and our technologies so that technological progress is also human progress."
One of the overarching themes of Vision 2033 is that technology will become more subtle and more powerful, reaching deeper into daily life.
David Rejeski, director of the Project on Foresight and Governance at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, sees "a convergence of bits, atoms, neurons, and genes, or informatics, nanotechnology, neuroscience, and genomics." Already, he said, we're in the midst of the "Next Industrial Revolution."
Three decades from now, panelists said, computer systems may be "self-healing." Scientists will race to use genomics and other cutting-edge technology against fast-mutating microbes. Policy-makers may explore how human technology can be used to support "nature's technology" in slowing or reversing environmental degradation.
For all of the benefits that might come from the new technology, it also will bring troubling new social and ethical implications, panelists said.
New technology will improve our ability to detect hidden programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, said Victor A. Utgoff, a writer and security expert who formerly served as a staffer on the National Security Council. But that could require "extensive and intensive" surveillance of many nations and millions of people, focusing on everything from financial activity to construction and travel. "This kind of surveillance is pretty scary, to say the least," Utgoff said.
Ismail Serageldin, director of the new Library at Alexandria, Egypt.
Ismail Serageldin, director of the new Library at Alexandria, Egypt, as well as an author, scholar, and former vice president at the World Bank, held out the development of a "supermouse" as a simple example of the future's promise and dilemmas. Citing a story in Wired magazine, Serageldin said that scientists have already used genetic manipulation to make mice smarter, stronger, faster to heal, more efficient in the use and storage of energy, and more long-lived.
Several experts questioned what sorts of discrimination or inequality might develop when such new genetic technologies are available to humans. Who will have access to the new treatments, and who won't? "It's going to be more difficult for people who don't have access to keep up," said Patrick Hines, a recent graduate of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina.
Meanwhile, some speakers suggested that all of these emerging debates could take place in the context—and tension—of the continuing culture wars. R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics and the University of Wisconsin and a former member of President Bill Clinton's bioethics committee, warned of a divide between "those who celebrate the transformative power of science and those who fear it."
Some urged scientists to join efforts at public education and dialogue, especially with those who might be hostile to science. Others stressed the need for science and technology to contribute to a new culture of sustainability.
Ronald F. Lehman II, director of Center for Global Security Research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, offered a more general prescription. "What we need," he said, "is long-term optimism—a vision that we can continue the long march of progress that has been made—but short-term pessimism to really get our adrenaline going and to focus on some of these problems."
To order a copy of Vision 2033, visit www.fellowships.aaas.org/30th.
New from AAAS: Building Strength in Computer Science
Employment in computer- and Internet-related fields is notoriously volatile, but recent developments have raised concerns about the long-term future: The number of undergraduates seeking computer science degrees is down sharply since 2000. The number of women seeking such degrees has plunged. And few minority students are winning advanced degrees in the field.
Now a new study from AAAS has concluded that recruitment of "nontraditional" students into computer science studies and jobs will be critical in keeping the U.S. workforce strong. And yet, the report says, this growing pool of students often is overlooked and underserved by higher education, government, and industry.
Traditional students fit a familiar mold: They start college at 18 or 19, and they leave 4 or 5 years later with a bachelor's degree. Others, however, defy the stereotype: They're older. They may have children. While working full-time, they're seeking new skills or advancement. And many are women and minorities.
"Our workplaces are becoming more technologically dependent, not less so," said report co-author Shirley M. Malcom, AAAS director of Education and Human Resources. "If you accept that for economic and national security reasons we need people with skills in these areas, then how can you be sanguine with the idea that we're not getting the people we need?"
With funding from the National Science Foundation, the authors conducted surveys, visited colleges and universities, and interviewed students, instructors, and employers from 2000 to 2004. Their report is entitled, "Bringing Women and Minorities into the IT Workforce: The Role of Nontraditional Pathways."
Tanya Gunn, today a high-ranking computer technology executive, embodies the trend.
Gunn studied psychology at Howard University for 3 years, but then, driven by a desire for financial independence, she left school and went to work as a secretary at the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. She showed a flair for computers; though she won promotions, she knew that she needed more training and a degree to make the most of her potential.
By that time she was married and had two daughters. And so, in the early 1980s, she began taking night classes at the University of Maryland, University College.
She was older, she was black, she was a woman—and in those early years, she wasn't always welcome in the world of computer geeks. "There weren't that many women majoring in computer sciences," Gunn said in an interview. "I kind of struggled because a lot of the guys in the class, including the instructors, really were standoffish. It was like I had the plague, and they didn't know what I was doing there. ‘She's a girl—let's don't talk to her. This is a boys' club.' "
But semester by semester, she won respect; in time, fellow students and faculty members came to see her as a leader.
After 17 years of part-time study, Gunn graduated in 2001. Today, after a series of promotions, she is manager of Change and Problem Management at the American Chemical Society, overseeing centralized communication and tracking of IT upgrades to promote better understanding of the changes across the organization.
The new report found such themes common among nontraditional students. Even now, the authors report, traditional 4-year schools often are not structured to meet their needs. Instructors are not always sensitive. And the financial aid system gives advantages to traditional students.
One result: For-profit schools such as Strayer University and DeVry Institute of Technology were the top U.S. producers of computer science bachelor's degrees in 2001.
Though the report was begun during the dot-com boom, its findings remain important for the future, the authors say.
Eleanor Babco, executive director of the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), said a recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California– Los Angeles showed the percentage of incoming undergraduates who planned to major in computer science declined over 60% between 2000 and 2004.
Alarmingly," she added, "the proportion of women who thought that they might major in computer science has fallen to levels unseen since the early 1970s…. It is difficult to see how computer sciences can match expected future demand for IT workers without raising women's participation at the undergraduate level."
The report recommends more effort to accommodate nontraditional students at traditional schools; more faculty diversity; more public and private investment in schools that serve nontraditional students; and expanded financial aid to encourage Internet technology students to study part-time in areas of "national need."
"Bringing Women and Minorities into the IT Workforce" was written by Malcom; Babco; Albert H. Teich, AAAS director of Science and Policy Programs; Jolene Kay Jesse, formerly a senior research associate at AAAS who is now with the U.S. National Science Foundation; Lara Campbell, a senior program associate at AAAS; and Nathan E. Bell, a CPST research associate.
The report is available at www.aaas.org/publications/books_reports/ITW/.
Celebrating the Past, Exploring the Future
On 3 July 1880, journalist John Michels and inventor Thomas Edison published the first issue of the journal Science, with 12 pages of articles on the possibility of electric-powered railroads, the latest observations of the Pleiades, and advice to science teachers on the importance of studying animal brains. One hundred and twenty-five years later, AAAS and Science will mark the occasion with a series of events that draw inspiration from the past while looking squarely toward the future.
Already this year, the journal has marked the anniversary with its Global Voices of Science series, featuring an essay each month from one of the leading researchers in the developing world.
During the first 2 weeks of July, the anniversary will be celebrated in Washington, D.C., in London, and in the pages of Science. The celebration will feature ambitious exploration of the scientific and technological questions that will preoccupy researchers in the decades ahead—along with a couple of good parties.
The 1 July issue of Science will focus on 125 of those as-yet-unsolved mysteries, with a closer look at the 25 biggest questions, all selected with the help of the journal's Board of Reviewing Editors and the Senior Editorial Board. The issue will contain an introduction from Science Editor-in-Chief Donald Kennedy and a look at how the unanswered questions confronting scientists and engineers have changed since the journal's debut during the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes.
"I don't want to give the game away, but they're very interesting questions," said Kennedy. "They range from the cosmos and aspects of its origin and its expansion to mysteries like how the transcription of genes is controlled during their differentiation and development."
On Thursday 7 July, guests at a 3-hour forum organized by AAAS and Science will hear presentations on "What We Don't Know in Science."
The special forum will be broken into four 40-minute panels: "The Nature of the Cosmos," moderated by Kennedy; "Memories, Consciousness and Human Life," moderated by Alan I. Leshner, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of Science; "Genes, Proteins, and Disease," moderated by Floyd Bloom, who served as editor-in-chief of Science from 1995 to 2000; and "Sustainable Development," moderated by Daniel E. Koshland Jr., who served as editor-in-chief from 1985 to 1995.
"Ultimately, great questions like these both define the state of scientific knowledge and drive the engines of scientific discovery," writes author and journalist Tom Siegfried in an introduction to the special issue. "Where ignorance and knowledge converge, where the known confronts the unknown, is where scientific progress is most dramatically made."
"To many of these questions," Kennedy said, "there may be no such thing as a completely final answer. But, certainly, I think most of them will have been subject to considerable resolution in 125 years."
On 14 July, AAAS and Science will celebrate the anniversary in London with a cocktail reception in the Earth Galleries at the Natural History Museum. Kennedy and other writers and editors from the journal will be there.
"The journal Science continues to provide a highly effective way for scientists of all disciplines to communicate findings that are significant not just for peers in their own fields and countries, but also for leaders in other areas worldwide," said Sir Robert May, president of the Royal Society in the United Kingdom. and formerly Britain's chief scientist. "It is widely recognized as practicing the highest standards of peer review and has a major impact across the full spectrum of scientific disciplines."
For further information on the London event, or to RSVP, e-mail email@example.com.
Report of the 2005 Council Meeting
The 2005 Meeting of the AAAS Council was held on Sunday, 20 February in the Delaware Ballroom of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. In addition to President Shirley Ann Jackson's report on the 2004 Board activities and CEO Alan I. Leshner's State of the Association report, the Council received a update on Science from Executive Editor Monica M. Bradford; a status report on the R&D funding situation, and briefings on two new centers: the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy headed by Norman Neureiter and the Center for Advancing Science and Engineering Capacity headed by Daryl Chubin.
Under recommended actions brought forward by the Committee for Council Affairs, the Council approved the reaffiliation of the Entomological Society of America and the Eastern Psychological Association.
AAAS Annual Election
The slate of candidates for the 2005 election of AAAS officers will be announced in News and Notes in the 29 July issue of Science.
Screeners Needed for AAAS Science Journalism Awards
Scientist volunteers are needed to review entries in this year's AAAS Science Journalism Awards program.
Scientists residing in the Washington, D.C., area or who will be in Washington in mid-August to mid-September are invited to help screen print, radio, and television reports for scientific accuracy. The top entries will be passed on to the appropriate judging committees. If you would like to volunteer as a screener, contact Earl Lane (202-326-6431; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lonnie Shekhtman (202-326-6434; email@example.com) at the AAAS Office of Public Programs.
More than 300 writers have been honored for their achievements in science reporting since the inception of the awards program in 1945. There will be a new prize category this year, open to journalists worldwide, for excellence in reporting science news for children.
Winners of the awards, which are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C., will be honored at the AAAS annual meeting in February 2006 in St. Louis. Members of the screening committees will be recognized in literature distributed during the awards ceremony.