The Anxious Brain: The Neuroscience of Phobias

Date: October 18, 2016

Phobias are the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting about 10% of all adults, and many of them can be highly debilitating. They are a type of anxiety disorder, defined by a persistent fear of an object or situation, leaving some people unable to function in ordinary life. You have likely heard of acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces).  But have you heard of ephebiphobia (fear of teenagers), mageirocophobia (fear of cooking), or phobophobia (a fear of phobias)?  The list goes on. Why do people develop phobias?  Are some more susceptible than others?  What mechanisms in the brain are in play when phobias strike and what does research reveal about  effective treatments?  This event discussed why phobias arise, the damage they can do, and how best to treat them.

Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

Date: September 28, 2016

Many children are at a disadvantage even before they walk into an early Head Start or pre-K program. Research indicates that children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) have fallen more than six months behind their more advantaged cohorts in language processing and proficiency skills by the time they are two years old. And this deficiency continues to grow. It is apparent that this language gap has profound and lifelong outcomes, not only in “making the grade,” but in self-esteem and behavior. Brain research is helping scientists better understand the neural mechanisms underlying language processing in infants and young children, as well as the social interactions necessary for honing those skills.  What do we know and what can be done to mitigate the long-term effects of this deficit? This event addressed the latest research, the emerging “home training for parents,” and the policy issues surrounding this disparity.

July 2016 Coalition Meeting: Climate Change and Human Rights

Date: July 25-26, 2016

Throughout the first day of this meeting, participants discussed the human rights implications of climate change and the contributions scientists, engineers, and health professionals can make towards addressing these concerns.  The sessions highlighted examples of scientific research that is contributing to human rights-based policies for climate change prevention, mitigation, adaptation, and community relocation. In addition, panelists shared models for collaborative climate research in partnership with vulnerable communities. Meeting attendees were invited to participate in small group discussions in which they will identify specific actions members of the Coalition can take within their associations and institutions.

Growing Older, Cognition, and What Science Has to Offer

Date: June 15, 2016

If we live long enough, aging is inevitable, and more people in the U.S. are living longer than ever before. Yet, age is a major risk factor for most common neurodegenerative diseases, so its consequences for individuals, families and society are anything but trivial. But how we age is not fixed. There are things we can do to mitigate the harsh effects that aging can have on our brains, on the way we think, understand, learn and remember. This event addressed that question from different perspectives—what science tells us about the aging process and its impact on cognition, what effective, or not so effective, strategies there are for maintaining or enhancing cognition as we age, and what the funding priorities are as reflected in the portfolio of the National Institute on Aging.

April 2016 Coalition Meeting: A Scientific Approach to Human Rights

Date: April 4-5, 2016

The concept of applying scientific research methods and findings to human rights documentation is not new. However, much less attention has been given to ways in which scientific research can inform building and strengthening human rights movements. Examples include insights from evidence-based human rights investigations, use of new technologies to assess the effectiveness of human rights interventions, and new research on activist burnout. After the opening plenary session, two workshops were held, one aimed at building capacity for engaging volunteers and the other in communicating about Coalition resources to your members, colleagues and peers. The meeting also included facilitated sessions for Coalition members to share their experiences and, working together, to strengthen and advance the Coalition’s goals.

The Science and Policy of Marijuana

Date: March 30, 2016

Science and policy are often in tension with one another. Such is the case with the evolution of marijuana policy over the past several years as implemented by the states. There are those who believe marijuana should stay as it is—a controlled substance strictly regulated by the federal government, which views marijuana as highly addictive and without medical value. There is a subset of Americans who believe it should be readily accessible for medicinal uses, regulated in ways similar to other accepted pharmaceuticals. And there are those who believe that the legalization of “recreational” marijuana is the direction in which the U.S. should move. A scientist who leads the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a physician, and a policy maker from a jurisdiction where recreational marijuana has been legalized addressed what science reveals about the addictiveness of marijuana and its effects on the human brain and behavior, the status and evidence of its medicinal value, and what the implications are for policies that legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal and/or recreational uses.

ANCIENT HISTORY/MODERN DESTRUCTION: Exhibit Opening Symposium and Reception

Date: December 10, 2015

Cultural heritage is the physical manifestation of a people’s history and forms an important part of their identity. Deliberate heritage destruction, which attempts to remove all traces of the past, is often used as a tool of ethnic and sectarian violence. Unfortunately, this type of damage is an ongoing part of the conflict in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere across the globe. It constitutes an established human rights violation. In addition, archaeological site looting during periods of social and political unrest causes extensive damage to ancient centers. Scientific methods and technological tools can be employed to document, investigate, and ultimately understand heritage loss in order to create more effective humanitarian and policy responses and to develop preventative measures. This exhibition highlights cutting-edge scientific methods, new technologies, and current research projects that are underway to reveal this cultural tragedy. 

Documentary Film Screening: "The Living Disappeared"

Date: December 8, 2015

What do the scientists who pioneered forensic DNA testing and human trafficking scholars think should be done to identify the thousands of unaccompanied migrant children crossing into the U.S. from Latin America? With firsthand accounts from immigrants who crossed as children and who were kidnapped, stripped naked, smuggled in with coyotes and crossed through the desert, we see the human side of the complex problems of identifying the dead and preventing human trafficking.

Creativity, Genius and the Brain

Date: October 27, 2015

Scientists often cite Isaac Newton when crediting the work of others who have come before them: If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Who are those “giants”? We know they are not limited to the sciences. Music has them. So does art. As well as literature. Do these giants possess the characteristics of genius and creativity in larger doses than the rest of us? What makes a genius? Why are some people so much more creative than others? How do people “become” creative or a genius? What influence do brain and environment have in developing and nurturing genius or creativity? These and other questions are the focus of this public event. Speakers will address circumstances necessary to produce a cultural environment that nurtures creativity; the role of epiphanies in the creative thinking process; and how science can contribute to enhanced creativity.

Ask, Learn, Connect: Science + Human Rights

Date: October 20, 2015

AAAS On-call Scientists and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) hosted a reception specially designed to connect human rights advocates with scientists, engineers, and health professionals who are applying their expertise to human rights concerns. In addition to brief presentations and refreshments, the evening included a structured networking session designed to provide participants new opportunities to meet and learn from each other.

Mental Illness Across the Ages: From Children, to Adolescents, to Middle Aged and the Elderly

Date: September 30, 2015

Mental illness is a brain disorder that often results in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Unlike most disabling physical illnesses, mental illness begins very early in life, with half of all lifetime cases beginning by age 14. It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 4 families in America, with an estimated 23% of American adults 18 and older and 20% of American children suffering from a mental disorder during a given year. Advances in neuroscience and related fields have produced evidence-based treatment options, but there remain serious gaps in access by those most in need across all age cohorts. The accumulated burden and hazards of untreated mental illness is a critical public health issue for all Americans. This event will focus on what we know about the causes, effects and treatments of mental illness, from young children, to adolescents, to middle-age and elderly patients.

July 2015 Coalition Meeting: Business and Human Rights

Date: July 16-17, 2015

Throughout the first day of this meeting, participants discussed international human rights principles that guide the conduct of corporations, and in particular, the implications of these norms for the work of scientists, engineers, and health professionals. Policy-makers, industry leaders, and human rights advocates will address the human rights responsibilities of businesses that rely heavily on scientific research and technology. Speakers also addressed the important role of science and technology in conducting Human Rights Impact Assessments and other types of research and documentation that are key components of the business and human rights framework.

From Birth to Two: Prepping for Life

Date: June 18, 2015

From birth to two years old is marked by great cognitive, emotional, social and physical development in children, and the brain is growing at a rapid pace. Research has enabled professionals and parents to identify developmental milestones for assessing a child’s progress across time. Although children develop according to a predictable sequence of steps, they do not necessarily proceed through them in the same way or at the same time. Every child’s development is unique, influenced by genetics, prenatal development, the care he/she receives after birth, and the experiences prompted by his or her environment. So there is a wide range of what may be considered 'normal' development. Leading scientists will review both basic and clinical research and discuss factors that influence child development from birth to two-years old, helping us understand what to look for, how to interpret what we observe, and what, if anything, can be done to intervene if something goes “wrong.”

Tangled up in Blue: The Complexity of Chronic Pain

Date: March 18, 2015

Chronic pain constitutes a serious health, social and economic issue worldwide. A 2011 Institute of Medicine Report noted that more than 100 million Americans meet the criteria for a chronic pain diagnosis, which leads to more than 500 billion dollars in direct and indirect medical costs annually. Beyond the numbers, chronic pain is an enormous burden on quality of life for the individual. Moreover, treatment options are often characterized by an incomplete efficacy and/or dose limiting side effects. Neuroscience can contribute to better understanding the mechanisms that turn acute pain into chronic pain, assessing the long-term impact that chronic pain has on the brain, and the benefits and risks of various treatment options. This event will report on recent findings from neuroscience and medicine that are influencing views on pain management and helping guide decisions on treatments, better approaches to educating health professionals, and in policymaking.

January 2015 Coalition Meeting: Big Data and Human Rights

Date: January 15-16, 2015

Throughout the first day of this meeting, participants deepened their knowledge about emerging human rights opportunities and concerns connected to Big Data, especially the implications for the work of scientists and engineers. Sessions explored how collection, analysis, and access to massive data sets can impact human rights, both positively and negatively, and identifed ways in which human rights principles offer guidance for responsible data use. The meeting also hosted a workshop on how members can effectively inform their organizations about the Coalition’s many resources and, more generally, about the intersection of science and human rights.

Protecting Higher Education from Attack: Human Rights Day 2014

Date: December, 16 2014

2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipients Malala Yousafzay and Kailash Satyarth have drawn the world's attention to the dangers many educators and students face every day. On 10 December - International Human Rights Day and the day the laureates receive their awards in Oslo - we invite you to learn how you can help protect access to safe places to learn, study, and teach. Robert Quinn, Executive Director of Scholars at Risk, will introduce a new initiative to protect higher education led by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. Quinn will present the ‘Principles of State Responsibility for Protecting Higher Education’ and explain how members of the STEM community can get involved in the campaign. Reception to follow.

Now You See it, Now You Don't. Is Anything Really as it Seems? The Science of Illusion 

Date: October 28, 2014

Do you believe what you see? Do you trust your senses? These are just some of the questions posed by illusion, where confusion and clarity often merge and where what we perceive can be hugely different from physical reality. Since the brain is responsible for interpreting what our senses are telling us, as well as what we dream and what we remember or forget, the real and imagined share the same neural system. So when we experience an illusion, we may sense something that is not present or fail to see something that is. By studying this disconnect between perception and reality, scientists can learn about brain function and its relevance to mental health, decision making and the way we view ourselves and others. Please join us for an evening that promises to reveal much about how the brain enables us to sense the world around us. The event included a performance by Alain Nu, an illusionist, about whom the Washington Post wrote, will leave “audiences asking, ‘How’d he do that?’ Following the performance, psychiatrist and author Richard Restak, and Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, scientists who study various aspects of visual, sensory and cognitive neuroscience, discussed the science underlying what the audience had just experienced. 

Building for the Future: Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition

Date: October 23, 2014

Join us in marking the 5th Anniversary of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations, as well as dedicated individuals, that recognize a role for science and technology in human rights.The Coalition’s 5th anniversary is a significant milestone that offers an opportunity to reinforce the importance for scientists and engineers to engage in human rights by highlighting the ways that science and technology have made truly life-altering impacts on the lives and human rights of individuals, and paying tribute to scientists and engineers who have been leaders in bringing their skills and their voices to global human rights challenges. Presenters will include Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person in the United States to be sentenced to death who was subsequently exonerated courtesy of DNA analysis, and Juan Gallardo of Brookhaven National Laboratory, who will pay tribute to Andrew Sessler, an accelerator physicist and humanitarian in whose honor the AAAS-Andrew M. Sessler Science, Education, and Human Rights Fund has been created. Professional society staff, scientists and engineers are particularly welcome to attend, to learn about the accomplishments of the Coalition over the past five years, and explore how you can join the Coalition and contribute to its on-going impact.

Stressing About Stress--What Our Minds and Bodies are Going Through and Ways to Cope

Date: September 18, 2014

Feeling a bit stressed? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is very much a part of being human; even animals experience stress. A little stress can be a good thing, but how can you tell the good from the bad, and too little from too much?  Join us for an evening of the scientific and practical, as two scientists help us better understand what our mind and body experience—good and bad—when we encounter stressful situations. We will also learn about various “cures,” “treatments,” and coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and the extent to which they have been subjected to rigorous scientific research and which ones stand out among the others.

AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition: Moving Forward

Date: July 14-15, 2014

Since the launch of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition in 2009, this growing network of science and engineering associations has collaborated to build bridges between science and technology organizations and the human rights community. The Coalition has created new human rights resources for science and engineering associations, tools for human rights organizations that seek to incorporate science and technology in their work, increased awareness of the opportunities for scientists and engineers to contribute to human rights, and advanced international discussions regarding the significance of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, as guaranteed in Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Coalition’s fifth anniversary provides an opportune moment to celebrate our progress and share the network’s accomplishments. At this time of reflection, it is also fitting to look toward the next five years, identify emerging challenges, and map out the Coalition’s next steps. Thus, to mark the anniversary, this meeting is organized around the connections between science and human rights that guide the Coalition’s working groups.

What Evidence is Essential for New Medical Products? Implications for Patients and Health Policy

Date: June 13, 2014

Better implementation of evidence-based medicine can improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care in the U.S. This can be challenging in evaluating newly approved drugs and medical devices.  While current law requires that medical products be proven safe and effective, there is growing pressure to expedite access to promising therapies and to lessen the research and regulatory requirements for manufacturers. Unmet medical needs and patient demands call for a flexible approach to prescription drug and device regulation, but truncated premarket review may also lead to approval of products that are less  effective than expected or have unanticipated safety problems. This groundbreaking conference will review the growing body of research on the medical and public health implications of medical product approval criteria, and examine these findings in the context of patient outcomes, costs, and health policy.

Educating Scientists in Research Ethics for the 21st Century 

Date: June 8-11, 2014

This is a trainer-of-trainers workshop. Leaders in the field of research ethics and education will provide attendees with information, strategies, and extensive curricular resources to help them offer training in research ethics at their institutions or within their professional societies. Workshop participants will learn interactive approaches for providing instruction that will engage and stimulate their audience. A variety of sessions will allow both novice and experienced instructors in research ethics to benefit.

AAAS Science & Human Rights Coalition: 2014 Student Essay Competition

Deadline: May 30, 2014

Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to participate in the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition Essay Competition. This essay competition was created to inspire students to explore connections between human rights and science, engineering and the health professions. Students may write on any topic at the intersection of science and/or technology with human rights.

Smells Delicious and Good to Eat: How Your Brain Distinguishes Tastes and Aromas

Date: May 6, 2014

We all like to eat, especially our favorite dishes. And we all like pleasant aromas, such as freshly picked flowers. Why is it that some foods taste better than others, and why do different people like or dislike different foods? How does it happen that certain aromas appeal to us, while others make us hold our noses? And how do taste and aroma interact with each other? Neuroscientists are leading the way in finding answers to those questions, and others are using knowledge gained from science to satisfy the human palate and sense of smell. Speakers include a neuroscientist from the Monell Institute, and experts in wine, food, and fragrance. We will learn how sommeliers choose and evaluate wines, how chefs create menus, and perfumers and others create fragrances that are appealing.Following the program, enjoy a special tasting reception and an interactive demonstration with perfumes to experience what you learned about taste and aroma.

Wake Up, I'm Speaking: The Neuroscience of Sleep and Dreaming 

Date: March 11, 2014

It seems that everybody, from comedians, to poets, to world leaders, have something to say about sleep. So why not scientists? Sleep, or the lack of it, is the focus of considerable research in the United States, where sleep disorders and sleep deprivation have been associated with poor cognitive performance, behavioral problems, accidents, ill health and other factors that adversely affect quality of life. When we do sleep, we also dream; in fact, during a typical lifetime, people spend an average of six years dreaming. In the past, dreams have been interpreted as omens of the future, representations of reality, and even divine messages from the gods. Nowadays, we tend to have slightly more rational views about dreams, but their significance and meaning remain a subject of debate in both science and public discourse. Speakers addressed what neuroscience research tells us about sleep, sleep disorders, the mechanisms and functions of dreaming, and the impact of sleep research on medicine and society.

Workshop on Responsible Professional Practices in a Changing Research Environment 

Date: February 13, 2014

The workshop was designed to assist research faculty in creating concrete, discipline-specific strategies to incorporate research ethics education into the context of the research environment, whether it be a lab or field work. The workshop was grounded in a recognition that many research ethics issues are relevant to the practice and application of science, from developing hypotheses and designing a protocol, to data management and analysis, to reporting findings and advising others on the uses of the work, and that integrating ethics instruction in the context of performing those various stages of research can be an effective strategy for educating future researchers. Participants will be introduced to rationales, content, approaches, tools, and resources to give them the means to develop and implement research ethics education in their research environment.

AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition: Disability Rights 

Date: January 27-28, 2014

The first day of the Coalition meeting provided participants an opportunity to deepen their knowledge about the ways in which the human rights of persons with disabilities intersect with science and engineering. Sessions addressed how access to science and technology can affect the rights of people with disabilities, both positively and negatively, and will explore challenges to fulfilling the right to participate in science and engineering as students, practitioners and as the subjects of research. The first annual student poster competition was also held during the meeting.