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Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society

Scientists, educators, journalists, and others from some 50 nations are gathering in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 16-20 February for the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting. The locale is significant: The 2012 meeting is focused on the vital link between innovation and international collaboration. And Vancouver is a Pacific Rim research capital, making an impact in life sciences, marine science, public health, science education, and other areas. The AAAS Office of Public Programs is providing extensive Annual Meeting news, plus a sampling of coverage from around the world.

William H. Press: The Public Supports Science
5 March 2012 12:03 p.m. PST

As the United States prepares for a year of election-driven partisanship, William H. Press points to something that many Americans share: a commitment to science. He cites polls showing that the public believes science is vital to a strong economy and international presence, and that scientists are trustworthy and prestigious citizens. The public also delights in the discoveries that come from all corners, from medical breakthroughs to breathtaking space missions.

With this in mind, the new AAAS president thinks voters will be very interested to hear what the 2012 presidential candidates have to say about their own plans for science. “There’s a broad segment of the American public that’s interested in science and innovation, both the beauty and benefits of it,” Press said in a recent interview. “One of our goals should be to find ways to allow those things to move forward, and not have them brought down by things we can’t agree on.”

Read more about Press’ plans as AAAS president.

Can Carbon Sequestration Go Mainstream?
5 March 2012 6:00 a.m. PST

Carbon capture and storage–a concept that seeks to address climate change by storing carbon dioxide emissions in natural underground vaults, has progressed only in fits and starts. The obstacles have been both technical and political. But in a 20 February symposium at the AAAS Annual Meeting, experts detailed a series of demonstration projects that suggest carbon sequestration may soon have a place in the portfolio of tools needed to limit climate change.

While interest in renewable energy is strong, the reality is that the age of coal will not fade anytime soon. China, Russia, and India are all producing or using increasing amounts of it, and that means more carbon dioxide pumped into the air from power plants and factories.

Hence the interest in sequestration. There are demonstration projects underway in Germany, the U.S. state of Illinois, and Australia. The German project is led by Michael Kuehn, head of the Center for Carbon Dioxide Storage, in Karlsruhe. The effort is looking at “the why and the how,” Kuehn said. “Is long-term and safe storage possible? My conclusion is that carbon dioxide storage is a solution to this global challenge.”

Robert Cooke has the full story.

The Wrong Side of the Knowledge Divide
4 March 2012 12:50 p.m. PST

Women globally lag behind men in Internet usage, the science and engineering workforce, and leadership positions, reflecting a troubling divide in the emerging knowledge economy, according to preliminary findings presented at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

“Not only are women on the wrong side of the digital divide in general, they’re also on the wrong side of the knowledge divide,” said Sophie Huyer, executive director of WIGSAT, a non-profit international consulting group. “As the world moves more and more to a knowledge society, women stand a chance of being increasingly disadvantaged.”

Huyer spoke at the annual networking breakfast for women and minority scientists and engineers, held Saturday 18 February. The event received key support from Bosch, a global firm that brings a strong focus on sustainability to automotive and industrial technology, building technology, and consumer goods.

“Addressing the complex issues which face us today and preparing for those of tomorrow…requires a careful orchestration of a passionate, highly sophisticated, multidisciplinary team,” said Angela Dragan, Bosch manager for government projects. “And its success will rely on embracing the value of diversity because these grave issues cannot be solved from one perspective alone.”

For the full story, read on.

Frans de Waal: Roots of Human Morality
27 February 2012 10:00 a.m. PST

Two monkeys, two cages, one cucumber, and a handful of grapes. It’s not the set-up for an elaborate joke–it’s an elegant experiment designed to show where the roots of human morality may lie.
In a rousing talk backed by engaging and often humorous video, primatologist Frans de Waal said that cooperation, consolation, and even agitation for “fair pay” can no longer be considered human-only qualities.

At the same time, studies with animals from mice to elephants may make people reconsider  the pessimistic view of human as hypocrites–clothed in niceties but nasty at the core. Instead, de Waal argued, maybe it’s as Darwin suspected: Natural selection has made us nice.

Read more about the roots of human morality.

More News From Vancouver
24 February 2012 12:38 p.m. PST
Test-tube hamburgers and the health of the world’s oceans were hot topics in Vancouver last week, but all kinds of research from the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting hit the headlines.
Reporters from around the world filed stories on wildfire smoke, quantum code-cracking, new autism research, and even a declaration of rights for whales and dolphins. If you missed anything from AAAS’s five-day festival of science, here’s your chance to catch up on some of the highlights.

Read more news highlights from the 2012 Meeting.

Serageldin: Science and Democracy
20 February 2012 12:21 p.m. PST

Ismail Serageldin said the Arab spring protests that brought a new government to Egypt are an opportunity for the country to join the global scientific community and promote “a better and more humane society.”

In a video address Sunday to more than 1000 people at the AAAS Annual Meeting, the director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina said that the library’s promotion of the “values of science” can help guide leaders in the region as democratic movements continue.

The library has always provided a home for discussions about the future of the Muslim world, and a place where scientists, artists, religious, and political leaders can work together to build a civil society, said Serageldin, an eminent Egyptian scientist and author.

The library also serves as a reminder that “there is a great Muslim and Arabic tradition of science and tolerance.”

Read more about Serageldin’s vision for science in the Arab world.

Can Video Games Be Good for Your Eyes?
20 February 2012 11:52 a.m. PST

Video games get a bad name for a variety of reasons. But developmental psychologist Daphne Maurer of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and her colleagues found that for people born with cataracts, high-action games can aid vision after surgery.

Maurer presented her work at the AAAS Annual Meeting on Friday 17 February, at a symposium entitled “The Effects of Early Experience on Lifelong Functioning: Commitment and Resilience.”

Bob Hirshon has the story for Science Update, AAAS’s daily 60-second radio show broadcast on many stations in the United States.

Listen to the story–it only takes a minute.

Acid-Washed Genes in Ocean Ecosystems
20 February 2012 10:41 a.m. PST

Marine scientist Gretchen Hofmann has been a leading researcher in the warming and acidification of Earth’s oceans. It may be, she says, that people don’t immediately associate climate change with a changing pH level in oceans, but the problems are serious, she says. Declining pH levels in the ocean could, in the long-run, harm living creatures with shells.

“Coral reef biologists were the first ones to sit up and say, ‘The change in the ocean pH and how it changes the chemistry could really alter the way things make their calcium carbonate hard parts,’” Hofmann explained in an interview before her presentation at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver.  “One of the most important ones from and ecosystem perspective are stoney corals that build the reefs that we all love in tropical environments.”

To view Carla Schaffer’s video story, click on.

Monday at AAAS
20 February 2012 7:40 a.m. PST

Monday marks the final of the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting. The schedule is abbreviated, but there are a number of interesting presentations:

Plenary Lecture: “Good-Natured: Primate Social Instincts and Human Morality,” by Franz B.M. de Waal, director of the Living Links Center, Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University. 8:30-9:30 a.m., Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) West Building, Ballroom C.

Rare Isotopes for Medicine, symposium. 9:45-11:15 a.m., VCC West, Room 114-115.

Misreporting Fukushima, symposium. 9:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m., VCC West, Room 118.

Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage: A Global Solution to a Global Challenge, symposium. VCC West, Room 122.

Illuminating the Obesity Epidemic with Mathematics, symposium. VCC West Room 205-207.

See the full Monday schedule online or on page 21 of the program book.

Forecasting Volcanic Eruptions
19 February 2012 9:09 p.m. PST

Scientists are gradually gathering enough understanding of volcanoes that, within a few decades, they may be able to forecast eruptions, says one of the world’s most influential vulcanologists.

Most people think of eruptions as a disaster that occurs somewhere else, usually far from Europe and the United States, said Donald B. Dingwell at the AAAS Annual Meeting. But epic quakes have happened at the current site of Yellowstone National Park in the Western United States, and eruptions in Iceland have caused death and destruction far beyond its shores.

Dingwell heads the Munich Magma Group at the University of Munich, in Germany, and he also serves as secretary general of the European Research Council.

The next big one? It’s just a matter of time, says Dingwell.

To learn more, read Robert Cooke’s full report.

The New Meat Revolution
19 February 2012 7:44 p.m. PST

A new generation of grown-in-the-lab meat substitutes are on their way to production and could begin arriving in the next year, agricultural experts said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

That will be a relief to cows and pigs, of course. But if the new food-engineering works out as developers hope, it could dramatically ease the environmental impact of producing meat while creating a lucrative new global market.

A hamburger created from cow stem cells may be unveiled as early as October, said Maastricht University scientist Mark Post, who is developing the burger in his labs with funds from an anonymous financier. The estimated opening price: €250,000 euros, or about $330,000.

Read more about the hamburger of the future.

Doubling The World’s Food Supply by 2050
19 February 2012 6:48 p.m. PST

The public hasn’t made a connection between climate change and the world’s food supply, but the planet faces an unprecedented food crisis in 2050 unless researchers find a way to feed more on land that yields less, AAAS President Nina Fedoroff, a noted plant biologist, said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

“We will push past 9 billion people by mid-century, but there’s no more land,” Fedoroff warned in her address. “We need to develop crops that thrive in a hotter world on land we now consider unfarmable, using water we now consider unsuitable for agriculture.”
In her wide-ranging talk, Fedoroff described some of the key moments from a life of science that put her on the frontiers of plant genetics, public engagement, and science diplomacy. Today, as she builds a new center for desert agriculture at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, the strands of her career have culminated in a project with global impact.

Read more from NIna V. Fedoroff’s presidential address.

How to Communicate Controversial Science?
19 February 2012 5:06 p.m. PST

Debate over crucial issues of public policy often suffer from confusion and polarization fed by the news media and policymakers. But when the topics are especially controversial, like nuclear power, genetically modified food, or even tobacco, it’s a challenge to clear space for a constructive policy discussion, experts said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

At symposium Saturday, a panel of European scientists and policy experts urged earlier involvement and more effective use of scientific insight in hopes of achieving more effective outcomes.

The speakers came with different areas of expertise, their arguments were provocative, and they faced tough questions. But all agreed on the need for clear, accurate information, especially in times of emergency or social stress. That, they said, could reduce public apprehension and opposition to important new technologies and create a stronger foundation for public policy.

To learn more, read Robert Cooke’s full report.

Song of the Singing Glove
19 February 2012 3:39 p.m. PST

Sidney Fels and his colleagues at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have developed an electrical device that, in essence, uses hand movements to create voice-like sounds. They call it a gesture-to-voice synthesizer, but you can think of it as a talking glove, or singing glove.

Fels, with UBC colleagues Johnty Wang and Bob Pritchard, appear to have harnessed familiar electronic squeals and squawks into a subtle, controllable electronic voice. It’s being used to make some oddly compelling harmonies.

In a symposium Sunday at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Fels and other scholars described the evolution of a new era in sign, gesture, and interactive communication. But to really understand the glove, and the strangely beautiful sounds it can make, you have watch, and listen.

Watch the video story produced by John Corry at the University of British Columbia.

The Physics of Superheroes
19 February 2012 2:48 p.m. PST

James Kakalios runs a unique physics class: There’s not a pulley or lever in sight.

Instead, the University of Minnesota professor talks about how he uses superheroes to engage students. At the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, Kakalios spoke at a symposium entitled “Using Pop-Culture Icons To Slip Science into the Mainstream.”

The symposium also featured Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University discussing the physics of Star Trek and E. Paul Zehr of the University of Victoria in British Columbia exploring whether Batman and Iron Man are instructive on the field of neuroscience.

Listen to Carla Schaffer’s full audio story.

Fun at Family Science Days
19 February 2012 1:18 p.m. PST

When they weren’t wiring up batteries from scratch or being held upside down on stage by an astronaut, kids were learning a lot about how scientists work at Family Science Days at the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting.

The popular free event gives children and families a chance to experiment at dozens of table-top laboratories and talk directly with scientists about killer whales, alien worlds, the mysteries of the brain, and much more.

Want to see for yourself? Family Science Days continues 19 February at the Vancouver Convention Centre, West Building, Exhibit Hall B1.

For Carla Schaffer’s video, click on.

Science is Not Enough
19 February 2012 11:59 a.m. PST

Science offers volumes of data to demonstrate that the Earth is warming, but huge sectors of the American public simply don’t believe it. It’s a disconnect that many scientists find baffling and troubling–and their efforts to bridge the gap over the last decade have largely fallen short.

But Saturday night, in a passionate, humorous, and highly animated 90-minute multimedia event at the AAAS Annual Meeting, a panel of renowned science communicators debated ways to break through public apathy and misinformation on climate.

Held before a packed ballroom of more than 1400 participants and webcast live worldwide, the event was billed as a way for scientists to explore new ways of getting their messages out to the public. If science isn’t enough to convince people that warming is a real “planetary emergency,” the panelists asked, what can researchers try next?

For Becky Ham’s full account, read on.

A Sea Otter Detective Mystery
19 February 2012 11:58 a.m. PST

When the bodies of dead sea otters began washing up on the shoes of California’s Monterey Bay a few years ago, it set in motion an urgent forensic investigation. The problem, researchers concluded, was liver damage. And the cause was a tainted lake that had flooded in heavy rain and flowed down into the ocean.

Melissa Miller, a veterinary biologist at the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz, California, laid details of the investigation and findings in a presentation Saturday at the AAAS Annual Meeting. Writing in ScienceNOW, Michael Price reports that case illustrates how “marine mammals like sea otters act as warning signals for near-shore ecosystems.”

Read the full story in ScienceNOW

Sunday at AAAS
19 February 2012 6:45 a.m. PST

Should dolphins have legal and moral rights? Can a smarter electricity grid slow down energy consumption? How might Canadian forest fires affect global climate change? These questions and more, on Day 4 of the AAAS Annual Meeting:

Smarter Grids and Climate Change, 8:30-11:30 a.m., Vancouver Convention Centre West, Room 118.

Climate Change in Northern Latitudes, a day-long seminar featuring forest fires, thawing soils and sea level changes. 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., VCC West, Room 109.

Searching for and Securing Your Next Job: Using Technology Effectively, career workshop, 9:15-10:15 a.m., VCC West, Room 111-112

Family Science Days and Meet the Scientists. 11:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., VCC West, Exhibit Hall A-B1.

“Toward the Control of HIV and AIDS,” topical lecture by Julio Montaner, University of British Columbia. 12:00-12:45 p.m., VCC West, Room 211.

Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, symposium. 3:00-4:30 p.m., VCC West, Room 220.

“Science and Democracy” plenary lecture, by Ismail Serageldin, director of The Library of Alexandria. 5:00-6:00 p.m., VCC West, Ballroom C.

See Sunday’s full schedule online or on page 18 of the Program Book.

Science in the Islamic World
18 February 2012 11:48 p.m. PST

Science in the Islamic world has been invigorated by the Arab Awakening, and several of the new governments are considering innovation among their national priorities. Science may benefit from new educational and entrepreneurial reforms, experts said Saturday at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Egypt, for example, is building an ambitious new city of science and technology. Other nations are raising their investment in R&D. But the first reports for the new Atlas of Islamic-World Science and Innovation are finding similar challenges across all the countries.
Naser Faruqui, director of policy and science innovation at Canada’s International Development Research Centre, warned that the national and regional science efforts will falter if science doesn’t address challenges like poverty and environmental degradation.

Read Becky Ham’s report about science after the Arab Spring.

The Medicine Wheel and Scientific Understanding
18 February 2012 10:30 p.m. PST

Lillian Eva Dyck is a First Nations woman of Cree heritage, a neuroscientist, and a Canadian senator, and she brings to her work the ancient traditions of native North American cultures. In a lecture Friday at the AAAS Annual Meeting, she urged researchers and educators to look beyond the science of facts and figures for other realms of insight and understanding.

“Facts do not exist in a vacuum,” she said. “We are all subject to the cultural and other biases that we were brought up in.”  And, she added, sticking rigorously only to “the facts” can sometimes lead to errors that persist, and mislead, for decades.

Native peoples in North America have suffered from such misunderstanding, but they have also used insight bred of their experience to resolve challenges. “There are ancestral ways of knowing,” Dyck said in her 45-minute lecture. “There are oral traditions, so there’s a lot of practice and training that is going on.”

To learn more, read Bob Cooke’s full report.

Genome-Inspired Tumor Treatments
18 February 2012 4:13 p.m. PST

In the decade since the first draft of the human genome was published, researchers have been working hard to find the genetic “Achilles’ heel” in the worst cancers. There have been some notable successes, but clinicians need more ways to deliver molecular therapies directly to the trouble spots in tumors, speakers said at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

University of Illinois at Chicago researcher William Beck said some major clinics “now sequence the tumors of almost every patient that walks in the door,” and scientists bring in new agents every week to test as potential cancer therapies.

Others are testing a variety of ways to deliver the RNA molecules directly to tumors, from nano-sized capsules of chitosan–a material derived from the shells of crab and shrimp–to polymers designed to dissolve barriers inside cells and release targeted chemotherapy.

Read the full story.

The Drying of East Africa
18 February 2012 11:06 a.m. PST

Up until around 2 million years ago, East Africa was rich in forests and woodlands. Then it changed into drier grasslands, and researchers have long wondered about the cause of such a dramatic shift.

Scientists explored the issue during a session Friday at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver. Jane J. Lee, writing for ScienceNOW, had this take-home on the research results: Large differences in the temperature of the Indian and Pacific oceans shifted rainfall patterns and dried out East Africa.

Peter deMenocal, a marine geologist and geochemist at Columbia University, and his colleagues ran climate models and found that when the differences in marine temperatures were erased, rainfall increased in eastern Africa. The historical drying led to an explosion in the number of species that grazed the region, including forebears of modern-day antelopes and equines, the researchers said.

For more information, read the full story in ScienceNOW.

Saturday at AAAS

18 February 2012 7:00 a.m. PST

It’s a day of superlatives at the AAAS Annual Meeting: A two-part seminar on new insights about the universe, a symposium on computational science, a star-studded panel on science communication, and the opening of the traditional Family Science Days. Check out some highlights scheduled for Saturday in Vancouver:

Exploding Myths on Reactor Security, Harm Reduction, and Genetically Modified Organisms, 8-9:30 a.m., Vancouver Convention Centre West Building, Room 201.

Revealing the Universe seminar, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.VCC West Room 109.

Late Talkers in Any Language: Finding Children at Risk Worldwide, 10-11:30 a.m., VCC West, Ballroom A

Family Science Days and Meet the Scientists. 11:00-a.m.-5:00 p.m., VCC West, Exhibit Hall A-B1.

“The Medicine Wheel and Western Science” Topical Lecture, by Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck. 12:00-12:45 p.m., VCC West, Ballroom A.

Pop Icons and Mainstream Science Symposium. 1:00-2:30 p.m., VCC West, Room 110.

AAAS Student Poster Competition. 1:00-5:00 p.m., VCC West, Exhibit Hall A-B1.

Emerging Risks in the Global Food System, 1:30-4:30 p.m., VCC West Room 211.

“Science Is Not Enough” Plenary Panel, with James Hansen, Olivia Judson, Hans Rosling, and Frank Sesno. 5:00-6:30 p.m., VCC West, Ballroom C.

AAAS International Reception. 6:30-8:00 p.m., Pan Pacific Hotel, Ocean Suite 1-4.

See Saturday’s full schedule online or starting on page 14 of the program book.

Earth’s Microbial “Dark Matter”
18 February 2012 12:14 a.m. PST

1 x 10 to the 31st power–that’s a tough number to get your brain around. But it’s the number of bacteria on Earth (rounded off, we assume). What makes the number still more boggling, though, is that outside of a relative few, we know almost nothing about them.

The Earth Microbiome Project has set out to change that. In interviews with Erik Stokstad for the Science Podcast, organizer Janet Jansson of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab described how they’ve gathered 60,000 or 70,000 samples, and have secured support to sequence 10,000 of them.

In the scheme of things, that’s just a tiny sample. But, said Jansson, they’re drawn from diverse ecosystems–polar regions, a Yellowstone geyser, the guts of an ant. We already know that microbes can serve as antibiotics or fix nitrogen in the soil; they also cycle 80-90% of gases and nutrients on Earth, says Jack A. Gilbert of Argonne National Lab. Now, the organizers hope, we’re about to learn a lot more.

Gilbert and Jannson are on a symposium panel Saturday morning at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

To learn more, listen to Science Podcast, hosted by Sarah Crespi.

Mike Lazaridis: Investing in Ideas
17 February 2012 10:22 p.m. PST

Mike Lazaridis is founder of the company that makes the BlackBerry smart phone, and so youo may be surprised at what he thinks about the ubiquitous technological tools of modern life:

“We’re surrounded by devices that are so sleek and powerful that we’re tempted to think it’s the machines themselves that are valuable,” Lazaridis said Friday evening to an overflow crowd at the AAAS Annual Meeting. “But the devices are just ideas, made into a form that we can hold in our hands. It’s the ideas themselves that got us this far. And it’s new ideas that will get us even further.”

Lazaridis, vice chair of the Research in Motion (RIM) Board of Directors, used his hour-long talk to stress the importance of education–and illustrated the talk with tales from his own school years. Students should be encouraged to take risks, he said, and “explore the strangest and apparently most useless of ideas.”

Read the full report by Becky Ham.

H2O: Commodity or Human Right?
17 February 2012 9:53 p.m. PST

If you live in the developed world, or relatively comfortable areas of the developing world, you turn on a faucet, water comes out, and you probably don’t think much about it. But in areas that are impoverished or environmentally stressed, water can be unreliable on a good day, and a regular source of tension and conflict, water policy expert Karen Bakker said Friday.

In the early 1990s, privatization was widely seen as the answer for developing areas that were short on water, said Bakker, director of the Program on Water Governance at the University of British Columbia. Many large firms, including major American and European corporations, entered the international water business, but by the end of the decade, investment in water projects declined.

While over-exploitation of water is causing environmental problems in the countryside, problems are follow human migration into the cities–even in cities such as London, she said.

Read Robert Cooke’s full story.

Science Editor: A Wake-Up Call on Avian Flu
17 February 2012 8:10 p.m. PST

Publication of controversial research into a potentially lethal mutation of H5N1 avian influenza could come within months under a decision announced today by the World Health Organization. But the path to publication—and the long-term landscape for such research—remain uncertain, Science Editor-in-Chief Bruce Alberts told reporters.

In a news conference at the AAAS Annual Meeting, Alberts said that Science and the journal Nature had expected to publish abridged versions of the research in mid-March, with sensitive details redacted. The WHO announcement appears to clear the way for publication of the full research results, but probably not for a few months, he said.

The research and the controversy provide is an important reminder that the world must prepare for new mutations of the H5N1 avian influenza virus that are likely to emerge in nature. “This is a tremendous opportunity,” Alberts said, “to mobilize resources and the best science to protect the world from what everybody expects to be another pandemic at some point.”

For more information, read the full story.

A Digital Lifeline for Endangered Languages
17 February 2012 1:36 p.m. PST

Humanity is facing a “crisis of language extinction,” says K. David Harrison from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. To address that, he has been building “talking dictionaries” of threatened languages and working with the National Geographic Society under their Enduring Voices program.
“Some people see technology as a threat to the existence of small languages,” he said in an interview before his presentation at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver. “But the really savvy language communities are using technology to sustain themselves, to expand their reach…to survive.”
Harrison’s presentation came at a symposium on Friday 17 February, “Endangered and Minority Languages Crossing the Digital Divide.”

UPDATE (2/18): Listen to Science Update, the AAAS radio program, for more on efforts to save endangered languages.

Watch Carla Schaffer’s video story.
Saving Lives with Improved Cookstoves
17 February 2012 12:24 p.m. PST

Cleaner cookstoves could save millions of lives and slow global warming–that’s the conclusion of researchers at the AAAS Annual Meeting, covered in a report by Science Update, the 60-second daily radio program from AAAS.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 2 million people die worldwide every year from the indoor pollution caused by primitive household cooking fires. That’s comparable to the annual death toll from malaria.

“There’s a range of both chronic and acute health effects that are associated with exposure to these indoor pollutants, things like childhood pneumonia, emphysema, cancer, bronchitis, and cardiovascular disease,” environmental engineer Andrew Grieshop of North Carolina State University told Science Update.

Listen to the story on Science Update, the national radio show hosted by Bob Hirshon.

Haunting Sounds at Ancient Peruvian Village
17 February 2012 10:29 a.m. PST

Thousands of years ago, the village of Chavín de Huntar, high in the Peruvian Andes, was the site of elaborate rituals and ceremonies. Today, researchers say, architecture at the site offers intriguing insight into how the Chavín culture may have used acoustics in the ceremonies.

Writing in ScienceNOW, Dan Ferber details the work of Miriam Kolar, an archeoacoustics researcher at Stanford University, presented in a press briefing Thursday in Vancouver.

“The interior architecture contains elaborate, multilevel mazes with long corridors and staircases that affect acoustics today and are well enough preserved to detect what the original residents must have heard,” Ferber writes. “What’s more, ancient conch shell trumpets have been excavated in the village; when blown into, the shells make a haunting, warbling sound, and fossil conch shells are embedded in stones on the floor of the temple.”

Read the full story--and listen to a very cool recording of the conch trumpets.
Award-Winning Science Books For Kids
17 February 2012 8:22 a.m. ET

Books on vanishing frogs, secretive seabirds, and the fascinating history of feathers were among the winners of the 2012 AAAS/Subaru Science Books & Film (SB&F) Prize for Excellence in Science Books. The annual award, established in 2005, recognizes books for young readers that encourage an understanding and appreciation of science.

This year’s winners feature compelling mysteries and exquisite artwork, and for the first time include a book written and illustrated by the same person.

The 2012 finalists and winners were selected by a group of judges made up of librarians, scientists, and science literacy experts. The judges selected 12 finalists out of 178 books up for consideration. Winners will receive $1500 and a plaque recognizing their achievement at a ceremony Saturday 18 February in Vancouver.

Read more about the 2012 prize winners.

Friday at AAAS
17 February 2012 8:10 a.m. PST

Today in Vancouver, the talk will be about endangered languages, microbial diversity, storage of renewable energy, and international science cooperation. These topics, and many others, as the Annual Meeting kicks into high gear:

Routes to Enhanced Photosynthesis: Harvesting Sunlight for More Food and Fuel. 8:00-9:30 a.m., Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC) West Building, Room 211.

AAAS International Exhibition Opens. 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., VCC West, Exhibit Hall A-B1.

Chemistry in the Clouds: Impacts of Aeorsols on Climate Change. 10:00-11:30 a.m., VCC West, Ballroom A.

Water Privatization and Urbanization, topical lecture, by Karen Bakker of the University of British Columbia. 12:00-12:45 p.m., VCC West, Room 202-204.

Research Collaboration with Emerging Nations: Canada’s Experience in India and Brazil. Organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. 1:00-2:00 p.m., VCC West, Room 107-108.

Energy Storage for Integration of Renewable Energy Sources into the Power Grid. 1:30-4:30 p.m. VCC West, Room 110.

New Findings in Broadening Participation Research in STEM Education. 1:30-4:30 p.m. VCC West, Room 119-120.

Delivering on the Promise of the Human Genome Project. 3:00-4:30 p.m. VCC West, Room 109.

“The Power of Ideas” Plenary Lecture, by Mike Lazaridis, vice-chair, RIM Board of Directors; founder and board chair, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. 5:00-6:00 p.m., VCC West Building, Ballroom C.

AAAS Awards Ceremony and Reception. 6:30-8:00 p.m., VCC West, Ballroom B.

See Friday’s full schedule online or beginning on page 9 of the Program Book.
“Fracking” Risks Overstated?
16 February 2012 5:41 p.m. PST

The controversial practice of “hydraulic fracturing”–using high-pressure water, chemicals and sand to pry open pockets of trapped natural gas buried deep underground–may be less threatening than critics have warned, according to researchers from the University of Texas at Austin.

In a report released today at the AAAS Annual Meeting, the scientists say that problems blamed on “fracking” may in fact result from near-surface issues–gas leaks from old wells, cracks in casing pipe, and poor drilling structures.

“A lot of these [issues] are common with oil and gas wells” that do not involve deep rock fracturing, said Charles G. Groat, principal investigator for the Energy Institute. Another concern frequently associated with fracking is the incidence of small earthquakes (micro-seisms) occurring near drill sites. While that warrants more study, Groat said such small quakes are also associated with conventional drilling operations.

[UPDATE 07-24-12: ScienceInsider reports: "Fracking Report Criticized for Apparent Conflict of Interest"]

Robert Cooke has the full story.

Implantable Microchip Treats Osteoporosis
16 February 2012 3:02 p.m. PST

Osteoporosis patients could soon ditch daily injection pens for an implantable microchip that releases medication at the push of a remote-controlled button, according to a new study published 15 February in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The clinical trial covered a group of seven women with osteoporosis in Denmark. The women received only 19 to 20 doses of the drug in the trial, but at a news briefing today at the AAAS Annual Meeting, the researchers discussed their plans to develop a chip that delivers 365 days’ worth of medicine.

The advance could someday allow a physician to adjust the patient’s medication remotely, using a wireless device such as a computer or a phone.

For a closer look at the new device, read the full story.

Sick Seas and Smaller Fish
16 February 2012 2:04 p.m. PST

As environmental stress and climate change intensify their pressure on Earth’s oceans and seas, there are winners and losers among marine creatures. Among the winners are parasites and small, oily black fish called mesopelagics, researchers said at the AAAS Annual Meeting. Among the losers: big fish, like cod and grouper, and mammals such as seals and sea otters.

Increasingly, land pathogens are washing into the oceans “and affecting the health of the ecosystems we live next to and depend on,” said Andrew Trites, a marine zoologist at the University of British Columbia.

Researchers at a Saturday symposium described how a toxoplasmosis parasite moves from domestic cats into marine coastal ecosystems, where it can be lethal to otters. And toxoplasmosis is only one of the parasites found in marine mammals, said Mike Grigg, a self-described “bug hunter” at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Parasites found in opossums, cattle, and raccoons also make the sea animals sick.

Read more and see a video interview with Mike Grigg.

Hearing the Sounds of Stonehenge
16 February 2012 11:17 a.m. PST

When blindfolded subjects listened to two English flutes being played in an open field, they perceived that the sounds were being blocked by pillars or archways. That unexpected reaction helped give archaeoacoustics expert Steven Waller intriguing insights into the design—and purpose—of Stonehenge.

Waller spoke at the 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The briefing in Vancouver, British Columbia, was entitled, “Archaeoacoustics: The Sounds of the Past.”

Listen to Carla Schaffer’s full audio story.

The Road to Success Starts Here
16 February 2012 10:22 a.m. PST

Scientists and students attending the AAAS Annual Meeting can sharpen their job skills at 15 career workshops, covering topics from workplace negotiations to public communication.  The sessions are free to all meeting participants and designed for all degree levels and career stages.

The workshops include practical advice on using technology to search for a new job, negotiating a better workload or a better salary, and learning how to network effectively. Several sessions focus on science communication, with tips on how to engage the public and convince “decision-makers” from corporate and academic leaders to government officials.

Others feature hands-on, interactive training–like the bingo game that teaches participants how to avoid presentation pitfalls.

For more information, read the full story.

Excellence In Science Journalism
16 February 2012 10:06 a.m. PST
Stories on the local impacts of climate change, a genetic analysis that saved a boy’s life, and the secret lives of scientists and engineers are among the winners of the 2011 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards.

Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the journal Science, said the 2011 awards “show that journalists are providing excellent coverage of science, both locally and beyond, even as resources at many news organizations continue to be stretched.”

The awards, administered by AAAS since their inception in 1945, go to professional journalists for distinguished reporting for a general audience. The Kavli Foundation provided a generous endowment in 2009 that ensures the future of the awards program. Independent panels of science journalists pick the winners, who will be honored at a ceremony Friday night at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia.

For the full list of winners, click on.

Building A Global Knowledge Society
16 February 2012 8:36 a.m. PST

Climate change and food security are 21st century challenges that do not respect national borders, said AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff, but not all nations are equipped equally to adapt to these challenges.

In remarks before international reporters to open the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting, Fedoroff said that the meeting’s theme, “Flattening the World,” reflected the need to build a global scientific community that “diminishes or possibly erases those divisions.”

Read more about Nina V. Fedoroff’s breakfast with reporters. .

Thursday in Vancouver
16 February 2012 7:46 a.m. PST

The 178th AAAS Annual Meeting opens today in Vancouver, British Columbia. Today’s sessions include the President’s Address and a special session on global science education; the schdule kicks into high gear on Friday.

AAAS President’s Address: Nina V. Fedoroff,  former science adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State and USAID and noted plant biologist. All plenary addresses are open to meeting registrants and the public (without charge). 6:00-7:30 p.m., Vancouver Convention Centre West Building, Ballroom C.

Special Session: Inquiry-Based Science Education. 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., VCC West Building, Room 116-117.

See Thursday’s full schedule online or on page 9 of the Program Book.

The Heights of Accomplishment
15 February 2012 8:17 p.m. PST

AAAS tonight named the winners of seven prestigious awards in the fields of research, science diplomacy, education, and public service, citing the winners’ leadership, their deep commitment to discovery, and their impact in fostering public engagement with science.

Announced on the eve of the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting, the 2011 winners are:

Philip Hauge Abelson Award: Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an influential leader in science, education, government and other fields.

Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award: J. David Jentsch, Edythe London, and Dario Ringach, UCLA scientists victimized by animal rights extremists.

Newcomb Cleveland Prize: A Science paper by Waseem Bakr, Simon Fölling, Markus Greiner, and colleagues on a method for observing individual atoms in an ultra-cold gas as they transitioned between quantum states.

Public Engagement with Science Award: Nalini M. Nadkarni, professor in the Department of Biology and director of the Center for Science and Math Education at the University of Utah.

Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science: Daniel Colón-Ramos, co-founder of Ciencia Puerto Rico and assistant professor of cell biology at the Yale School of Medicine.

Lifetime Mentor Award: Bobby Wilson, L. Lloyd Woods Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Shell Oil Endowed Chaired Professor of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Southern University.

Mentor Award: Rory A. Cooper, distinguished professor and FISA-Paralyzed Veterans of America Chair for the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, University of Pittsburgh.

Also announced were the annual Joshua E. Neimark Memorial Travel Assistance Endowments: Susannah Gordon-Messer, SERP Institute, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Christa A. Hasenkopf, CIRES, University of Colorado; Hillary LeBail, The Ohio State University; and  Meredith T. Niles, University of California, Davis.

To learn more about the winners, read the full story.

“The Best Chance to Communicate”
15 February 2012 6:20 p.m. ET

Five Chinese newspaper and magazine reporters will attend the AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver under the 2012 AAAS-EurekAlert! Fellowships for International Science Reporters.

The fellowships are intended to help support excellence in science communication worldwide by providing science reporters with the opportunity to cover the latest research and to network with peers from around the world.

The recipients of the 2012 fellowships are:

  • Yingqi Cheng, China Daily;
  • Yongming Huang, Southern Weekly;
  • Shanshan Li, Southern People Weekly;
  • Shaoting Ji, Xinhua News Agency; and
  • Yan Yan, Science Times Media Group.

Read Jennifer Santisi’s full report.

Free, Family-Friendly Science
15 February 2012 6:05 p.m. PST

Families, teachers, early-career scientists, and people who simply love science and technology are invited explore a range of free public events at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

With cutting-edge, plain-language lectures on topics such as science and democracy, the power of ideas, and the parallels between primate and human behavior, as well as hands-on science activities for children, the meeting will provide something for people of all ages and interests when it convenes in Vancouver, British Columbia, from 16-20 February 2012.

Registration for these free events is required on-site at the Vancouver Convention Centre, 1055 Canada Place.

Want to know more? Read the full story.

“Knowledge Flows Across Borders”
15 February 2012 6:03 p.m. PST

Many of the world’s 21st century challenges are global in nature, and solving them will require nations to make a deep commitment to international science cooperation, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner and University of British Columbia Stephen J. Toope say in a new commentary in the Vancouver Sun.

The authors cited research in health, communication, and decoding the human genome as just a few of the fields in which multinational efforts have been–and continue to be–crucial for driving innovation that benefits all of humanity. The choice of Vancouver as a setting for the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting symbolizes and celebrates the promise of collaboration.

“Globally, our support for basic science and international collaborations must not waver,” Toope and Leshner conclude. “If we are to combat emerging diseases and climate change, and provide food and clean drinking water for a growing global population, we must effectively tap the powerful, combined talents of scientists and engineers worldwide.”

Read more about the Vancouver Sun commentary.

AAAS Convenes in Vancouver, B.C.
15 February 2012 5:55 p.m. PT

It is a question that frames the 21st century scientific enterprise: As the world population moves toward 9 billion, will it be possible to provide food, water, and energy for everyone without dangerously depleting natural resources and damaging the environment?

These challenges will be the focus of the 178th AAAS Annual Meeting, convening 16-20 February in Vancouver, British Columbia. The meeting will feature thousands of top scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers, and science journalists from some 50 nations and a full spectrum of disciplines. More than 170 plenary addresses, lectures, seminars, and symposia—plus more than two dozen briefings and interview sessions for reporters—are scheduled under the theme “Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society.”

“The theme… is intended to focus the program on the complex, interconnected challenges of the 21st century and on pathways to global solutions through international, multidisciplinary efforts,” AAAS President Nina V. Fedoroff said in her letter of invitation.

For a preview of the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting, read the full story.