Cocktail party science: Day 3 at AAAS 2012 (+ our short video interviews with science writers!)

Last week, Maggie went to the largest science conference in the Western Hemisphere for four days of wall-to-wall awesomeness. Every day, she learned amazing things, watching scientists from all over the world talk about their work. Check the bottom of each post to find links to earlier posts in this series!

One of my favorite parts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference happens at the end of each day, after the panel discussions are over and the convention floor has been locked down. That's when the parties start.

Now, obviously, everybody likes parties. But these are better than most. The AAAS parties are where a delightful mixture of scientists, journalists, academic journal editors, and university public relations officers gather to compare notes, talk shop, and tell each other about the awesome science they learned during the day.

I already mentioned how hard it is to decide which panels to see and which lectures to attend. At any given time there will be three-to-five different things you'd like to watch, all happening simultaneously. During the day, you're forced to choose. But at night, the parties are where you get the chance to learn about all the things you didn't get to see for yourself. You arrive, are handed a glass of wine, and all your friends run up to find out what you learned that day. It is a wonderful, nerd-tastic experience, and I want to share it with you.

On Sunday, February 19th, I took a small video recorder to a AAAS wine and cheese party. I found some people with neat stories to tell and convinced them to share those stories on camera. Together, these 11 short videos—none longer than 4 minutes or so—will give you a taste of what a AAAS party is like. It'll also give you an idea of just how many subjects AAAS covers. This video collection contains cool facts on every topic from dolphin rights, to GM crops, to international political intrigue. Just kick back, pour yourself a glass of wine, and ask, "So what did you see today?"

First up: Freelance journalist Neil Savage, who learned some fascinating stuff about the plethora of ways technology helps us gather information about ourselves—and how we might protect that information in the future.

Dr. Carin Bondar, biologist and blogger, has a short message for you about the future of the oceans.

Continuing the ocean science theme, science blogger Eric Michael Johnson talks about why civil rights for dolphins is a real, serious issue. You can read more about this session in a Macleans article written by Kate Lunau.

Popular Science editor Susannah Locke has a couple of interesting tidbits: One about some uninvited visitors in your bloodstream; and another fact about GM crops versus traditional breeding methods.

Jessica Thomas, who works for the American Physical Society, learned something amazing about physics of cell behavior and how this could be used to treat cancer.

When you learn to speak can have long-reaching consequences on your life. Freelance journalist Erik Vance talks about his own experience as a late-talker, and what he learned about how parents can help late-talkers succeed.

Alexandra Witze is a contributing editor for Science News. She went to a seriously awesome lecture (I can say this because I was there, too) by a researcher who creates volcanic explosions in his lab.

Eric Sorensen writes about science for Washington State University. He learned that you don't remember your life nearly as well as you think you do.

When is a kilogram not a kilogram? Jennifer Bogo, editor at Popular Mechanics, explains what she learned about how units of measurement are changing.

Alan Boyle, science editor at ponders the potential side effects of trying to use science to make the natural world too convenient.

Finally, Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research, tells the amazingly true story of how fish farts almost caused a diplomatic crisis between Russia and Sweden.

Sadly, I got no good photos of the parties at AAAS this year. Instead, please enjoy this photo from Flickr: Wine-and-Cheese Party_12, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hiroshimagal's photostream.



  1. Bah, from this it would seem that the AAAS meeting is attended entirely by science journalists rather than scientists.  Of course I know that’s just selection bias, but still. Talk to real scientists!  They can generally communicate very well! Sometimes they’re also goofy and entertaining. Though I guess they can be camera-shy.

    1. Well, at something like AAAS, you’d kind of expect that the journalists dominate. It’s more about scientific outreach than science, per se. The theme this year was “Flattening the World: Building a Global Knowledge Society”, whatever that buzzword salad means. 

Comments are closed.