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Observations from AAAS 2016 and Lessons for Canada

March 7, 2016
By: 
Mehrdad Hariri
CEO and Co-Founder, Canadian Science Policy Conference

In mid February, I attended the 194th annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society’s forum held in Washington, DC. AAAS is an excellent venue to engage in a four day long discussions with science and political leaders intersecting science and society.

AAAS annual meetings are always well attended by high calibre influential leaders of science enterprise from the US and around the globe. Those included current and former science advisors to President Obama, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and to the European countries.

The annual meetings are also very international in nature and with representations from many countries specially those with sophisticated science enterprises; Japan, Singapore, Korea, EU countries. So is the representation from African countries, that are always part of the conference. In this meeting Iran and Cuba were also present, with sessions presenting advancement of science in those two countries. This was a signal of willingness for scientific collaboration between the US and these countries and projection of a major role for science diplomacy to play.

Canada too, had an impactful presence in the 2016 AAAS annual meeting. Governor General held a series of meetings with stakeholders of science and innovation. Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan was in attendance for multiple days and chaired a panel session. Presence of businessman and philanthropist Jim Balscili was noteworthy. In addition, many heads of agencies and universities were present.

Certainly, the highest level involvement and participation of Canadians in this global prestigious forum was impactful. In my published article after the AAAS meeting in Vancouver in 2012, I referred to the imperative for such a forum in Canada. Currently Canadian Science Policy Conference, CSPC, is playing this role in Canada though in a smaller scale. The CSPC is being held annually with the similar objectives as of AAAS. However, the CSPC with its unique extended network that has been built over the years, has capacities to expand both in size and also in its mandate.

With collective support of Canadian agencies, we can materialize a vision for CSPC, as a Canadian institution that not only brings us together annually in an impressive forum, but also serve as conduit of science to society, and connect science enterprise with society. A Think-and-Do Tank in science and innovation policy is an imperative one for Canada and collectively we can make that happen.