AAAS Conference Notes

AAAS 93 Boston 11-16 February 1993

Is there a difference between conscious and non- conscious memory?

According to Professor of Psychology Daniel L. Schacter, speaking at the annualmeeting for American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, there is.

Schacter joined more than 40 HArvard- affiliated speakers representing the sciences shared their opinions and findings this weekend during the six- day meeting at the Hynes Convention Center.

Certain memories, defined as implicit, involve the non- conscious form of memory which expresses the efects of previous experiences, Schacter said.

The psychologist demonstrated experiments involving the concept of priming, or the enhancement ofperception as a consequence of recent experience. Subjects were asked to identify muffled words, some of which they had heard enunciated properly minutes before. The syudy showed that subjects understood the words they had just heard better then the unfamiliar words.

Some 1200 scientists participated in the convention, which featured 22 subjects of lectures such as the scientific study of AIDS, genetics, neuroscience, the earth's atmosphere, science ethics, and science in relation ot the media, religion and education.

An End to Competition

In a lecture titled "Teaching Chemical Principles with Parables," Baird Professor of Science Dudley R. Herschbach, who teaches Chem 10, called for cooperative learning without competition in science.

"To be a scientist is a little like being a musician," he said. "You need a little talent and nurturing... and you'll get a lot of notes wrong."

Likening scientist to enzymes, he said each scientist will inevitably find his or her natural strength. "You'll find if you bounce around enough some area where your temperament and your talents mesh," Herschbach said.

Scientific Literacy

Agassiz Professor of Zoology Stephen Jay Gould discussed writing science for the public, raising issues concerning the public's scientific literacy and whether it is ethical to simplify elaborate concepts in order to make them understandable to the public.

Gould, a world- renowned evolutionary biologist who writes monthly essays about science for the layperson in Natural History, questioned what he sees as a national aversion to scientific writing. "Why in AMerica has the notion of popular science become conflated with cheapening, adulteration, and whiz bang?" he asked.

The evolutionary biologist said if he were to request an epitaph after his death, it would read: "Tried to recover the humanistic tradition of writing science for the non- scientist as noble."

Government Responsibility

Lewis M. Branscomb, Pratt professor of public service at the Kennedy School and a lecturer in Applied Physics, spoke about technology and the government's responsibilty to business.

He said government officials waste too much time discussing the political merits of programs and not enough hours promoting technology.

"Almost everybody spends their time debating what the policy should be," Branscomb said. "It only gets you a short way down the road."

Topics at the conference were not limited to traditional biology, chemistry and physics. Other notable speakers included U.S. Surgeon General nominee Dr. Joycelyn Elders and John H. Gibbons, science advisor to President Clinton.