The scientific highlight of the year, the annual AAAS conference brought together the smartest and most prominent researchers from the US as well as representatives from all 7 continents.
From Africa to Antarctic, Brazil to Boston, UK to Ukraine, scientists from all over the world were gathered last weekend in San Jose, California, for one of the biggest scientific conferences in the world.
Hosted annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science [simply AAAS or triple-A S], the 2015 version was held in the Southern part of Silicon Valley, surrounded by hi-tech giants and innovative start-ups. Though the area would suggest a meeting focused more on the applications of science, the AAAS is also the brand behind the Science magazine, pointing more towards a meeting concerning the newest investigations of natural science and basic research.
It was thus an open question, what would turn out to be the hot topic of the meeting, but as everywhere else, Big Data ended up winning that price.
Big data on everybody’s lips
The overall theme of conference was Innovations, information, and imaging. The first components leaned more towards the things surrounding science, as the trend seems to be at such meetings, than towards science itself; policy, education, security, communication, careers.
The way natural science was brought into the meeting – perhaps rather inelegant – was through the imaging-part. Covering everything from climate change visualization, the 25th birthday of the Hubble telescope, to 3D-reconstructions used in archaeology, the focal repeated point of the seminars seemed clearer and clearer, as the weekend progressed.
Every result be it in physics, anthropology, medicine, or linguistics, was backed and based on huge data sets processed on computers, using either general statistics or special programs or visualization tools to find patterns in the Big Data.
The future is duo-disciplinary
As with the scientific seminars, the ones concerning policies and education also could not stop emphasizing the importance of scientists, students, institutions being able to harvest the insights available from data.
In recent years, the one-most used adjective to describe the future within the education system and the professional sector is multidisciplinary. The question is though, if it should not instead be duo-disciplinary? An understanding of numbers, computers, and visualization could benefit most research fields, and would enable the sociologist, the biologist, the historian, and the doctor to create those wanted Big Data analyses within his group.
Dedicated Big Data groups that are being created in both Danish and US institutions will definitely be worth a lot for companies and universities. However, if data science did not only cross over to other academic disciplines on a consultancy basis, but was instead used on building general data literacy, way more new insights would be discovered. Entire new sub-fields might even emerge, when researchers start digging into their traditional fields from outside the box.
P.S. And if you wondered about the 7 continents: yes – Antarctic was represented with the measures on the Cosmic Microwave Background performed at a South Pole research facility.