From February 14 to February 19, Boston was the science capital of the United States, hosting the Annual Meeting and Science Innovation Exposition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Thousands of scientists from the U.S., and not a few from abroad, converged to present papers, conduct job interviews, network with friends, and carry on all the activities typical of such professional gatherings.

But of course the annual meeting of the AAAS is not just another conference. Science is the dominant discourse of our culture, and its products—technology high and low—define this historical moment and arouse both great hopes and great fears for the century to come. The range of subjects covered is staggering. On the morning of Friday the 15th between 9:00 a.m. and noon, you could choose among sessions on avian cognition ("When Being Called 'Bird Brain' Is a Compliment"), predicting extreme weather, accuracy in media reporting of scientific issues, the archaeology of modern human origins, the farm crisis, the new computing, the future of personal use vehicles in China, and half a dozen more, including the excellent session I attended, "The Prefrontal Cortex and Cognition: New Insights into Willful Behavior."

From this immense variety you get a sense of the extraordinary enterprise that is modern science: an enormous collective effort, always building on the work of predecessors, crossing barriers of language and culture. Not content with ever greater understanding and control of the physical world, its reach extends far into the human social world as well.

Indeed, in his keynote address, Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden and president of the AAAS, presented science as nothing less than ...

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