University of Vermont

Gund Institute for Ecological Economics

Scientific Road Trip: Boston or Bust

UVM scholars go to AAAS as science gets political

Researchers will present new findings -- on endangered bees, the future of Cuba, and green decision-making -- at AAAS, one of the world's top science conferences.

A team of five UVM scientists are hitting the road this weekend. Their destination? One of the world’s largest science conferences.

The researchers – all from UVM’s Gund Institute – have been handpicked to present their work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston from Feb. 16-20.

“We are excited to participate,” says Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute. “Five presenters – that’s a big honor.”

Thousands of scholars from across the disciplines are expected to attend, plus science journalists and policy leaders. Panel submissions were chosen by global experts. 

“It’s a great opportunity to share research, spark new collaborations and to ultimately strengthen environmental policy,” says Ricketts, Gund professor in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Science under Trump 

A quick look at the conference – with sessions like “Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump” – suggests it will be the most political in years.

President Trump’s immigration crackdown was largely denounced in academia, as universities worked feverishly to support international students and scholars affected by the travel ban. A March for Science, planned for Earth Day, is expected to draw thousands to the nation’s capital.

“Many scholars are concerned,” Ricketts says, citing key environment laws at risk and the rise of “alternative facts.” “This will be an important forum to discuss how the scientific community will react to this new political reality.”

Ricketts adds that the conference’s theme – “serving society through science policy” – chosen before the election, now reads like “an existential challenge.”

The race to save bees

Ricketts will participate in two panels: Plan Bee: Pollinators, Food Production, and U.S. Policy, and The Effectiveness of Ecosystem Services Science in Decision-Making. Joining him will be UVM postdoc Insu Koh, Gund affiliate and recent alum Stephen Posner, and colleagues from UC Berkeley, COMPASS, and government agencies including the USDA and EPA.

Ricketts, named among the world’s top-cited environmental scholars by Reuters for three consecutive years, will demonstrate how UVM’s national bee map can help policy leaders make better conservation decisions. He will also reveal new technology to help protect bee populations at risk.

Cuba's 'crown jewel' and Gitmo

UVM biologist Joe Roman, a Gund researcher from the Rubenstein School, has organized the international media briefing, Protecting the Crown Jewel of the Caribbean: Cuba’s Marine Ecosystems.

“Cuba is at the crossroads,” says Roman, who will update scholars and reporters on his provocative proposal to reboot the Guantanamo Bay military prison as a research center and peace park. He will also outline efforts to help Cuban scholars affected by the U.S. embargo to get published in academic journals.

“Cuba has some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world,” he says. “But will Cuba continue along a sustainable, eco-friendly path – or will there be areas with high-rise hotels as far as the eye can see like Cancun, Mexico,” says Roman, who has taught UVM courses in Cuba since 2012 and participates in Gund collaboration efforts with the island nation.

Co-organized by Environmental Defense Fund, the session will feature three Cuban marine scientists, including Patricia González Díaz, a Gund affiliate from University of Havana.

“We are very excited,” says Roman. “This is the first time that these top Cuban marine scientists have visited the U.S. together to share findings with the global community,” he says. “We are proud to host them.”

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