I’m just getting back to BIO 2004. There were two things that struck me about this particular meeting:
First, the prominent pitchmen this time were representatives of states and cities all over the country. They were hustling to lure companies to their state or city. There were “state affiliates” from 39 states. Six governors were there like Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney. The exhibition hall was organized around state groups with the technology companies associated with states pretty well tucked in with the promotion delegations. Maryland sponsored the biggest party of the conference; free flowing booze and food, entertainment for maybe 10,000 people. For some reason “Arnold” wasn’t there; but, hey, Mayor Newsome was. Watch out Governator, this guy’s a comer.
Second, if you want to see the face of tomorrow’s science leaders, don’t look for WASPs like me. BIO, the biotech industry trade organization, held a nationwide competition among high school students for the best projects in life science. They had 16 finalists on stage during lunch and presented “Genius Awards” to the top four. Only one had a name like “Smith” or “Johnson.” Fifteen were either or immigrants or first-generation American Chinese or Indians—and I don’t mean Native Americans. The winner was an Indian girl from Clovis, CA, who did a project with a title like an article from Nature. On the one hand, I’m distressed that American WASPs aren’t in the running in a science competition like this. On the other, I’m pleased that, around the world, there is an abundance of bright, science-literate and science-enthusiastic young people coming out of the cultures of the developing world. It’s good for the future.
Oh, and about the demonstrations: It’s part of the San Francisco experience. There were maybe 200 demonstrators one day and maybe 300 cops. They were kept up on the sidewalks, but when you crossed the street they were on the corners with notepads taking down names and employers from name badges. One girl yelled at me, “It’s funny that you’re with the American Cancer Society and you’re associating with these corporate polluters who are giving us cancer!” It was like that. “No GMOs!” “Don’t touch our genes!”