The giant panda is a conservation icon, but science has been slow to take up its cause in earnest. In the past decade, researchers have been making up for lost time, as reflected in the flurry of activity reported at the symposium Conservation Science for Giant Pandas and Their Habitat at the 2009 International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) in Beijing. In reports addressing topics ranging from spatial ecology to molecular censusing, from habitat recovery in newly established reserves to earthquake-induced habitat loss, from new insights into factors limiting carrying capacity to the uncertain effects of climate change, this symposium displayed the vibrant and blossoming application of science to giant panda conservation. Collectively, we find that we have come a long way, but we also reach an all-too-familiar conclusion: the more we know, the more challenges are revealed. While many earlier findings are supported, many of our assumptions are debatable. Here we discuss recent advancements in conservation science for giant pandas and suggest that the way forward is more direct application of emerging science to management and policy.