Science Policy

AAAS provided objective scientific insights, promoted an awareness that science can help drive our economy and improve quality of life, and offered professional-development opportunities for scientists and engineers.

OFFICE OF GOVERNMENT RELATIONS

AAAS Government Relations helps to convey the wide-ranging value of the scientific enterprise to policymakers, through direct communication with Congress, Capitol Hill briefings, and evidence-based science and technology updates. The group also offers authoritative, ongoing analysis of federal research and development investments.

AAAS Joins Innovation Campaign

AAAS teamed with dozens of other leading organizations to urge Congress to “close our nation’s innovation deficit” by increasing federal investment in scientific research and education for fiscal year 2015. Joining with such groups as the Association of American Universities, AAAS asked lawmakers to employ a long-term innovation strategy by passing a single, sweeping bill to fund science agencies, rather than continuing with piecemeal resolutions to hold funding at 2014 levels.

The AAAS letter—from national business, higher education, scientific, patient, and other organizations—pointed out that the representatives of both political parties have “highlighted the need to address the innovation deficit,” which was described as the “widening gap” between actual science funding levels and the level needed to ensure that the United States continues to be an innovation leader.

The letter also said that passing continuing resolutions has “suspended and impaired ongoing research projects, and caused uncertainty to our nation’s scientific and innovation enterprise” during a time when other nations are ramping up their research funding. (See www.innovationdeficit.org.)

Graduate Students Dive into Advocacy

AAAS began workshops in 2014 to introduce science and engineering graduate students to the role of science in policy-making and to provide them with the training and tools necessary to advocate for scientific research.

The first Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop came about after federal budget sequestration measures went into effect in 2013, cutting critical research funding, which graduate students protested strongly. Seeing the energy of the students, who formed such groups as MIT’s Stand With Science initiative, AAAS joined with other institutions to create CASE.

“It’s my duty as a constituent to inform the people I vote for about the issues that are important to me,” said Laura Shum, a first-year student at the University of Rochester Medical Center and one of 63 participants in the inaugural workshop.

The workshop drew Capitol Hill staffers and offered lessons in communicating with Congress. “It’s always good to have students come speak to Congress because they represent the future,” said workshop co-organizer Abby Benson, assistant vice president of research and federal relations at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

CASE workshop

For two days, more than 60 students at the first Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop got a crash course in science policy and advocacy. They also worked in small groups to negotiate a mock federal appropriations bill. [AAAS/CARLA SCHAFFER]

Golden Goose Awards: Medicine, Economics, Physics

Researchers whose work led to improved outcomes for premature infants, the telecommunications revolution, and the development of modern web browsers won Golden Goose Awards in 2014.

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee) and a coalition of organizations including AAAS launched the awards in 2012 to support federally funded basic scientific research—especially research that might have sounded unusual—as the backbone of American innovation, economic growth, health, global competitiveness, and national security.

The winners included Saul Schanberg, Tiffany Martini Field, Cynthia Kuhn, and Gary Evoniuk, who conducted research showing that massage improves the health outcomes of children born prematurely; Robert Wilson, Paul Milgrom, and R. Preston McAfee, whose research on game theory and auctions encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to auction wireless spectrum licenses, enabling the telecommunications boom; and Larry Smarr, for his research on the dynamics of black holes, which later led to the creation of Mosaic, a predecessor of modern web browsers, including Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Neuroscience and Society Series

With support from the Dana Foundation, AAAS has continued its Neuroscience and Society Series, examining such issues as the interaction of neuroscience with the law, the difference between good stress and bad, and what neuroscience research tells us about sleep.

Four open-to-the-public events were held in 2014, and featured top experts in their fields, who shared their latest insights. Another event, a well-attended Capitol Hill briefing, focused on possible advances in the treatment of autism, which could involve drugs that would target the neurochemical messengers that are released at the brain’s synapses.

Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy

Recognizing the significant value of real data and evidence in public policy decision-making, AAAS included a session in the 2014 Forum on Science and Technology Policy focused on involving scientists and engineers in policy.

Entitled “Making Science Matter,” the session looked at a wide range of ways to prepare scientists and engineers for interactions with policymakers. Speakers at the session recommended local-level involvement for scientists such as running for the school board, as well as increased communication training, particularly at the graduate-student level but also for career scientists, and participation in a coalition called ESEP (Engaging Scientists and Engineers in Policy). The new group has been compiling fellowship and internship opportunities, and convening scientists and engineers to emphasize the value of their involvement in policy.

SCIENCE, POLICY, AND SOCIETY

The AAAS Center of Science, Policy, and Society Programs (CSPSP) brings scientific expertise to the world
of public policy through a prestigious annual forum and a fellowships program that places scientists and
engineers in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of federal government. CSPSP also supports
programs that provide technical expertise on human rights issues, encourage dialogue between
science and religion, and promote ethical research practices.

2014 AAAS S&T Policy Forum

Holding up his phone at the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Forum, Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, listed smartphone technologies that would not have been possible without basic research in university and government laboratories: GPS, the touchscreen, the LCD monitor, rechargeable lithium batteries, integrated circuits, and the Internet.

Rawlings’ illustration was a plea for federal research and development funding, which has dropped by $24 billion since 2011, according to 2014 AAAS figures.

The annual forum, organized by CSPSP, draws more than 400 elected officials, government and business leaders, researchers, foreign embassy staff, and educators. Keynote speaker John P. Holdren, science advisor to President Barack Obama, reiterated White House support for science and technology, pointing to a climate assessment released in 2014 that details the likely impacts of climate change in different regions of the country and in different sectors of the economy.

White House counselor John Podesta discussed a report that spells out the scientific value of big data but calls for enhanced privacy protection for consumers.

Education leaders at the forum addressed strengthening the ties between science and art; presented active, engaged-learning approaches to STEM education; and reaffirmed the importance of supporting historically black colleges, which help to ensure diversity in science and technology by graduating an exceptionally high percentage of students in those fields.

John Podesta

White House counselor John Podesta at the 2014 S&T Policy Forum. [AAAS/CARLA SCHAFFER]

Geospatial Technologies Project

In the first comprehensive investigation of the damaged historical treasures in war-torn Syria, AAAS analysis of satellite images confirmed reports of damage and destruction at five of six World Heritage sites. The analysis was undertaken by the AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project.

Among the damaged sites is the ancient city of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating to the 2nd millennium B.C. The satellite images indicated that the Great Mosque of Aleppo, the Suq al-Madina, the Grand Serail of Aleppo, and other buildings of priceless historical value were destroyed.

Another AAAS satellite-image analysis focused on the Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka. About 2,000 displaced citizens wish to return to their homes on the peninsula now that a long civil war has ended. Their petition for return awaits consideration by a Sri Lankan high court. Although the government and military say that parts of the region are being released from military control for public purpose, satellite images show new construction but few new public facilities such as hospitals, and there is evidence of new military-run tourist facilities in the area.

Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

At the height of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, current and former AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows worked with healthcare professionals to offer a presentation at AAAS. Organized by the fellows’ Global Health Affinity Group, the event focused on the dire situation faced by healthcare workers—both in regard to the deadly illness itself and secondary health problems that went largely untreated at the height of the crisis—and the need for additional caregivers. (See also the International section.)

Other events offered by the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships program included a symposium on the need for neuroscientists to share the huge amounts of data they generate so that others might glean additional insights. In addition, a lecture by former fellow and AAAS Board member Rosina Bierbaum—a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and the lead author of the U.S. National Climate Assessment—advocated simultaneously addressing climate change and sustainable development for the 1 billion people who live in poverty, without energy or clean water.

The fellowships program received two significant honors. The National Science Board awarded its Public Service Award to the program for building connections between science and policy for more than 40 years. Also in 2014, the first international, regional initiative modeled after the AAAS program was launched by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)—the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellowships (for more information, see the International section).

Ebola healthcare challenges

Experts convened by the Health Affinity Group of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships program described Ebola healthcare challenges. [AAAS/KAT ZAMBON]

Science, Religion, and Perceptions

Seeking a deeper understanding of the attitudes of religious people toward science, AAAS and Rice University conducted a survey of 10,000 respondents, including evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, who were asked about their perceptions of the nature of science and scientists.

“Understanding the interests and concerns of a largely religious public regarding science is key to effective engagement,” wrote Jennifer Wiseman and Paul Arveson, director and senior program associate with the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. The AAAS program subsequently sponsored community-based workshops around the country that brought together local scientists and religious leaders.

Promoting Ethical Research

The AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law Program hosted experts from the United States and China to discuss research ethics at a seminar in 2014. They acknowledged the need for shared values and standards as scientists looking to solve global problems become increasingly collaborative.

Extensive efforts by the Chinese Ministry of Education are underway to ensure scientific integrity within a research system that is not only expanding exponentially in terms of funding and publications, but that rewards scientists who publish despite heavy workloads and compliance responsibilities. Ethics training, however, targets students at university or in graduate school, not earlier, and experts at the meeting said other approaches are also needed.

“Strengthening academic integrity education for graduate students should be the responsibility of the whole society,” said Diange Yang, Deputy Dean Responsible for Research Work and International Cooperation at Tsinghua University. “It should be done from childhood.”

The program also convened two seminars for federal and state judges on the implications of advances in neuroscience for the legal system, and four public meetings.

ELISS Scholars Tackle Societal Problems

Aiming to prepare graduate and professional students to solve complicated problems by collaborating with experts outside of their fields, AAAS helped launch the Emerging Leaders in Science and Society (ELISS) program in 2014.

Starting with team building, the students chose three issues of concern: mental health stigma, food choices and diet-related diseases, and the use of open space for sustainable design. “Problems, from how to eat more healthily, to climate change require people to work together across disciplines, sectors, and geographies,” said Melanie Roberts, a founder of the ELISS program and its director. “Traditional graduate education doesn’t give students many opportunities to put their work in a larger context.”