Public Statements on Key Issues

AAAS continued in 2015 to advocate for the scientific enterprise through testimony, letters to policymakers, op-ed articles, and other outreach efforts. In particular, the association urged adequate, sustained U.S. federal support for research and development; action to address global climate change; broader international research cooperation; advances in science education; and more.

Advancing Climate-Change Communication

29 October. Five decades after the first official climate-change warning to a U.S. President, and shortly before a historic summit in Paris, AAAS organized a daylong symposium and a related policymaker briefing to call for action. “Climate Science, 50 Years Later” featured presentations by more than a dozen prominent scientists who described the impacts of climate change, based on scientific evidence, and evaluated options for the future. “The climate is changing at a pace and in a pattern that is not explainable by natural influences,” said John P. Holdren, a past AAAS president who serves as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We know that with global temperature about 0.9 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, these changes are already causing significant harm to life.”


CARLA SCHAEFFER/AAAS

24 November. AAAS and seven other leading organizations expressed “grave concern” about a Congressional inquiry that unfoundedly called into question the integrity of federal scientists whose research, published in Science, seemed to debunk claims of a global-warming slowdown or “hiatus.” In a letter to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, the group acknowledged the importance of appropriate congressional oversight of federally funded research, but emphasized that “scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial.”

7 December. As members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation prepared for a hearing on the magnitude of human impacts on the Earth’s climate, the AAAS chair sent a letter to Capitol Hill, confirming the scientific consensus on the reality of human-caused climate change. “Climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver,” Gerry Fink wrote, referencing an earlier statement of the AAAS Board of Directors.

Advocacy for the Scientific Enterprise

21 April. In a letter to U.S. policymakers, AAAS expressed concern about the America COMPETES Act, noting that it did not follow key principles for steady and sustained real growth in the major federal research agencies. AAAS had earlier teamed up with other organizations to develop a set of Guiding Principles for reauthorization of the COMPETES Act. The AAAS letter urged policymakers to reconsider language that seemed to restrict the National Science Foundation’s ability to build new major research facilities, while barring Department of Energy-supported research from being used in evidence-based federal policymaking.

21 April. Responding to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report on the detrimental impacts of policies that have prevented many federal employees from participating in scientific conferences, AAAS and dozens of other leading organizations decried the restrictions: “Current policies are reducing government scientists’ and engineers’ participation in scientific and technical conferences while the administrative cost of overseeing these activities has increased significantly,” the group wrote to top policymakers.

27 February. Neuroscientists are poised to make dramatic advances in understanding the brain and its disorders, but research efforts must be carefully coordinated and adequately funded, AAAS testified during a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee hearing. The launch of two large, multidisciplinary collaborations—the European Commission’s Human Brain Project and the U.S. BRAIN Initiative—should help to accelerate progress in understanding the brain and brain disorders, then AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner said.

27 April. AAAS President Geraldine Richmond expressed deep concerns about unintended consequences of the Secret Science Reform Act of 2015, in a letter to policymakers. Language in the legislation would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from using research conducted during one-time events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, she noted. The legislation would also require a level of reproducibility that would be impossible for very long-term studies, which are usually tested and verified using statistical modeling. While transparency and high research standards are essential, Richmond said, unrealistic requirements could have a chilling effect on research, and increase costs. Earlier in 2015, AAAS and more than two-dozen other organizations sent a similar letter to the U.S. House Majority Whip. Richmond also wrote to the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee about the same issue.

1 June. Gerry Fink, AAAS chair, wrote to policymakers to oppose appropriations language that singled out four National Science Foundation (NSF) research directorates for increased funding, yet left out the important work of the Geosciences and Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences area. Fink referenced the AAAS Geospatial Technologies Project as an example of exemplary work in the overlooked fields. Such projects “provide critical information on the impact of remote, isolated conflicts on civilians; a host of human rights violations; damage to sites of cultural heritage; environmental and social justice issues; cross-border conflicts; and indigenous rights,” Fink pointed out.

19 June. The 21st Century Cures Act was commended by the AAAS chair, in a letter to members of the House of Representatives. The legislation “authorizes roughly $1.5 billion in increases over three years and creates an Innovation Fund of $2 billion per year over five years,” significantly supplementing regular appropriations to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Gerry Fink noted. “Robust, sustained funding for NIH is the pathway to progress.”

25 October. AAAS CEO Rush Holt appeared on MSNBC’s “Up With Steve” program, arguing for more sustained, robust U.S. federal funding for science and technology. “In every area of human welfare, there are real gains to be made” through scientific research, Holt said. “We are nowhere close to investing as much as we could productively invest.”

11 November. In an op-ed for New Scientist, the AAAS CEO urged policymakers to “unshackle U.S. science,” by dropping spending caps that were suppressing funding for research and development. “Science and technology are the wellspring of innovation, new jobs and economic progress, but the United States is underinvesting in them,” Rush Holt wrote. A bipartisan budget deal reached in late October provided much-needed relief for federal science agencies, he noted. However, the deal was set to expire after two years, meaning that it was only a temporary solution to the spending caps known as “sequestration,” which took effect in 2013.

Gun-Violence Research

3 December. In response to news headlines about mass shootings, AAAS once again called for a better understanding of the root causes of gun violence by freeing up research funding for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research funding had been essentially frozen for two decades. “It is time for Congress to approve sensible steps to study gun violence as a public health issue,” the AAAS CEO said. “Quite aside from the ongoing political debates over gun control, it is essential that unbiased scientific research be used to gather data on this spreading epidemic that claims so many lives each year. The epidemiology of gun violence has been underfunded for far too long.” Holt added that there also is a role for science to play in providing technological solutions to gun violence, including safer guns that can only be fired by authorized users.

International Engagement

19 August. Marty Moss-Coane, whose popular public radio program offers insights on an eclectic range of topics, spoke with the AAAS CEO and then Chief International Officer Vaughan Turekian about the U.S.-Iran nuclear agreement, Cuba, climate change, Ebola, and more. The conversation, which aired on WHYY’s RadioTimes program, also included historian Audra Wolfe. Scientific progress “depends on the free flow of ideas, and evidence-based thinking is central to it,” CEO Rush Holt said. “Those things have democratizing and civilizing effects. Science can actually advance diplomacy and improve political and diplomatic relations.”

11 September. Science diplomacy was also the focus of a Science Friday segment in which host Ira Flatow interviewed the AAAS CEO and the Chief International Officer. CEO Holt, who had earlier joined other leading physicists in signing a letter to President Obama that endorsed the Iran Nuclear Deal, noted that being a scientist comes with both benefits and civic obligations to communicate science to the public, and to policymakers.

Science Education For All

25 September. The world needs talented scientists to solve the problems of the 21st century, but talent is wasted when women and minorities face obstacles that keep them out of the field, said Shirley Malcom of AAAS, in a live-streamed TEDxMidAtlantic talk. Malcom, who also serves as co-chair of the Gender Advisory Board of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development, and of Gender InSITE, called for Americans to recognize that talent can come from “every nook and cranny of this country,” and to value diverse perspectives in the sciences. “Today, in 2015, we have got to make a decision as a nation,” she said. “Do we choose to use the talent that is available, or do we choose to give in to the stereotypes about who does or does not belong?”

TEDx TALKS

7 December. With the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear arguments on a case challenging the use of race-conscious admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, AAAS joined the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and nine other organizations in filing an amicus curie (or “friend of the court”) brief, noting that “student body diversity leads to significant educational benefits and prevents the harms of social isolation.” Shirley Malcom, director of Education and Human Resources at AAAS, also took part in a media briefing organized by the AERA.

CASE workshop

Scientific Rights, Responsibilities, and Freedoms

31 March. In response to news headlines regarding challenges to the integrity of science, AAAS reaffirmed its commitment to robust, independent peer review as well as the sharing of research results through publications and public discourse, in accordance with well-crafted transparency policies and procedures. “AAAS remains dedicated to promoting the responsible conduct and use of science, and it asks individual scientists and engineers to remain vigilant in ensuring the transparency of the scientific enterprise,” the AAAS CEO wrote in a statement.

Women in Science

13 August. Institution leaders and others in the science community must do more to create welcoming environments for women, minorities, and other underrepresented groups, and “call out unfairness whenever and wherever it appears,” the AAAS director of Education and Human Resources wrote in a Science editorial. “The science community prizes objectivity, but research indicates that this isn’t necessarily reflected in the behavior and choices of scientists,” Shirley Malcom wrote. She noted that AAAS and the Science family of journals were looking internally to make improvements, while also looking outward to society colleagues so as to evaluate larger structural barriers to equality and diversity in science.

4 November. In response to a letter from U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-California), who had expressed concerns about gender bias, sexual harassment, and assault against women in science across the community, AAAS President Geraldine Richmond announced that AAAS would play a leadership role in combating such injustices. Noting that such cases are “abhorrent, unacceptable, and inconsistent with the long-standing values of AAAS,” Richmond announced that the association would organize a national Forum on Implicit Bias in Peer Review, to encompass grant-making and publication. She also described a wide range of long-standing AAAS efforts to advance the careers of women in STEM fields.