Advocacy for the Scientific Enterprise
28 January. In a letter to Capitol Hill, AAAS noted that “professional conferences benefit all scientists, including federal researchers and their agencies, by exposing them to findings from their colleagues.” While acknowledging the duty of the U.S. government to prevent wasteful spending, AAAS opposed efforts to severely limit the number of scientific conferences that federal employees are allowed to attend.
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.
29 April. AAAS contributed testimony for a U.S. Senate committee hearing on innovation. “Beyond the lives saved from cancer, the wonders and conveniences of technological innovation, and the security provided by cutting-edge defense research,” the testimony said, “investing in scientific research has a remarkable return on investment.” Although federal R&D investments help drive innovation and economic growth, AAAS reported, government support for science over the past decade has not kept pace with inflation. The situation has, in turn, had negative impacts on U.S. education as well as the production of published research.
23 May. Bipartisan support for basic research directed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) “reflects a commitment to future generations of scientists, engineers, and innovators,” AAAS wrote in a letter of thanks to two appropriators who had supported the NSF budget.
23 June. AAAS contacted policymakers to express concern about the Secret Science Reform Act, which could have unintended negative impacts on scientific advancement. The bill would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from making decisions based on “science that is not transparent or reproducible.” AAAS noted, however, that this language could preclude the use of data from one-time events such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or from very long-term studies that must be replicated using statistical models, rather than by reproducing experimental results. Earlier in 2014, AAAS had also urged lawmakers to change the so-called “Sound Science Act,” within the Farm Bill, because it included language that could hamstring and overburden science agencies.
11 September. AAAS sent a letter to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia, retired), commending his reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. The association noted that the legislation would help key science agencies sustain support for basic research across a broad spectrum of disciplines.
12 November. With other leading organizations, AAAS urged Congress to “close our nation’s innovation deficit” by increasing fiscal year 2015 investments in scientific research and higher education. AAAS, the Association of American Universities, and other groups asked policymakers to pass a single, sweeping “omnibus” bill to fund science-related agencies in 2015, rather than a series of resolutions that would simply continue funding at 2014 levels. (See www.innovationdeficit.org.).
Communicating Climate Change
7 November. In an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman of Texas, then AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner and climate scientist Camille Parmesan urged Texas education officials to reject draft textbooks, unless they were revised to correct the facts about climate change. Leshner and Parmesan cited an analysis by the National Center for Science Education, which had described some proposed language in the textbooks as “deeply concerning,” and “scientifically inaccurate.” The textbook language was subsequently changed. In addition, one of the publishers (McGraw Hill) requested and was granted a license by AAAS to use its “What We Know” climate-change report in future textbooks.
International Research Cooperation
17 December. U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan to establish new diplomatic ties with Cuba prompted a statement of commendation from AAAS. The new policy will expand travel to Cuba and facilitate the scientific exchange of research across educational institutions, AAAS noted. The policy change “will allow scientific peers to build collaborative activities that will enhance our scientific understanding in fields that go beyond politics and borders,” the AAAS statement said. “Examples include atmospheric research regarding hurricanes in the Gulf; avian flu and the emergence of new diseases such as the chikungunya virus; and the impact of natural disasters on marine life.”
Science Education and Opportunities
21 May. AAAS, together with a large coalition of science, business, and education leaders, wrote to members of Congress to support the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Citing a need for more skilled workers to fill in-demand jobs, the letter noted that career and technical education programs “provide greater opportunity for America’s youth and adults.”
1 July. “Gender equality should be part of any scientist’s basic training,” Shirley Malcom of AAAS wrote in an op-ed for SciDev.Net. “It should also be part of the culture and ethos of science.” Sadly, several studies have shown that both men and women who assess the quality of researchers’ work for funding, publication, or employment purposes give men a higher rating, even when the same credentials are being evaluated. Broader training as well as tailored awards, networking, and mentoring can all help to boost women in science, she said.
4 November. In a report issued by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the Coalition for Reform of Undergraduate STEM Education—including staff members from AAAS and other leading academic and research organizations—concluded that there has been disappointingly little incorporation of proven teaching methods in undergraduate STEM classrooms, despite decades of research on successful teaching practices. (See http://www.aacu.org/pkal/sourcebook.)
18 December. U.S. Census data should continue to include information on each respondent’s undergraduate field of study, AAAS wrote in response to proposed changes in survey procedures. Such information “allows federal agencies, universities, industry, and non-profit organizations to make more informed decisions in the development of new programs, the recruitment of STEM graduates, and the determination of investment opportunities,” AAAS said.
Scientific Rights, Responsibilities, and Freedoms
7 April. In a statement approved by its Board of Directors, AAAS strongly urged the U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty adopted by the United Nations in December 2006. “A majority of the world’s nations have subsequently become a party to the Convention,” AAAS noted.
10 September. In a letter to U.S. senators, AAAS wrote that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities “explicitly recognizes the rights of persons with disabilities to enjoy equal access to medical facilities, education, workplaces, and communications technologies.” AAAS urged policymakers to bring the treaty to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.
30 October. In 1974, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a wide-ranging statement that explained how and why governments should support and encourage scientific research. In 2014, AAAS advised UNESCO on how best to update this seminal statement “so that it reflects better today’s concerns about science in relation to society.” Revisions to the landmark Statement on the Status of Scientific Researchers should emphasize scientists’ responsibilities as well as their rights and freedoms, AAAS said.