Advancing Climate-Change Communication
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. 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.
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
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.
Scientific Rights, Responsibilities, and Freedoms
Women 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.