Countering Polarization and Isolation

Countering Polarization and Isolation

AAAS had a role to play to address increasing political and social polarization and isolation in 2021. Our long-standing programs in policy and science diplomacy helped inform national, state and local domestic policy decisions; elevate the role of science in foreign policy; and support legislation that encourages international collaboration between researchers. And in a year fraught with scientific mis- and disinformation, we shared best practices in science communication for engaging with and listening to underserved communities and encouraging discussions on science and society among traditionally disparate groups.

Choosing Innovation Over Isolation

AAAS remains a trusted, independent voice on scientific innovation that U.S. policymakers rely on to guide future legislation and executive actions. In 2021, we participated in two high-level roundtable meetings – one organized by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and another by the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology – on balancing the demands of national security with opportunities to participate in the global research enterprise. Isolating the United States from the rest of the world risks its position as the global leader in research and development (R&D) and weakens its ability to advance science and technology objectives in domestic and foreign policy, AAAS leaders emphasized during these discussions. Through our participation, we were able to inform policy language in the Senate innovation bill and a National Security Presidential Memorandum on research security released at the end of the previous administration. Contributions from our Catalyst Society and other Flexible Action Fund donors support this work and many of the other accomplishments highlighted here.  

Sharing Evidence

There was increased demand in 2021 for the AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center) to synthesize and deliver actionable, nonpartisan scientific evidence to address policymakers’ specific needs and concerns. After the extraordinary pressure on state election officials to keep voting safe and to counter fraud, election security was once again a key focus. The EPI Center summarized evidence on the risks of internet voting and provided nonpartisan, issue-based analysis to 216 decision-makers in Utah, Hawai’i, Alaska, Maine, Connecticut, Colorado and the District of Columbia.

Multiple jurisdictions considered the scientific evidence we presented in letters and meetings, and several changed course after understanding the evidence and speaking with our staff and the scientific experts we provided. In D.C., for example, the EPI Center engaged with members of the District’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety as they were considering a bill to allow for internet voting. Members of the committee, including the chairman, appreciated the evidence shared and declined to move the legislation forward, citing security and privacy concerns.

The EPI Center is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lyda Hill Philanthropies, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Sapere Aude Fund, the Zakaria Family Foundation, and other generous partners.

Countering Misinformation

Based on our experiences on the pandemic’s front lines in 2020 and 2021, AAAS hosted a panel, moderated by Science family of journals Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorp, Ph.D., that discussed where communication of basic facts about the pandemic went wrong. The discussion, which drew more than 500 viewers, emphasized the importance of social science research in improving communication during future crises.

AAAS Voices: Countering Science Misinformation launched in spring 2021, featuring scientists discussing some of the most prominent myths in their fields while providing trusted resources and constructive strategies to counter false or misleading narratives. Vaccines, climate change, HIV, artificial intelligence (AI) and sexually transmitted infections were among the topics in the engaging video series. All participants were former AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute for Public Engagement or AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellows. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researcher Anita Nikolich received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to build a game to teach senior citizens and middle school students about AI misinformation, partially as a result of NSF staff watching the AAAS video.

Pictured above, Director of Research and Technology Innovation and Research Scientist Anita Nikolich.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Dimmer, Illinois Institute of Technology

Bridging the Science-Religion Dialogue

On June 15, the DoSER program celebrated its 25-year anniversary. Support from the John Templeton Foundation has enabled DoSER to expand its outreach to new communities, offer resources to promote the religion-science dialogue, and address new topics at the forefront of these dialogues such as public health, artificial intelligence and social justice. This work was also supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in 2021. Additional gifts from AAAS Member Leslie Sternlieb have allowed us to expand our focus to climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of faith leaders sharing scientific information with the public, like those who have participated in DoSER’s Science for Seminaries project.

A Champion for International Science Collaboration

Geopolitical instability and political polarization within and between countries is on the rise at the exact moment that international relationships are urgently needed to address global challenges such as climate change and food and water insecurity. In 2021, our international and science diplomacy programs led vigorous efforts to strengthen relationships between the scientific and foreign affairs communities.

AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh, Ph.D., gave keynote remarks at the Marie Curie Alumni Association Annual Conference and the China Association for Science and Technology Forum, as well as at the Fulbright Denmark 70th Anniversary Symposium, on the need to build and increase trust in science internationally.

Parikh and AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy staff discussed opportunities for scientific collaboration during informal and wide-ranging meetings held in person in Washington, D.C., in 2021 with foreign diplomats and delegations from Austria, Cuba, South Korea and Switzerland. The center also hosted a virtual event on U.S. priorities for science and technology policy and the federal R&D budget for embassy representatives working on science, technology and innovation. The event was attended by 30 representatives of 21 countries and the European Union.

Fostering a Science Diplomacy Community

In 2021, the Center for Science Diplomacy launched the Ambassador Interview Series, interviewing ambassadors posted in Washington, D.C., on international science and science diplomacy topics. These conversations have shed light on shared concerns across countries regarding increased polarization in the world and the way in which science diplomacy can counteract this trend. In these interviews, ambassadors shared how their countries are relying on the power of science to improve relationships with other nations in their regions, including in cases where diplomatic relations are fraught, and addressed problems like the COVID-19 crisis.

The AAAS-The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) Science Diplomacy Workshop celebrated its eighth year by pairing scientists and policymakers from around the world to train practitioners from the Global South on science diplomacy. This year, 26 pairs from 22 different countries participated, 75% of whom identified as women. Along with the AAAS-TWAS annual course, the center helped organize a course on science diplomacy focused on the Asia-Pacific region and led by Akademi Sains Malaysia, and provided institutional support for a regional workshop on science diplomacy and innovation for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2021, the Center for Science Diplomacy conducted seven interviews with ambassadors from four different continents, highlighting the potential for science to help build relationships across borders.

Australia

Ambassador Arthur Sinodinos

Photo courtesy of Embassy of Australia to the U.S.

Cuba

Charge d’Affairs Ambassador Lianys Torres Rivera

Photo courtesy of Embassy of Cuba to the U.S.

Chile

Ambassador Alfonso Silva Navarro

Photo courtesy of Embassy of Chile to the U.S.

Austria

Ambassador Martin Weiss

Photo courtesy of Mahmoud Ashraf via Embassy of Austria to the U.S.

Switzerland

Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud

Photo courtesy of Embassy of Switzerland to the U.S.

South Korea

Ambassador Lee Soo Hyuck

Photo courtesy of Embassy of South Korea to the U.S.

China

Ambassador Qin Gang

Photo courtesy of Embassy of China to the U.S.

Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D.

Member Spotlight

Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s Tips for Knocking Misinformation out of the Ring

When it comes to fighting misinformation, the best defense is a good offense. Communicate the science well in the beginning and knock fraudulent claims out with the facts. That’s the advice that Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D., offers to science communicators.

Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, former dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and 2021 AAAS Fellow, Jamieson founded FactCheck.org in 2003. At the time, she and her colleagues didn’t see the need to create a separate area of the site for addressing misinformation about science. But over the past seven years, SciCheck has proved its worth, disproving the fraudulent claims of senators, news anchors and former presidents.

Jamieson’s research and outreach have increasingly focused on the role of political polarization in misinformation and disinformation. “The amount of disinformation that is highly accessible now is unprecedented in human history because we have access to the internet,” she noted. “But we also, as a result, have unprecedented access to good information.”

Jamieson participated in the 2022 Annual Meeting panel moderated by Science Editor-in-Chief Holden Thorp called “Does Science Communication Still Work?”

Photo courtesy of Margaret Hamburg

AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy

Donor Spotlight

In 2021, the AAAS Award for Science Diplomacy was renamed to honor two longtime champions for their unparalleled commitment to the significant role of science diplomacy in advancing peace, human rights and international cooperation: Drs. David and Betty Hamburg. Through their long careers in science and medicine, the Hamburgs shed light on the many ways in which science can serve as a common and nonpolitical language, bringing nations together through collaborative research and innovation to address enormous challenges and find solutions that benefit us all.

“David and Betty were dedicated to two core principles in policy and diplomacy: the value of a strong evidence base and an emphasis on human rights,” said John Rowe, professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University, who worked closely with the Hamburgs throughout their careers.

AAAS gratefully acknowledges Carnegie Corporation of New York for helping us launch the AAAS David and Betty Hamburg Award for Science Diplomacy, as well as the William T. Grant Foundation; Kenneth Davis, M.D., and Bonnie M. Davis, M.D.; Michael R. Douglas, Ph.D.; Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., and Mary E. Wilson, M.D.; the Andrew and Julie Klingenstein Family Fund; John W. Rowe, M.D.; and the other individuals whose generous support has begun an endowment that will allow us to sustain the award in perpetuity.