Science Informing Policy

Science Informing Policy

AAAS works to bring evidence-based information to the policy decisions that shape our world. A range of programs communicates the stance of AAAS on critical societal issues, helps scientists and engineers engage with policymakers, and provides policymakers with distilled scientific information on the many science-related topics they encounter. AAAS programs also help scientists and engineers advocate for the funding and conditions necessary for a robust scientific enterprise.

Bringing Science to Critical Issues

AAAS spoke out forcefully on critical issues affecting human health and welfare through 12 public statements, some of which are referenced here:

AAAS warned against proposed budget cuts to research as a risk to our nation’s scientific progress and to its associated benefits of better health, a stronger economy, a more sustainable environment and a safer world.

AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh spoke out against visa restrictions affecting immigrant and nonimmigrant scientists as a threat to U.S. scientific leadership, pointing out that immigrants conduct research to “develop medical treatments, track the spread of COVID-19, improve food safety and do much more.”

When then-President Donald Trump promised to end a National Institutes of Health grant for bat coronavirus research partly conducted in China and it was subsequently canceled, AAAS urged Congress to use its oversight authority to ensure that the integrity of government science agencies is not compromised.

Immediately following the announcement of the presidential election results on Nov. 7, AAAS officials said, “We stand ready and willing to assist efforts at the national and state levels to address critical challenges that would benefit from scientific expertise, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, national and energy security, and scientific and economic competitiveness.”

AAAS CEO Testifies Before House Budget Committee

At a July 8 congressional hearing on U.S. innovation and economic recovery, Parikh called for an update to the 75-year-old policy framework that directs federal investment in scientific research, pointing out that U.S. research and development is far below its peak level and below the investment levels of nine other countries.

“We should be investing more than we are right now in order to compete with other nations in science, technology and innovation,” he said.

He also recommended increased coordination of the federal response to crises facing the United States and a commitment to using scientific evidence to foster racial equity in science and national policymaking.

Helping Scientists Engage Locally

In 2020, AAAS helped bring scientific input to local policy with a nationwide strategy called the Local Science Engagement Network.

In Colorado, for example, scientists, local and state leaders, and academics collaborated on climate-related issues including renewable energy, emerging technologies and natural resource management. The network, which is designed to build communities of scientists willing to be regularly engaged in problems important to local communities, is also active in Missouri and Georgia.

Colorado state Sen. Kerry Donovan, who represents the state’s central mountain region, said the program’s fact-based arguments, combining science and public policy positions, will attract public support and advance solutions.

The LSEN, which is entirely philanthropically funded, was supported by The David R. and Patricia D. Atkinson Foundation, Reiner and Nancy Beeuwkes, Jerry A. Bell and Mary Ann Stepp, Gary and Denise David, the Delta Foundation, Bruce A. Fowler and Mary J. Sexton, the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment, Benjamin C. Hammett, Rush Holt and Margaret Lancefield, the Sapere Aude Fund, Leslie Sternlieb, and several other contributors.

As a computer scientist, Juan Gilbert uses his expertise to ensure voting is more secure and more inclusive, having developed a software system called Prime III, which provides different modes of operation for a single device that can accommodate all voters regardless of mobility, vision, hearing or other impairments.

“If you have one machine that everyone could use independent of their ability or disability,” said Gilbert, “you get not only more equity, but also a more secure environment” by avoiding separate machines that might be susceptible to tampering.

Gilbert, a professor at the University of Florida, is also working on how to address bias in artificial intelligence (AI) and leads a research group in equitable AI. Another of his creations is a software tool that uses AI in evaluating and comparing students’ applications to increase diversity.

Gilbert considers computing a crucial arena in which to address inequity in society.

“We have to have diversity in these disciplines because they make society better,” he said.

Photo Credit: University of Florida

Scientific Evidence for Policymakers

The AAAS Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues or EPI Center, which distills scientific information for policymakers, focused on critical issues in 2020 — from green infrastructure to drinking water contaminants to election security.

As election officials prepared for the November election amid the raging pandemic, the EPI Center made sure the officials were aware that internet voting remains vulnerable to manipulation and privacy invasions, according to extensive validated research.

The EPI Center joined other organizations and experts to share the scientific evidence on internet voting with governors, secretaries of state and election directors throughout the country.

The EPI Center intervened when a bill was being considered in Puerto Rico that would have implemented internet voting there. After staff from the office of Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced met with representatives from the EPI Center and partner organizations, she vetoed the bill, calling for an amended version that would address “concerns about the security of online voting.”

“This is just such a wonderful manifestation of the vision of the EPI Center and what it was meant to do — provide that help to policymakers and bring evidence-based decision-making into policy,” said Parikh.

The EPI Center is supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore, Rockefeller, David and Lucile Packard, and Rita Allen, and Alfred P. Sloan foundations; the Carnegie Corporation of New York; the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Luisa and Robert Fernholz; the Hellman family; the Sapere Aude Fund; the Wolfensohn Family Foundation; and the Zakaria Family Foundation.

Science and Technology Policy Forum

In its 45th year, the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy offered several sessions on the pandemic crisis and the unprecedented demands it has placed on the scientific community in terms of research speed, resources and collaboration. The forum explored the pandemic’s disruption of the scientific enterprise, educators, students and academic institutions — exposing strengths and weaknesses in the scientific research ecosystem.

The event also provided discussion on, among many other topics, the societal inequities laid bare by the pandemic. The forum organized conversations about racial injustice both in society at large and in science. Forum organizers said the gathering was a call for science to lead by example in the fight against racism and to help find pathways toward greater equity and justice in society as a whole.

Science & Technology Policy Fellowships

A 2020 independent evaluation of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships showed the program has a profound impact on the workings of government as well as on the scientists who work as fellows in congressional offices, federal agencies and the judicial branch of the federal government. Many fellows remain in government jobs, incorporate their government experience into their academic research and teaching, lead professional organizations, bring their scientific expertise to political office, or otherwise become involved in the development of the nation’s science policy.

“We have long assumed that this program is highly effective. The outcomes can be seen all around us in the thousands of alumni working at the intersection of science and policy, and it serves as a model for virtually every other fellowship that brings science to all levels of government at home and abroad,” said Parikh. “Now we have quantitative evidence.”

The fellowship program, in its 47th year, places more than 250 scientists in the federal government each year.

The program received its largest-ever challenge gift in 2020. Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs and his wife Joan offered to match up to $2 million to establish an endowment to support two new AAAS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellows on Capitol Hill in perpetuity.

Early-Career Scientists Engage With Science Policy

The AAAS Office of Government Relations went online during the pandemic to urge undergraduate and graduate students in the sciences to advocate for policies that strengthen the scientific enterprise.

The Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering Workshop, which traditionally has brought science, technology, engineering and math students to Washington, D.C., each spring, was offered in a webinar format in June. For the past six years, the CASE Workshop has culminated in visits to the offices of the students’ House and Senate representatives. This year, the online presentation not only outlined specific topics needing advocacy by the early-career scientists, but also offered tips on how to best engage virtually.

Because the COVID-19 pandemic paused scientific research at federal laboratories and universities, undergraduate and graduate students in STEM are being asked to help push for policies that will ensure funding will be sufficient when research can safely resume.

The webinar workshop also asked the early-career scientists to speak out for reasonable immigration policies for international students and researchers, many of whom had returned to their home countries because of the pandemic.

“In 2020, despite the challenges of the pandemic, AAAS was as active as ever in science policy and advocacy,” said Erin Heath, director of federal relations in the AAAS Office of Government Relations. “We shared various ways to conduct virtual advocacy, including how to set up a meeting with congressional offices, how to work with institutions and scientific societies on science policy issues, and how to get involved with our new Local Science Engagement Network. Although we certainly missed meeting the CASE students in person, it was wonderful to be able to engage with them on screen.”