News: AAAS News & Notes
Human Rights Program Rescues Computer Data
On April 7, thieves broke into the offices of Guatemala's human rights ombudsman, in a town about 150 miles from Guatemala City; several hours later, the home of a human rights advocate in the capital was also burglarized.
The crimes, which were reported by the Associated Press (AP) the next day, did not surprise Gustavo Meono, director of a group founded by Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu. He told the AP (New York Times, 8 April 2003) that thieves often target the offices and homes of human rights activists. They "come for information and take files and computer hard drives."
Guatemala City, where human rights organizations have recently suffered thefts of computer data.
What the thieves may not yet know, however, is that AAAS's human rights staff has devised a way of protecting the data that have become so precious to both sides in the effort to demonstrate who did what to whom during the country's civil war from 1960 to 1996. Some of the information collected in the stolen computers represented science-based evidence for prosecuting people accused of killings and torture, rapes and kidnappings, according to Alvaro Caballeros, an archivist at the Association for the Advancement of the Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO).
"The need for AAAS's help was related to security," Caballeros said. "Our archives are very important to our work collecting information and interviews regarding what happened during the war."
AAAS's data-protection project was carried out with funding from The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which recently provided $700,000 to allow the Association's human rights program to continue providing technical assistance and quantitative analyses for large-scale human rights data projects in Africa, Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe.
AAAS computer engineer Miguel Cruz flew to Guatemala in November, carrying a "giant black duffel bag, full of tools and computer networking equipmentcables, routers, hubs..." His job was to set up a system that would allow Guatemala's human rights groups to encrypt the information they generated and to have it automatically copied onto network servers managed from safe locations in other countries.
"We determined that the only really safe place to keep the data was out of the country," Cruz said.
Word of his work spread among the human rights organizations, and volunteers began showing up to help Cruz install the basic infrastructure that was missing in most of the buildings.
"I initially trained about half a dozen people in the basics of network
wiring, and they all pitched in, putting their jobs on hold to work late into
the evening wielding crimpers, digital cable testers, screwdrivers, and hammers,"
Cruz recounted. "In an incidental way, of course, the project has provided
some good old-fashioned direct development assistance, by providing hands-on
learning about cutting-edge technology. It wasn't the goal, but it's
a nice side-effect, especially considering that all the assistance actually
made the project faster and cheaper."
California Firm to Support Newcomb Cleveland Prize
A California company founded by a scientist who was awarded AAAS's venerable Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 1992 has decided to make it possible for other researchers to enjoy the same experience.
Affymetrix, Inc., of Santa Clara, CA, recently announced that for the next 3 years it will help underwrite the prize that recognizes the author or authors of an outstanding paper published in Science. The company, which develops state-of-the-art technology for acquiring, analyzing, and managing genetic information, was founded by CEO Stephen P. A. Fodor, lead author of a paper on microarray technology that won the prize for articles published between 1990 and 1991. With the support of his company, the prize's monetary award will more than double to a total $25,000 a year, making it one of the largest multidisciplinary awards in science. The prize will be awarded next at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February 2004.
Nominations for the annual Newcomb Cleveland Prize, the Association's oldest award, must be submitted by 30 June and entries should have been published in Science between the first issue of June 2002 and the last issue of May 2003. The work must have appeared originally as a research article or a report.
According to the criteria published on the Web site for the prize (http://aaas.org/about/awards/Newcomb.shtml), anyone but the author may submit a paper for consideration.
The site describes a valid entry as one that includes "original research
data, theory, or synthesis; is a fundamental contribution to basic knowledge
or a technical achievement of far-reaching consequence; and is a first-time
publication of the author's own work." Nominations should be e-mailed
Report of the 2003 Council Meeting
Held on 16 February 2003 at the Marriott City Center in Denver, CO
Report on Board Actions - AAAS President Floyd Bloom reported to the Council on the AAAS Board's activities over the past year. He noted that during the first full year of Alan Leshner's tenure as CEO, Leshner had worked with the Board to redefine the organizational mission and goals. Bloom said they had also discussed ways to help to reposition the organization for the 21st century.
Bloom explained that a new policy alert system had been initiated to keep key AAAS staff and the Board up to date on key issues and hot topics. He said the new system was designed to enhance the Board's timely consideration of key S&T issues and appropriate responses on behalf of the organization. He noted that close attention had been paid to legislation dealing with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and said that AAAS had worked closely with other groups to press for the creation of an Undersecretary for Science for DHS. Bloom said the Board also had focused its attention on issues relating to the impact of post-9/11 policy shifts on the conduct of science. He reported that the Board had issued a statement in support of continued research in therapeutic cloning, which was then used by AAAS staff in their efforts to inform members of Congress and their staff on the key issues and differences associated with this area of research.
Bloom stated that, in response to concerns raised at last year's Council meeting, as well as recent attempts by creationists and supporters of intelligent design to insert requirements for teaching of intelligent design theory into the high school science curriculum, the AAAS Board issued a resolution condemning such actions. The Council was provided with a copy of this resolution.
Chief Executive Officer's Report - Alan Leshner provided a state of the Association report and an update on efforts to position AAAS for the future. He noted that the organization had ended 2002 with a budget surplus, but stated that the general economic downturn and uncertainties related to the move to online publishing had led to a very conservative budget approach for 2003. Leshner said the organization's refreshed mission was to advance science and innovation for the benefit of all people. He indicated that the associated goals had led to the creation of new "centers without walls" to facilitate cross-cutting activities across the organization, noting that these centers would be focused on careers in science; public engagement in science and technology; science and technology policy; teaching and learning; and sustainable development. Leshner said that a visiting committee had reviewed the Association's science and policy programs, and had reported their recommendations to the Board. He added that efforts were now under way to implement those recommendations, and said that another visiting committee was being organized to take a fresh look at the education programs.
The Council also received briefings on the following programmatic efforts:
Science and Human Rights: Patrick Ball of the AAAS Science & Human Rights Program described efforts to apply information technology and statistical analysis to the understanding of human rights problems. He talked about his efforts in Kosovo to compare flow of refugees against actions by various factions and discussed the important role that this kind of scientific analysis was able to play in his testimony at the Milosevic trial in The Hague. He stated his belief that science forces even the most recalcitrant perpetrators to debate with facts and reason. Ball also discussed ways in which statistical analysis was being used on behalf of a number of truth commissions and with regard to other activities within the program.
Young Scientists: Crispin Taylor of Science's Next Wave briefed the Council on the progress of Science's Next Wave and MiSciNet (Minority Scientists Network), two career-related Web sites aimed at younger scientists. Shirley Malcom of the Education and Human Resources Directorate talked about other AAAS activities focused on career development, such as the various fellows programs; the Canon National Parks Scholars Program; the ENTRYPOINT! Access Program, which provides summer internships for disabled students; and the Merck/AAAS Undergraduate Research Program. Carol Manahan of the National Postdoctoral Association spoke about her newly formed organization for scientific postdocs and discussed the support they had received from AAAS and the Sloan Foundation in launching it. Elizabeth Kirk of the International Office talked about the National Science Foundation-supported Women in International Scientific Collaborations (WISC) Program.
The Council also received a report from Beth Rosner, publisher and director of the Office of Publishing and Member Services, and from Don Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science.
Whereas the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believes that it is essential that federal agencies receive scientific, technical, and medical advice that represents a diversity of informed views regarding the need for, and evaluation of, research and regulation in order that research and regulatory decisions are based on the best available scientific knowledge and
Whereas the Federal Advisory Committee Act regards advisory committees to be a "...useful and beneficial means of furnishing expert advice, ideas, and diverse opinions to the federal government" and requires advisory committees to be "fairly balanced in terms of points of view represented and like functions to be performed," and
Whereas AAAS believes that the "fair balance" requirement pertains to competence, disciplinary focus, and political and/or institutional allegiance among other criteria, and
Whereas the AAAS believes the selection, removal or replacement of advisory committee members, or the disbanding of advisory committees, based on criteria extraneous either to the scientific, technical or medical issues or to the adequate representation of stakeholder interests, compromises the integrity of the process of receiving advice and is inappropriate;
Therefore, be it resolved that AAAS calls on the federal government to ensure that the process of obtaining scientific, technical, and medical advice follows the letter and spirit of the Federal Advisory Committee Act and accords with democratic principles of governance.
Approved on 3/3/03 as a joint Board-Council resolution.