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Advancing Science, Serving Society: The Role of AAAS
The following is the speech Norman P. Neureiter gave in Shanghai at the International Forum on the Social Responsibilities of Scientific Organization, convened by the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology on 6 November 2008. Neureiter is the director of the AAAS Center on Science, Technology and Security Policy and senior adviser to the new AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy.
Good afternoon. We at AAAS are deeply grateful to SAST for inviting us to participate in this important International Forum on the Social Responsibilities of Scientific Organizations. And we also extend heartiest congratulations to SAST on its 50th birthday. Personally, this is only my second visit to Shanghai. My first trip here was 16 years ago—in 1992. At that time I worked for the American semiconductor company Texas Instruments (TI) and I gave a press briefing here to the local scientific and technical media. The next day there were headlines in the English language newspaper that a TI person was traveling around China with $150M in his pocket looking for a place to invest. That was a very large exaggeration, but I am glad to say that even though I have long been retired from the company, TI products do have a good place in the China market. I might also say that based on what is happening in the U.S. financial markets, no American today is traveling around China with $150M; in fact any Americans here today are probably looking for money from China.
But I am not looking for money. I am here representing the Washington-based AAAS—the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where I have worked now for 4 1/2 years. It is a fascinating institution—with a wide range of activities spanning all of science, engineering and technology. For a U.S. organization it is quite old—founded 160 years ago in 1848. It is a membership organization—with some 130,000 individual members, about 25% of them living outside the U.S. We have always referred to it as the world's largest general scientific society—but in terms of numbers, maybe we now have to reconsider that if we include CAST and all of its branch organizations in China. On a global basis, we are affiliated with 262 other scientific societies and science academies—and that means we represent something like 10 million scientists worldwide.
The flagship activity of AAAS is the publication of Science magazine. It was started in 1880 by Thomas Edison—America's most famous inventor—and it became the AAAS official journal in 1900. Science is one of the two most important, high-impact journals for rapid publishing of major scientific papers in all fields of science. It has over 1 million readers per week. Of our approximately 350 employees at AAAS, over 200 work for Science. It comes out every seven days—which always amazes me. Its weekly editorials on science policy issues throughout the world are far-reaching and, hopefully, influential on policy-makers. A recent issue had a very important editorial by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. The News section is a window on late-breaking science and technology developments anywhere in the world. We now have an excellent permanent correspondent named Richard Stone based in Beijing. Richard has produced many very good articles on China—covering some of your great accomplishments and also discussing some of the challenges facing your country as rapid development proceeds—development that is driven by a strong commitment to science and technology.
But today there is also a new trend in science publishing. It is toward the creation of new, highly specialized journals that will be mainly distributed on-line over the Internet. We have just begun a new one called "Science Signaling" and if it succeeds I suspect AAAS will have more such journals in the future.
Let me say just a word about our organizational structure, since it may be useful to know how AAAS is organized and managed. It is a completely private institution with no formal government involvement or direct government support—although we do compete for grants for specific projects from the government and often we work closely with government agencies such as the U.S. National Science Foundation.
The governing body of AAAS is a Board of Directors elected by the membership for a term of three years, from both the academic and business worlds. There is an annual election for the president. When elected, he or she serves for three years—the first year as president-elect, the second year as president and the third year as chairman of the board. And then it is goodbye. This provides for involvement of many different scientists in AAAS leadership and keeps the organization very fresh. The permanent face of AAAS is the chief executive officer or CEO, who manages the operation on a daily basis.
Our present CEO is Alan Leshner, whom many of you know because of his close association with China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) and SAST. I am also bringing with me a letter from him congratulating SAST on its 50th birthday. Dr. Leshner has been very active in developing AAAS relations with China. This picture shows him during a visit to CAST in Beijing.
AAAS also has four regional divisions for four different parts of the U.S. There is a Pacific Division, a Southwest and Rocky Mountain Division, an Arctic Division, and a Caribbean Division. They have regional meetings focused on issues and research pertinent to their particular regions. In addition we have 24 sections based on individual scientific and engineering disciplines, which gives us ties into the latest work in each field. Each year the sections nominate several hundred scientists in their fields on the basis of scientific accomplishment to become Fellows of AAAS. Today there are about 8000 of these scientists and engineers (men and women) with this title of AAAS Fellow.
It costs money to run such an organization. Primary sources of income are from membership dues, sales of site licenses for Science magazine and from the commercial advertising in the magazine. However, that is not enough to support all of our AAAS programs. Fortunately there is a strong tradition of philanthropic giving in the U.S., and gifts from wealthy individuals have been important to us. We also receive financial grants for specific projects or activities from many sources. Some of them come from government agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health. Other grants come from private foundations, particularly in the area of education, international cooperation, and fellowship programs. Some of the work we do is also paid for by the customer. For instance we have a research competitiveness service in which we put together a team to evaluate the research system at a given university. And last year we had a contract to participate in assessing the national research enterprise of a small country that wants to develop its scientific capabilities.
We believe it is useful for institutions to periodically reconfirm what they are about—to have a clear idea of their mission and their strategic goals. So last year in a one-day "retreat," away from the office, senior management and board members discussed and approved new statements of mission and goals for AAAS. That makes it easier to tell people what AAAS does and also reminds all of us who work there what we are supposed to be doing. It focuses the attention of the senior managers on the goals of the organization.
The mission of AAAS is "to advance science, engineering and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." That's been shortened into a simple slogan, "Advancing science, serving society." That phrase is easily said, but our job is to make sure it is well done. There are two points here to highlight. We speak of science as a global enterprise—not specifically an American one—and that science should serve the broad needs of the world's people, not just of Americans. Perhaps that is why AAAS is generally well-recognized and well-received around the world. And it is also why we emphasize our four-letter symbol—AAAS and not the whole name. That has become our "brand image."
Let me make a point about so-called "branding." Very briefly, one's brand is a name or symbol that always identifies one to the public. Here's a picture of my business card. Note that our long, official name does not even appear on the card. What you see is "Triple-A-S"—the way we are most often referred to. In addition to those four letters, the card also has the short version statement of our mission—"Advancing Science, Serving Society." Of course, this "branding" is an example of American marketing culture in action, but it does indeed give us a readily identifiable image and it does say clearly and concisely who we are and what we do. We would like our AAAS brand (and this AAAS logo) to be widely recognized throughout the world.
Our Board has also established a number of strategic goals for AAAS, which are seen as essential for carrying out the AAAS mission. Each goal has operational consequences in the day-to-day conduct of AAAS business. This one slide is perhaps the most important of my whole talk, since it clearly states what we see as our broad social responsibilities.
The first two goals address public understanding of science and urge more engagement with the public by scientists and engineers. In the seminar tomorrow, I will say more about these issues. But let me mention briefly each one of the others.
Many societal issues—energy, climate change, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, public health, food safety, etc.—all have strong scientific components and AAAS can be a public voice for science on these issues. We want to make sure that the policy decisions are fully informed by the relevant scientific facts.
Another issue is that sometimes science is misused or misrepresented in public policy debates. We want science to be used responsibly in those policy debates.
Next, promoting and defending the integrity of science refers to the importance of assuring ethical behavior of scientists and appropriate applications of scientific knowledge.
Next, science education for everybody means that we believe that science and technology are essential parts of modern life; and that there should be some level of science awareness and literacy in everyone's education. That is not an easy task in the U.S., since it involves thousands of locally directed school districts throughout the country. We do not have a centralized national educational system controlled by the federal government.
In addition, the education goal reflects our concern about the training of the future scientific workforce. We are also concerned about diversity which means achieving equal educational opportunity in science for racial minorities and women. Historically Afro-Americans, Hispanics and women in general have been under-represented in the scientific workforce and AAAS seeks to assure that career opportunities are independent of race and gender. And I do believe that one result of this week's absolutely historic election of Barack Obama as the next U.S. president will further this goal of diversity.
Next, strengthening support for the S&T enterprise means being concerned about the financial support of research and development and science education, since without that support—all of the other goals are meaningless. Hence we follow and analyze U.S. science budgets very closely and often comment publicly on perceived shortcomings or imbalances.
And finally, we strongly believe in promoting international cooperation in science—to solve common problems that affect all of the world's people, but also to look upon science as a basis for communication among nations where political relations may be poor or even hostile.
Think back for a minute to 1972 when President Nixon began America's engagement with the leaders of China. After almost 25 years of complete isolation of both nations from each other, science was one of the items on the agenda when the details of a new U.S.-China relationship were being negotiated. I was privileged to have been on the White House science staff at that time and was given the responsibility to prepare the first package of concrete cooperative science proposals presented to the Chinese leaders in connection with President Nixon's visit. And, as you all know, after formal diplomatic relations were established in 1979, science cooperation between our countries and the flow of Chinese science students and graduate researchers to U.S. universities grew at an enormous rate.
We very much believe in diplomacy for science and science for diplomacy. In fact, just this month AAAS created a new Center for Science Diplomacy, which will increase our involvement in international scientific activities and relationships around the world. Science and diplomacy can indeed complement one another.
Now, let's look at what kinds of specific activities result from these strategic goals. They fall into four broad categories: Science Policy; Science Education and Human Resources; Public Engagement; and International Activities.
This slide shows the programs in the policy area. Policy fellowships, R&D budgets, scientific ethics and the law, research competitiveness, science and the Congress, science and security, innovation and sustainability, I will only discuss a few of these.
One of the truly great activities that combines public policy and training is the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program. In China, so many of your senior political leaders at the present time have been educated as scientists or engineers. But in the U.S. that is not the case—there are very few scientists in the Congress or the political world. We believe that scientific and engineering training can be very valuable for people in leadership roles in society, since science and technology are such important elements in national development. Furthermore, the analytical and deductive skills of the scientist and the problem-solving skills of the engineer can make great contributions to many aspects of government policy-making.
This AAAS fellowship program is highly competitive, picks excellent people at the postdoctoral level and places them for one or two years in the Congress or one of the Executive Branch agencies of government where they work on important issues—in domestic or foreign policy, in international development, in national security, in nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in energy, in climate change—in any of the countless policy areas of government today. The program started with seven Fellows in 1973 and this year there are 165 of them placed in some 11 different federal agencies. There are over 2000 alumni of this program—about a third of them someplace in government, a third who returned to their research careers either in industry or academia, and a third involved in other careers. This fellowship program gives these people experience in the complex process of public policy-making and the Fellows themselves personally bring much-needed scientific information and thinking into Washington policy circles.
It is a fabulous program. When I was appointed in 2000 to be the first ever Science and Technology Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, I realized that my office needed more than three people if I was going to have any impact on getting more science into the making of U.S. foreign policy. I needed science wisdom distributed around many offices in the State Department. And we did it by greatly expanding the AAAS Fellows Program. Each year since then, there have been 35-40 such Fellows in the State Department, each for one or two years, and several have stayed on and made careers as U.S. science diplomats.
One of the most important places for these Fellows is in the Congress. Many people outside the U.S. do not understand the importance of Congress in U.S. policy-making. Without the approval of the Congress, the president cannot spend money and he cannot make new laws. Furthermore, the power of some individual congressional committee chairmen is so strong that they can pass a law against the president's wishes or stop a presidential proposal in its tracks by withholding the funding. One of the most valuable lessons for a Fellow from a year in the Congress is an appreciation of the complexity of this policy process and the subtle balance as well as competition between the executive and legislative branches of the government.
A second key policy area relates to the federal budget. In scientific circles people love to talk about science policy. But the real test of policy is where the government spends its money. Without a budget for implementing them, pretty words about science policy have no meaning. We all like to talk about science policy, but the facts are that the budget determines the policy.
Each year the president proposes a budget to the Congress. The federal budget proposal for FY 2009 that will be before the new Congress in January presently calls for $147 billion for research and development (R&D), with increases from the previous year only in defense and homeland security areas. Of course this was President Bush's budget proposal and now President Obama will have to deal with it after he takes over on January 20. In any case, each year, AAAS analyzes the president's proposed budget in great detail and follows what happens during the complex committee process in the Congress, where budgets are debated and can be changed—either up or down. These analyses of the budget provide the scientific community with valuable information about the possible impact on various fields of research and are important guides for universities and individual scientists in planning their own research programs. Certainly, with the U.S. running a high federal budget deficit, and the recent near collapse of the global financial system, the near-term outlook for science budget increases is not promising. But we shall have to see what President Obama chooses for his national priorities. As I said before, words can describe policy intentions, but only budgets truly make policy.
Congress also passes laws which affect science in many ways other than just the budget. So AAAS has created a Center which closely tracks all important issues related to science and technology that are being debated or considered in the Congress. This tracking is important because if one acts quickly, there is sometimes a chance to influence pending legislation in a constructive direction or to avoid legislation that would damage the U.S. science enterprise. AAAS is not officially a lobbying organization, but does take stands on certain issues. Examples are climate change, evolution versus creationism, nonproliferation of nuclear technologies, etc., and may provide relevant scientific information to the Congress on these issues as a voice of the science community. A short update on current issues and congressional actions of importance to the science community goes out by email to all AAAS members once a week.
The Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, of which I am the director, is a very interesting example of trying to bring scientific analyses and information into the Washington policy process.
The MacArthur Foundation of Chicago has been very active in the area of nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, protection of fissile material, and biosecurity. By 2004, they had funded 10 university centers, where strong scientific work was being done, to work on such issues. They also funded several institutes in Europe, in Russia, and here in China. However, they were concerned that there was no easy channel for the results of that work to get into the Washington policy process and to have any influence on U.S. policies. The solution was to make a grant to AAAS to establish a Center to serve as a two-way portal between academia and the Washington policy community, in the belief that solid scientific information about these security issues could influence congressional and administration decisions. That is how our CSTSP center came into being.
Because I used to work for a company, and companies have to sell products to be successful, in presenting to our Board I decided to tell our story in corporate marketing terms. Simply stated, we try to influence policy by providing the policymakers with scientific facts.
Very briefly, our product is factual, objective information. But we do not create it ourselves; we get it from suppliers—who are mainly universities, but also some other laboratories who working on the same issues. The market for our product is 12 different committees in the House of Representatives and 11 committees in the Senate, as well as bureaucrats in all the relevant agencies of the government. We also do what companies call advertising or "product support" by presentations to the media (because policymakers read and listen to the media), and we also do public informational events as well, since concerned citizens also write to their members of Congress and express their views.
Now one characteristic of the Bush administration—about which a lot has been written—is that in general they have not wanted science to interfere with ideological positions that they felt they were elected to support. However, many members of Congress are interested in science inputs and I am certain that we have performed a useful service. We also work closely with about 40 other non-government organizations (NGOs) in Washington, many of which have similar interests, even though some of them are politically strongly biased and serve more as lobbying organizations than providers of objective analyses. The Washington NGO community is a very important part of the decision-making apparatus in Washington, in addition to the 34,000 registered lobbyists who are hired by companies, private organizations and even foreign governments to work either for or against proposed policies and legislation.
One other important activity in the policy area is the Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and the Law. Through conferences and structured dialogues with judges, legal authorities, ethicists, religious leaders, and scientists as well as with similar groups from other countries, AAAS seeks to promote the effective use of science in the courts of law and to stress the importance of codes of ethical behavior in the conduct of science.
The AAAS education and human resources program is very much focused on elementary school science education all the way to the training of teachers at the university level. An important part of it also addresses increasing involvement in science of racial minorities and young girls, who do not routinely think of science and engineering for their career choices.
Project 2061 is a large program focused on the reform of K-12 science education in the U.S. It is named for the year Halley's Comet will return to view from Earth and has had three phases. The first was to define and then recommend what scientific facts and ideas educated people in the U.S. should know. The second phase was to provide some Benchmarks translating those recommendations into learning goals at various grade levels. And the third is a called an Atlas of Science Literacy and provides a roadmap on how to get from one level to another. They are wonderful learning materials. They have also been translated into Chinese and one of the great ironies is that they are perhaps being used more widely in China than in the U.S.—because of the highly decentralized U.S. school system that I mentioned before.
Another education project is called Science NetLinks and provides online lesson plans on a wide variety of subjects for K-12 teachers. But AAAS has many more activities to motivate young people to choose science careers and by promoting excellent teaching to help assure a strong U.S. scientific workforce for the future.
Education prepares young people for science careers. But AAAS also has multiple programs to introduce people to a wide variety of science-related jobs.
Science magazine in each issue has a large section on careers, including available jobs and the online ScienceCareers web site provides information on jobs, careers, grants, funding and even a ScienceCareers Forum with tips on finding the right job.
AAAS also has a wide variety of other activities related to science careers. Special efforts are made to increase opportunities for women and racial minorities in scientific positions.
Eureka is the Greek word that the great Greek mathematician and physicist Archimedes reportedly used 2200 years ago when he successfully determined the amount of alloy in a ruler's gold crown. It means "I found it," and AAAS has adopted it for a large science public information program called EurekAlert! Over 800 research-producing institutions continuously put their scientific news releases into a large EurekAlert! data base, which is keyword searchable by about 6000 registered reporters from 60 countries—who use the information in their articles. This web site is getting about 1 million visitors per month and is a great means for getting science news out to the general public.
And the exciting development is that EurekAlert! is now also running in Chinese and any reporters in the room can use it at any time. This is a powerful instrument for public communication of science, and having it also in Chinese is part of our increasing emphasis at AAAS on international cooperation.
The most important and certainly the biggest AAAS event each year is the Annual Meeting, always held for four days through a weekend in mid-February. In 2009 it will be in Chicago and the theme is "Our planet and its Life: Origin and Futures." The meeting attracts between 5000 and 8000 people—about 20% from outside the U.S. and hundreds of general and scientific journalists.
Last year there were attendees from 55 different countries. The meeting is packed with scientific symposia in nearly every discipline as well as general lectures on science, science communication, international cooperation, and the "hot" science topics of the day.
The Family Science Days event at the meeting has been hugely successful—drawing up to 2500 parents and children to participate in games and demonstrations—all designed to promote an interest in science. Many companies and organizations have joined in sponsoring or participating in this event.
Overall, the Annual Meeting is one of the great networking, multi-disciplinary science events of the year, when AAAS shows its many faces to the public as well as to the scientific world.
It is also a time when one can sample almost every aspect of AAAS' extensive public outreach programs.
There is a picture—supposed to suggest Albert Einstein as a baby—that appears in many AAAS advertisements. It has one message: Children are never too young to start being excited about science. From my perspective, I would also add that "one is never too old to learn something new."
Come to see us in Chicago. We guarantee that you will have a wonderful time and I am certain you will learn something new.