The world will little note, nor long remember, what any retiring chairman says here, but 2000, with all its odometric symbolism, was one helluva year for the enterprise of science, the particular flagship of Science, and AAAS in general. And it was, for me, a singular honor to serve this wonderful organization as president through a millennial transition, and then as chairman through the year 2000 until the culminating annual meeting of February 2001 where, in the most portentous scientific event since the lunar landing in 1969, the leaders of the two teams that published their versions of the human genome that weekone in Science and the other in that competing publication whose name we never mentionaddressed our convention in plenary talks capped with standing ovations.
All proceeded apace in 2000, with more joy than gloom, both within AAAS and beyond in the larger world of national and international science. Within, we began the millennium (at its popular inception in 2000, pace the purists who insisted upon 2001) with a splendid, maximally attended, and profitable (both intellectually and fiscally) annual meeting in Washington, D.C.a gathering with an ecumenical and international flavor, capped by a stirring plenary address from Africa's leading woman educator (and scientist by original profession), the Vice-Chancellor of Capetown University, Mamphela Ramphele.
(My observation during this conference, and the two previous meetings of my administrative involvement with AAAS, engendered my most fervent bit of idiosyncratic advocacy as your presidenta plea that scientists alter their view of this annual gathering from an exercise in public relations and popular presentation alone, to a personal refreshment as well, for our own, often dormant but still heartfelt, interest in scientific work outside our immediate specialties, a widely shared ideal that so often fades in the reality of academic life. This joining of motivations in promoting public understanding, and also in enjoying important exchange among ourselves and for our own benefits, would greatly increase the quality of the meeting and also forge a bond between two consonant enterprises often falsely viewed as conflicting.)
Our educational, political, and institutional programs continue to grow and be generally effective. For example, we held a congressional briefing on stem cell research, continued our program for improvement of science education, both in general through Project 2061, and in particular in the D.C. public schools. Finally, after Bill Golden's prodding ever since the Truman administration, we had some initial successes (following a meeting between our president Mary Good and then Secretary of State Albright) in obtaining better representation of scientific expertise within the State Department. Meanwhile, the editorship of Science passed into the most able hands of Don Kennedy, who began with a big bang by publishing an increasing amount of pathbreaking science, along with thoughtful commentary and good reportingwith the publication of the millennium series of historical articles on various broad approaches to science (soon to be reissued as a book by John Wile) as an example in the second category, and the publication of the Drosophila and Homo sapiens genomes in the first. (We all appreciated the irony and realityand the triumphant utility of strong traditions for cooperation in science upon the behavior of an eminently fallible creature known as Homo sapiensthat both versions of the human genome appeared during the same week, with the public consortium's version published in the for-profit European journal Nature, and the private company's account appearing in our not-for-profit American journal Science). Meanwhile, Science continues to prosper mightily, and its on-line ventures show great strength and utility, particularly in bringing access to scientists in the developing world.
I do not wish (to cite a triple whammy of biblical metaphor) to end such
generally good news with a jeremiad based on Joseph's dream and Daniel's
imagery. At the close of Rich Nicholson's dozen years as executive officer,
the resources of AAAS have grown to a happy and unprecedented surplus
of solvency. But these more-than-seven fat years may, if we are not careful,
represent a monument with feet of clay. We own a beautifully new, wonderfully
functional and architecturally distinguished headquarters building in
Washington. But we have effectively no endowment (too bad we didn't just
put away $100 or so at our foundation more than 150 years ago, and just
let the interest accumulate!)and our current prosperity rests largely
upon the healthy, and still growing, advertising revenue attracted by
the print version of Science (a wonderful magazine, but with a
circulation already slightly, and entirely understandably, in decline
as electronic access, so favored by generations of younger scientists,
grows). Clearly this tenuous basis for prosperity cannot continue. And
so we struggle to bring our advertising surpluses into on-line versions
as well, as we also endeavor to build a more permanent and reliable basis
of solvency. May this effort, now in its infancy, soon reach the geological
stasis and pugnacious endurance of most successful natural species.