The 2023 AAAS General Election will open on February 20, 2023. Head here for more information about the general election slate and how to vote. Learn about President-elect candidate Mark S. Wrighton below.
Mark S. Wrighton, Ph.D., is currently President of The George Washington University while on sabbatical from Washington University in St. Louis. He served as Chancellor of Washington University for 24 years from July 1995 until summer of 2019 when he became the James and Mary Wertsch Distinguished University Professor and Chancellor Emeritus. Ahead of the 2023 AAAS General Election, our Executive Office asked Wrighton a few questions to find out more about what he has planned if he were elected to lead AAAS as its President.
How have past leadership experiences prepared you to assume a leadership role within AAAS?
My life’s work has always been closely aligned with the mission of AAAS. Throughout my career, much of what I have found most fulfilling is the opportunity to contribute to the betterment of society through the advancement of knowledge.
My leadership in academia began in chemistry research and teaching, progressing to chemistry department chair and provost of MIT, then Chancellor of Washington University, a role I held for 24 years. I am now serving as President of The George Washington University. In these roles, I have been extraordinarily gratified to advance sciences, engineering, medicine, and social sciences. This work was made even more meaningful by supporting the development of new and diverse talent for important fields, and leveraging the university enterprise to serve a broader community locally, nationally, and globally. My work in higher education has also granted me opportunities to engage in the public policy arena, having served as a presidential appointee to the National Science Board, and through active membership and leadership in the American Association of Universities (AAU).
What unique role(s) can/should AAAS play in the scientific enterprise?
Stemming from its large membership and engagement with leaders in science, engineering, medicine, and social sciences, AAAS is positioned to be uniquely influential for advancing science and its applications to benefit all of humanity. The Annual Meeting draws exceptionally talented people from all disciplines of the scientific enterprise and provides a unique forum for presentation of new advances of broad significance and for discussion of the implications for society. It also draws leaders from those who contribute to developing U.S. policy and leaders of organizations that implement federal policy.
A second critical role that AAAS plays in the scientific enterprise is the publication of original research findings in its Science Family of Journals. Its premier status stems from the rigorous peer review of articles submitted for publication and from the broad readership of articles published. No other U.S. research journal has the breadth of extremely high-quality publications. Science further contributes uniquely to the advance of the scientific enterprise through news, commentary, and book reviews for a broad community interested in the advancement of science to benefit society.
What are the most important items for which AAAS can advocate?
First, U.S. investment in R&D as a fraction of GDP, should be increased. Years ago, the U.S. ranked first in the world and now we are ninth. Many of the advances from U.S. investments have brought important benefits to the U.S., but also to the world. The promise of returns from enhanced U.S. investments must be communicated to the public broadly and to those who set federal policy. AAAS can play a major role in this communication and advocacy effort.
Second, education at all levels, both domestically and internationally, must be strengthened to ensure that there is a continuing stream of prepared innovators to fuel future advances in science and technology. Education will also be essential to building public confidence, understanding, and investment in science. Overcoming disparities in economic well-being and access to healthcare depends on an educational enterprise that is accessible to provide opportunities to all people. Advocating for stronger education and rewards in the workplace by AAAS should be a top priority to advance science and its application.
Third, solving many of the important problems before us requires advances in science and engineering. But problems like climate change; the need for new energy sources without adverse effects on the environment; human health challenges like infectious diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, cancer; social consequences of aging populations; and overcoming poverty require contributions from many disciplines. Many of these problems require input from social sciences, and faster progress can be made by cooperation among different disciplines, institutions, and countries. With its scope of areas of engagement by talented people all around the world, AAAS is well-positioned to advocate for addressing global problems in the most effective ways.
What excites or inspires you most about the future of the scientific enterprise, and, more specifically, AAAS’ role in that future?
The benefits of science and technology have not yet been realized worldwide. AAAS can be effective in international diplomacy by building on relations with members in many countries, in order to contribute to bringing benefits of new science to the world. AAAS can also be at the forefront in advocating for that brighter future. From the recent scientific milestone in the quest for fusion energy, to new drugs for slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease, advancing science is the compelling agenda for AAAS.