Throughout a year when the world’s eyes were upon science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science responded to the COVID-19 pandemic that dominated headlines throughout 2020 with evidence-based research, took steps toward systemic change as the national conversation turned to diversity, equity and inclusion, and pursued a wide variety of activities to advance science and serve society. Although the pandemic took much of AAAS’ work online, the association fostered virtual connections all year long to carry out its mission: to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.”
Responding to COVID-19
2020 began with news of an unusual pneumonia circulating in Wuhan, China and closed with health care providers and other front-line workers receiving safe, effective vaccines against the coronavirus. Throughout the year, AAAS and the Science family of journals worked to provide a wealth of resources to keep the scientific community, policymakers, journalists and the public well-informed about COVID-19.
From quickly adding sessions on the emerging COVID-19 to the 2020 Annual Meeting program to holding a series of SciLine briefings to ensure reporters have the latest information about COVID, AAAS was committed to sharing “credible, evidence-based research with decision-makers at all levels,” said Sudip Parikh, AAAS’ chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.
Parikh and Science Editor in Chief Holden Thorp also spoke out in editorials and statements, urging the scientific community to cooperate in addressing COVID-19 without compromising high standards and calling for policymakers to draw upon scientific expertise.
“We must ensure that informed perspectives from top U.S. public health experts are heard and shared,” said Parikh.
AAAS responded to social unrest that flared in the summer of 2020 in response to ongoing racism and inequality by recommitting to principles of diversity, equity and inclusion and to systemic change, observing #ShutDownSTEM, affirming that Black lives matter and inviting the STEM community to submit suggestions for how AAAS can effect positive change. AAAS began carrying out its own multi-part plans for addressing systemic racism in the sciences, including publishing a self-assessment of demographic data for its own programs and journal operations.
AAAS also continued ongoing work to champion diversity, equity and inclusion in the scientific enterprise. SEA Change welcomed its first charter members in 2020, as seven universities committed to systematically transform themselves into inclusive spaces for the full range of talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. The Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM and the HBCU Making & Innovation Showcase convened undergraduate and graduate students in STEM, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups and those with disabilities. Fellowships that boost the profile of women in the sciences, including the Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences and the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship, awarded funds to further female scientists’ research. The 125 women in science who serve as IF/THEN Ambassadors continued to be role models to middle-school girls.
Science Informing Policy
AAAS weighed in on a wide range of policy issues, offering recommendations on funding federal R&D to fuel U.S. innovation, speaking out against an Environmental Protection Agency rule that would undermine the agency's ability to incorporate scientific evidence in its decision-making, commenting on a proposed rule that would make it more difficult for foreign students to study in the United States and, at the end of 2020, vowing to work with President-Elect Joe Biden “to address critical challenges that would benefit from scientific expertise.”
AAAS programs also supplied policymakers with the scientific evidence to inform their decision-making, with the EPI Center focusing on such diverse and timely issues as election security, green infrastructure and drinking water contaminants. AAAS also fostered involvement of scientists in the policy process, as the Local Science Engagement Network launched public outreach events, the online CASE workshop introduced undergraduate and graduate students in STEM to science policy and a longstanding program that has proven effective celebrated its 48th year as a new class of Science & Technology Policy Fellows brought their expertise to the federal government.
Shortly after the 2020 Annual Meeting in Seattle – the 186th in AAAS history – AAAS pivoted to virtual evens. AAAS programs hosted scores of conferences, webinars, Zoom panels and Facebook Lives, among them the Science, Technology and Human Rights Conference, the AAAS Caribbean Division meeting, the Responsible AI series and the Virtual Paperless Media Program. AAAS also sent experts to external virtual events to discuss subjects such as the right to science, the role of science diplomacy in pandemics and the underrepresentation of women of color in STEM.
AAAS programs also carried out their missions virtually. AAAS Mass Media Fellows normally disperse to newsrooms across the country to bring their scientific expertise to the journalism world; this year, their orientation and work was virtual. This year’s cohort of Leshner Leadership Institute fellows convened virtually to kick off a year of public engagement activities. In addition to announcing the newest participants in the Science for Seminaries program, the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion launched a series profiling scientists who engage religious communities.
AAAS’ science education efforts went online, too. Science in the Summer pivoted to hands-on learning at home, and the programs that support STEM teacher education – Noyce and ARISE – also forged connections through online activities.
At the 2020 Annual Meeting, eight scientists were honored with awards from AAAS that recognized a range of achievements, from scientific discovery to public engagement. In November, 489 AAAS members were elected by their peers to earn the lifetime distinction of AAAS Fellow. The new inductees join thousands of AAAS Fellows, whose ranks include Nobel Prize winners and other scientists outstanding in their fields. The 2020 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Awards went to 16 winners across four continents. The awards program, which recognizes distinguished science reporting for a general audience, celebrates its 75th anniversary. Four authors of books on science for children and teenagers were awarded the 2020 AAAS/Subaru SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books.