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AAAS Board to Launch New CEO Search

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner, executive publisher of Science and a long-time advocate of science communication and public engagement with science and technology, has announced his plan to retire from the association after nearly 13 years of service.

Leshner, whose career has spanned contributions as a neuroscientist, psychologist, and science administrator, joined AAAS on 3 December 2001, taking over the chief executive role from Richard S. Nicholson, who had held the position since 1989. In announcing his retirement plan, Leshner commended his colleagues and expressed optimism for the organization's future: "I believe we collectively have set the association on a path that will serve it well long into the future, and, therefore, I leave with full confidence in the long-term health of AAAS and the Science family of journals."   

News, AAAS statement, Leshner 0023 third, 25 Apr 2014
Alan I. Leshner | ©

Leshner notified the AAAS Board of Directors on 25 April that he will remain in place until a successor is identified and installed. The Board immediately launched a broad recruitment effort to identify a new chief executive for the association.

Phillip A. Sharp, chair of the AAAS Board of Directors, commended Leshner's contributions to the association and to society: "Alan has been a fabulous leader of AAAS," said Sharp, Institute Professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "He has advanced science at every level of society, all the way from Main Street, to grade-school and high-school students, to public and global forums. We wish him great success in his next phase of life, and we look forward to recruiting a new AAAS leader to carry on his remarkable accomplishments."

Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, described Leshner as "a great leader for AAAS and a superb public representative of the value and of the integrity of science." The association is "indispensable for all fields of science both inside the United States and internationally," Cicerone added. "AAAS provides an essential platform for discussions of issues in science-its progress, opportunities for participation in science, of conduct in science, and of any barriers to science.

During his tenure with AAAS, Leshner launched the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, reflecting his view, as expressed in a 14 February 2003 editorial in Science, that "simply trying to educate the public about specific science-based issues is not working." Citing increasing conflicts at the intersection of science and society, he called for "more open and honest bidirectional dialogue about science and technology and their products, including not only their benefits but also their limits, perils, and pitfalls."

Toward that end, AAAS since 2001 has established Family Science Days, now a popular feature of the association's annual meeting; a successful series of Communicating Science workshops for scientists and engineers; and an array of efforts intended to raise awareness of the importance of science to every aspect of modern life. Through Congressional testimony, op-ed articles, and letters, Leshner has served as an advocate on issues ranging from the importance of teaching evolution, to the reality of global climate change and the importance of federal funding for research and development.

Recently, for example, Leshner co-authored a Washington Post op-ed, with U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tennessee), on the importance of federal funding for basic research. The piece urged an end to the practice of mocking basic research projects with unusual titles, and it pointed out that "the United States may now risk falling behind in scientific discoveries as other countries increase their science funding." Amid continuing U.S. science-budget cutbacks in 2013, Leshner testified that a federal government shutdown represented "another serious blow" to the American scientific enterprise. "Undermining the nation's support for research will not resolve our fiscal problem," he told policymakers. "Instead, it will exacerbate it, slowing down the engine of discovery that drives innovation and economic growth."

In other communication efforts, Leshner has consistently maintained that ideology must never "trump" scientific advancement. In a 28 November 2003 Science editorial, for example, he defended National Institutes of Health research focusing on the behavioral and social aspects of issues such as HIV/AIDS transmission, drug addiction, and sexuality. "Whenever science is attacked on ideological grounds, its integrity and usefulness are threatened," he wrote. "Society cannot afford for moralistic dogma to replace scientific judgment when the public's welfare is at stake."

Over the past two years, in concert with the AAAS Board of Directors, Leshner has provided leadership for a far-reaching institutional transformation initiative. That effort, based on long-range strategic planning and research, will build on the association's strengths by enhancing its engagement with its members and positioning the Science family of journals to provide leadership in science communication. Already, AAAS has expanded its digital capabilities under a newly recruited Digital Media Officer, Robert Covey. In addition to the association's flagship journal, Science, AAAS launched its sister publications, Science Signaling and Science Translational Medicine, during Leshner's tenure. This year, AAAS announced plans to launch its first digital-only, open-access journal, Science Advances, in 2015.

In recruiting a new AAAS CEO, Board Chair Sharp said that efforts would focus on "identifying a future leader who will carry on Alan's outstanding work with the AAAS transformation initiative, recognizing the many exciting future opportunities in the realms of scientific and electronic communication."

Before joining AAAS, Leshner was widely credited with improving public understanding of drug addiction as a brain disease rather than a moral failing. He served as director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse from 1994-2001.

Earlier, he had been the deputy director and acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health. He also held a variety of senior positions at the National Science Foundation, and spent 10 years at Bucknell University, as Professor of Psychology. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Franklin and Marshall College, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physiological psychology from Rutgers University. An elected fellow of AAAS, the National Academy of Public Administration, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and many other professional societies, he is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science, and served on its governing Council. He was appointed to the National Science Board by President Bush in 2004 and reappointed by President Obama in 2011.

AAAS was founded in 1848 and is the world's largest, multi-disciplinary scientific and engineering society.


Ginger Pinholster

Former Director, Office of Public Programs