AAAS Establishes New Program in Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights, and Law

Two AAAS programs with a rich history of accomplishment have merged into a new Program on Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law.

The new program combines the former Science and Human Rights Program and the former Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program. It will continue many of the core activities from the former programs, including defending the freedom to engage in scientific inquiry, pioneering the application of science and technology to document human rights violations, promoting responsible research practices, and engaging the public and policymakers on the social, ethical, human rights, and legal implications of scientific advances.

Mark S. Frankel
Mark S. Frankel

“With the formation of SRHRL comes a commitment to exploring new areas of synergy between science, ethics, law, and human rights,” said Mark S. Frankel, the program director. “The historical relationship among them has always existed, but the merger offers real opportunities to look at them through a more contemporary lens.”

AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner sees the merger as a way to “combine the expertise of these two programs and do a better job leveraging their efforts.”

The new program draws from the highly successful work of its predecessors, both of which were established in the 1970s and were unified from the mid-1970s until 1990. As in the past, the new program will benefit from the advice of two standing AAAS committees: the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility and the National Conference of Lawyers and Scientists, a joint committee with the American Bar Association.

Committee members who helped to plan the merger were struck by the “commonality of issues” across the two programs, said Joseph Perpich, chair of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.

Perpich said the new program “brings the hope and promise of more opportunities for synergy and for new initiatives,” such as developing the use of social media in human rights investigations and continuing activities related to the ethical oversight of research.

Jessica Wyndham
Jessica Wyndham

Frankel said the new program will continue projects on research ethics and research integrity, judicial seminars to inform judges about cutting-edge research, and animal research.

Signature projects from the former Science and Human Rights program will also continue under the new program, including On Call Scientists, which links scientists to human rights organizations, and its Geospatial Technologies project, which most recently assisted Amnesty International-USA in documenting potential civilian casualties and displacement in Misurata, Libya.

Jessica Wyndham, associate program director, said the new program will enable AAAS to “increase its focus on the human rights implications of the conduct of science, including through the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, and to explore horizons we have not yet even considered.”