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AAAS Reminds New Administration to Acknowledge Contribution of Research to Progress




Donald Trump spoke at an event in September 2016 | MICHAEL VADON/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS CC BY 4.0

In letters addressed to Cabinet nominees of then President-elect Donald Trump, AAAS CEO Rush Holt listed specific ways science can bolster and clarify the important work of certain federal agencies, then offered the assistance of AAAS, and its more than 100,000 members, to help ensure that science plays its important role in providing solutions to complex challenges.

“The U.S. scientific community writ large, and the AAAS in particular, are American assets at your disposal,” Holt wrote. “We look forward to working with you and your team ... to ensure that you are able to draw on high-quality scientific evidence to craft policies that best serve the American people.”

The letters sent to those chosen by Trump to head some of the nation’s most important government agencies were just one example of the ways AAAS has mobilized since the November presidential election to make sure that the voice of the science community is heard, to remind the incoming administration of the benefits to quality of life and economic progress of scientific innovation, and to involve scientists and scientific evidence in the ongoing process of creating government policy.

On the day after the election, Holt released a statement in which he said the president-elect should appoint a respected scientist or engineer to the position of science adviser as soon as possible, in order to accomplish the goals Trump outlined in campaign promises, particularly regarding the health of the American economy and job market.

“President-elect Donald Trump must be prepared to advance science, technology, and education to drive economic progress, innovation, and jobs, and to improve people’s lives,” Holt said in the statement, which was quoted in the Washington Post.

Holt, who served 16 years as a representative to the U.S. Congress before becoming chief executive at AAAS, spoke out again on 17 November, in a Science editorial that was picked up by NBC News. In the article, Holt spoke directly to scientists, saying they must present relevant evidence to policymakers, “clearly, directly, and without condescension.”




“We must make clear that an official cannot wish away what is known about climate change, gun violence, opioid addiction, fisheries depletion, or any other public issue illuminated by research,” wrote Holt, who is also the executive publisher of the Science family of journals. “This election is said to have been about rejecting the political establishment. We cannot let that mean rejecting established facts.”

On 23 November, a coalition of 29 leaders of scientific and higher education organizations brought together by AAAS Director of Government Relations Joanne Carney issued a statement again urging Trump to name a qualified science adviser. The message was also direct-tweeted to the president-elect and provoked mentions in many publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Motherboard, and the Huffington Post.

To help the scientific community stay informed about transition news and AAAS engagement, AAAS has launched a special online information hub, which will be updated throughout the first 100 days of the new administration. The information center offers everything from background on the Cabinet nominees and information regarding the role that science plays at each agency and department, to recent science-related editorials on the transition, updates regarding the Senate confirmation hearings, a rundown of articles from Science related to the transition, and a link to the information needed for individuals to contact members of Congress. Soon, the AAAS team will launch an email newsletter with science-related news about the new administration, which will be available through a sign-up process hosted on the website. AAAS also created an opportunity for members to contribute ideas for questions that could be asked during Cabinet nomination hearings via the AAAS Trellis website.

Meanwhile, the 2017 AAAS Annual Meeting, to be held in Boston 16-20 February, will offer resources to scientists and aspiring scientists wanting to communicate their research results effectively to the public and government. The meeting, with the theme Serving Society Through Science Policy, will bring together top experts in informing policy with scientific evidence. The program includes a workshop entitled “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering” for students interested in the role of science in policymaking, offering advice for how to advocate for research throughout their careers. Another offering provides all symposia speakers and moderators with a free Presentation Rx communication consultation to hone their methods for explaining their research and why it is important.

As Holt said in a 20 December Motherboard editorial directed to young scientists, groups such as AAAS offer opportunities for scientists and engineers to engage in policy, methods for advocacy and engagement, and communication training—in other words, the tools to maximize the impact of their work.

“The promise of science to uplift the next generation of innovators, drive prosperity, and ease human suffering is a powerful message,” Holt wrote. “So, speak up. Keep focused. Carry on.”

This article appeared in AAAS News & Notes in the January 27, 2017, edition of Science.

[Credit for associated image: Pixabay by CC 0 PUBLIC DOMAIN]