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Incoming AAAS CEO Rush Holt Encourages Science Policy Advocacy

SAN JOSE — Americans and their representatives in Congress don't always understand "how science works and what is needed to sustain it," incoming AAAS CEO Rush D. Holt, Ph.D., said at the start of the 2015 AAAS Annual Meeting.


Above: Alan Leshner and Rush Holt; Below: Robyn Williams| Atlantic Photography Boston

The former congressman from New Jersey hopes to change this, by encouraging increased engagement by AAAS' members in the fields of science education, science and public policy, and science and society. Members can help make the case that "science will be able to give people the facts that they need to solve the problems in front of them," Holt said.

Reporters at the event asked Holt and outgoing AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner about ways that the organization might be able to inject science issues into the 2016 U.S. elections. AAAS has a long history of science advocacy, both speakers said, providing substantive information on issues such as climate change to campaigns and pushing for science questions to be included in national debates.

But Leshner acknowledged that it has been difficult to get science recognized on the national political stage. "It's tough, because they're not scientists, and the issues are some of the toughest issues facing the country, and if you're running for office, it's often best to punt as much as you can," he said.

Holt, a physicist, said he "never felt fettered in his political career" when discussing science issues, but looks forward to working directly with scientists again. Over the course of his career, Holt has held positions as a teacher and as an arms control expert at the U.S. State Department. From 1989 until 1998, he served as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the largest research facility of Princeton University.

At the breakfast, AAAS presented science journalist Robyn Williams of Australia's ABC Radio National with a certificate of recognition for his 37 years' attending the AAAS Annual Meeting. Williams' radio program The Science Show celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.

The 181st Annual Meeting officially opens tonight with the presidential address by Massachusetts Institute of Technology geneticist Gerald Fink. More than 8000 attendees from 60 countries have already gathered in San Jose for the conference.