Mark Frankel Leaves Strong Legacy at AAAS

Mark Frankel and family (wife Marlene Frankel, grandsons Jordan and Max, grand-daughter Lyla, daughter, Judy Solomon, and son-in-law Jonathan Solomon) attend his retirement celebration at AAAS headquarters | AAAS/Christine A. Scheller

After 30 years at AAAS, Mark Frankel wasn’t feted at an ordinary retirement party. Instead, the celebration of his tenure as director of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law program took the form of a symposium focused on the issues to which he has devoted his professional life. Two speakers at the 9 November event summarized the importance of these endeavors and –with Frankel at the helm—AAAS’ contribution to them.

“It was Mark who had the vision to see that the relationship between science and the courts was an important one, that having the [AAAS policy] fellows learn a bit about the courts was an important thing,” said the Hon. Barbara Rothstein, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Many cutting edge cases are now presided over by district court judges who have limited knowledge of science, she said. But ever since the United States Supreme Court ruled in the 1993 case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals that judges must be gate-keepers who ensure that juries hear credible, peer-reviewed science and not junk science, they have been charged with a responsibility that AAAS helps them shoulder. 

Explaining the importance of AAAS’ contribution, Rothstein outlined what it takes for judges to understand how science works.

Hon.  Barbara Rothstein | AAAS/Christine A. Scheller

“Science and law are two of the institutions on which a democratic and open society relies for progress, and these two are right up there with the most important things,” said Rothstein.

Communication between these two disciplines can be difficult because they have different ways of looking at things and they work on different timelines. Unlike science, which takes as long as it needs to repeat and test experiments, the law makes decisions in snapshots of time.

“As a result, sometimes we’re right and sometimes science will go on and show that some of the decisions made were incorrect, but you do the best you can on the information you have,” said Rothstein. 

With Frankel at the helm, AAAS initiated  activities designed to help judges understand these differences. In the late 1990s, for example, he led an effort to establish a resource for judges that would enable them to appoint scientific and technical experts to serve the interests of the court, rather than that of the litigants. In 2001, the resource took its first cases. In 2006, he and other senior staff organized what would be the first of a series of seminars for judges on how advances in neuroscience might impact the legal system. Ten years and twenty-five seminars later, the series is still a centerpiece of AAAS’s relationship with the judiciary.

Melissa Anderson, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Minnesota is also co-chair of the two most recent World Conferences on Research Integrity and chair of the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. She introduced a brief history of recent World Conferences on Research Integrity to highlight the evolution of global attention to this field, and included remarks about Frankel’s contribution to it.

“What happened at the conferences reflects in a general way what has been happening worldwide with regard to research integrity,” Anderson said. Frankel served on two of the planning committees for these conferences and in other key roles.

The topic of the first conference, in 2007, was trust, with speakers highlighting the trustworthiness of scientists. Before the next conference, several cases of scientific misconduct came to light—including those involving Hwang Woo-Suk in South Korea, Jon Sudbo in Norway, and Eric Poehlman in the U.S.—and the emphasis of the next conference was on curbing misconduct through policy, oversight and training. By the third conference, the field had advanced to the point that the focus was research on research integrity. The fourth conference adopted an ambitious agenda for improving research systems with emphases on the roles of funders, countries and institutions.Transparency and Accountability are on the agenda for the 2017 conference.

Anderson's journey through the conferences served as a useful way of showing how awareness of research integrity has “not only expanded globally, but also changed in nature – substantially – in only nine brief years.” The stature of AAAS as a scientific society shines a spotlight on the importance of scientific integrity, she said.

Melissa Anderson| AAAS/Christine A. Scheller

“Mark has stood front and center in that spotlight, standing up for the highest possible standards of integrity while always having a very sophisticated and nuanced view of how difficult it can be to determine what the right thing is in science in practice, particularly when you’re working with very complicated science, very complicated technologies, and crossing borders of disciplines and institutions, and countries," said Anderson.

Frankel came to AAAS in 1986, after serving as the first director of the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and said he invested three decades of his life to AAAS because his intellectually stimulating work with impressive colleagues in the organization enabled him to have an impact in the real world through engagement with NGOs and government policy makers.

A self-described good science student, Frankel was fascinated by the medical and biological sciences, but initially thought he might attend law school. He was inspired to go in a different direction by the innovations of his time, including the first successful human-to-human heart transplant in 1967. He earned a PhD in political science with an emphasis in science policy from George Washington University and wrote his doctoral dissertation on human subjects research, looking at the policy challenges associated with developing national oversight mechanisms for these critical studies.

From there, Frankel joined the faculty of the Wayne State University political science department, where he worked for five years before moving to the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1980. At IIT, among other things, he was a subcontractor on an NSF-funded grant to AAAS for a national survey of the ethics activities of scientific and engineering societies. That landmark study provided the foundation for most of AAAS’s subsequent work related to the role of scientific societies in promoting research ethics. Frankel came to AAAS on July 31, 1986, as only the second director of the AAAS Office of Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. He has been a member of AAAS for more than 40 years.

In 1990, Frankel took the helm of what became the AAAS Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law and began to build it into "a foremost center for research, debate, discussion and commentary on a broad range of topics related to scientific integrity,” said interim SRHRL program director Jessica Wyndham.

“Mark led AAAS in addressing meta questions such as the role of scientific societies in advancing and promoting research integrity as well as the potential merits and challenges of introducing an oath for scientists. He also built the reputation of AAAS, and utilized the convening power of the organization to address ethical and legal concerns in specific areas of scientific advancement such as  genetics, information technology and human enhancement,” said Wyndham.

The list of projects Frankel has spearheaded is long. They include production of a video on research integrity that is used in universities around the world, numerous workshops on implementing new government policies on the responsible conduct of research, collaboration on science ethics issues with the Chinese Association for Science and Technology,  a study of the ethical, legal and policy implications of conducting research with human subjects on the internet, a workshop on the ethical issues that scientists could face when engaging in public advocacy, policy recommendations for the ethical conduct of stem cell research, a global survey of scientists and engineers about their views on their responsibilities to the larger society, among others.

Frankel is clearly proud of the AAAS Coalition on Science and Human Rights, started by others but integrated into his portfolio of projects in 2011. He commented that “the Coalition is a model for what scientific and engineering societies can do when acting collaboratively to advance the role of science in promoting human rights worldwide.”   Likewise, the Geospatial Technologies Project, launched in 2007, helps NGOs and governments track human rights violations and has been asked by international and domestic legal authorities to present its findings as part of human rights litigation across the globe.

“There are a lot of things about Mark’s contribution to the mission of AAAS that have made a huge difference over time,” said Edward G. Derrick, Chief Program Director of the AAAS Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs. The association was already committed to doing these areas of engagement, but Frankel’s leadership elevated them to another level of effectiveness.

“We now have lines explicitly stating that this is part of the mission of the association. We have robust operations with a number of staff working on them. We’ve received major donations to continue to address issues of scientific integrity, in part because donors noticed the efforts Mark was leading back in the 1990s,” Derrick said. “Our reputation and reach have grown immensely over the years through his efforts.”

In addition to his visionary direction, Frankel is also known for the significant mentoring role that he adopted at AAAS. “Mark has helped nurture people in helping many of us appreciate the issues that arise at the intersections of science and society,” said Derrick. 

Frankel doesn’t tell people what to think. Instead he offers exposure to a wide range of ways of thinking about issues and he helps the science community appreciate that there are diverse approaches. He finds appropriate ways to represent the stakeholders in the conversation.

Wyndham noted that in the opening session of a conference co-hosted by AAAS and the US Office of Research Integrity, Frankel said, "Mentors should impress upon student trainees the ethical challenges involved in every phase of research. … Senior scientists should use the laboratory setting to ensure that those whom they supervise understand the values, ethical prescriptions, and institutional guidelines governing research."

His guiding philosophy can be summed up in the words of his presentation at the opening of the 2nd World Conference on Research Integrity held in Singapore in 2010, she added: “At AAAS, we believe that high ethical standards go hand-in-hand with quality research; they are two sides of the same coin. … The freedom to do research cannot be separated from the ethical responsibilities that researchers have to the integrity of their research and the larger society that supports them.”

“I see the future as very bright for AAAS,” said Frankel. He’s left a strong legacy behind to guide the way.