Congressman Rush D. Holt, Ph.D., who will retire from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of his eighth term, has agreed to join the world's largest general scientific organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), as chief executive officer and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.
He will succeed Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., who had previously announced that he would be stepping down as AAAS CEO.
Rush Holt | holt.house.gov
Holt, a research physicist and former teacher, will serve as the 18th chief executive of the 166-year-old non-profit, non-partisan AAAS after his legislative term ends, during the association's 2015 Annual Meeting, February 12-16, in San Jose, Ca.
Efforts to advance science, promote public engagement with science and technology, and ensure that accurate scientific information informs policy decisions — core AAAS activities — have also been central to Holt's long record of public service. Under its mission, AAAS seeks to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." The association fulfills that mandate through global science diplomacy; programs to expand and diversify the science and technology workforce; authoritative analysis intended to guide U.S. science policy; and science-education reform activities.
As examples, Project 2061 at AAAS works to help all Americans become more literate in science, mathematics, and technology, while another respected program provides policymakers with objective assessments of federal research and development funding trends. Annual AAAS Family Science Days encourage thousands of young people to take part in hands-on science-learning activities, and to learn about "cool jobs" in science. The association's Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowships program has been placing scientists and engineers in newsrooms for the past 40 years, and AAAS satellite-image analysis leverages science in service of human rights. These and an array of other programs allow AAAS to "advance science and serve society."
Alan I. Leshner has served as the association's CEO and executive publisher since December 2001. In April, Leshner, a long-time advocate of science communication, international research cooperation, and dynamic interaction between scientists and the public, had announced his plan to retire, after 13 years of service to AAAS.
"Rush Holt will be a great leader of AAAS and a powerful spokesman for science both nationally and internationally," said Phillip A. Sharp, chair of the AAAS Board of Directors, who serves as an Institute Professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "His career as a scientist, educator, and public servant, uniquely prepares him to take the reins of AAAS from another great leader, Alan Leshner."
Holt, 66, has represented Central New Jersey (12th District) in Congress since 1999. He earned his B.A. degree in physics from Carleton College in Minnesota, and he completed his Master's and doctoral degrees at New York University. In 1982-83, while he was teaching physics and public policy at Swarthmore College, Holt was selected by the American Physical Society to receive a highly competitive AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. The 42-year-old Fellowships program, which places outstanding scientists and engineers in executive, legislative, and Congressional branch assignments for one or two years, now includes nearly 3,000 alumni working worldwide in the policy, academic, industry, and nonprofit realms. Holt has said that his AAAS S&T Policy Fellowship was "life changing," and served as a springboard to his role in Congress.
"AAAS, as one of the world's most respected non-profit, non-partisan organizations and publisher of the leading Science family of journals, helps to promote scientific progress and to improve human welfare," Holt said regarding his acceptance of the leadership role at AAAS. "I look forward to supporting the association's mission to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world, for the benefit of all people."
AAAS Board member Laura H. Greene, the Swanlund Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, described Holt as an effective advocate for the importance of science to society: "Rush Holt has long been a champion of a broad spectrum of scientific research areas, and of education," she said. "He very effectively communicates with the public and policy makers, and he brings exciting new ideas to the table. Those abilities will help AAAS to achieve an even greater role in supporting international scientific collaborations and advances."
On Capitol Hill, Holt has established a long track record of advocacy for federal investment in research and development, science education, and innovation. "We have to invest in this country—private sector and public sector—in research," Holt told a reporter after famously beating the IBM supercomputer Watson in a "Jeopardy!" exhibition game intended to promote innovation. "We're under-investing [in research], and we're under-investing in science education." Holt has also broadly promoted the value of science communication, particularly for conveying information about climate change, and he has said that "thinking like a scientist" can benefit the policymaking process.
Rush Holt reflects on his early interests in science and policy. | AAAS/Carla Schaffer
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. As a result of his alternative-energy research, Holt in 1981 was issued a patent on an improved solar-pond technology for harnessing energy from sunlight.
Holt's science- and education-related roles in Congress have included service with the Committee on Education and the Workforce; the Committee on Natural Resources; and the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. He serves as co-chair of the Research and Development Caucus, and he sits on other caucuses related to children's environmental health, renewable energy, sustainable development, Alzheimer's and diabetes disease research, biomedical research more broadly, the Internet, community colleges, and more. He is a recipient of the Champion of Science Award from the nonprofit Science Coalition, a group of more than 50 leading public and private research universities.
Oversight of a far-reaching transformation initiative and the 2015 launch of a new open-access journal, Science Advances — efforts set forth by the AAAS Board of Directors — will be among Holt's first responsibilities as the new CEO of AAAS. The transformation initiative, based on long-range strategic planning and research, will build on the association's strengths by enhancing its engagement with its members and by positioning the Science family of journals — including Science Signaling, and Science Translational Medicine — to provide continued leadership in science communication.
Leshner, whose career has spanned contributions as a neuroscientist, psychologist, and science administrator, succeeded Richard S. Nicholson, the association's executive officer from 1989 until 2001. In addition to promoting the transformation initiative and the launch of Science Advances, Leshner worked broadly to ensure that scientific advances would serve society. That goal was achieved through leadership to further international research cooperation and science diplomacy; and by establishing the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, which gave rise to AAAS Family Science Days as well as a series of popular Communicating Science workshops. He also spoke up for science through Congressional testimony, op-ed articles, and media interviews. Leshner consistently focused on issues at the intersection of science and society-from climate change and the teaching of evolution, to the importance of federal funding for basic research-and he pushed for what he described as "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." Ideology, Leshner often said, must never "trump" scientific advancement.
Board Chair Sharp commended Leshner's service to AAAS: "Alan has been a fabulous leader," Sharp said. "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."
Leshner commended Holt's selection to serve as AAAS CEO. "Rush Holt is an ideal choice to lead AAAS and Science into the future," Leshner said. "His expertise, experience, and commitment to science, and to public service are sure to greatly enhance the association's impact in all domains."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journalScience (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling ( www.sciencesignaling.org). AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes some 264 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS. See www.aaas.org.