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AAAS Activities

Since the mid-1970s, AAAS has engaged in activities aimed at promoting high standards for the practice of science and engineering, monitoring and enhancing assessment of emerging ethical issues related to science and technology, and promoting and defending scientific freedom, at home and around the world. Through these activities, AAAS has informed policy, guide “researchers in the conduct of their research, contribute” to the development of education and training curricula, generated empirical data, established principles and identified best practices.

The ongoing efforts of AAAS are primarily led by the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program which has a mission to foster and facilitate the responsible practice and application of science in the service of society. The Program addresses ethical, legal and human rights issues related to the conduct and application of science and technology. The Program is committed to promoting high standards for the practice of science and engineering; advancing the human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications; engaging scientists, engineers and their professional associations in human rights efforts; monitoring and enhancing assessment of emerging ethical, legal, and human rights issues related to science and technology; furthering the use of science and technology in support of human rights; and initiating activities to address the impact of developments at the intersection of science, technology, and law.

Information about the Program, its history and current activities is available here.

Recent Activities

AAAS Statement on Recent Media Reports of Human Gene-Editing

AAAS CEO, Rush Holt, published a statement on November 27, 2018 in response to a Chinese researcher's claims that he had genetically edited the embryos of a set of twin girls, who were born earlier in the month. Holt expressed that it is irresponsible to undertake human gene-editing clinical trials without sufficient pre-clinical scientific evidence and inclusive public dialogue on the risks and societal implications of gene-editing human embryos.

AAAS Implements Policy to Revoke Elected Fellows for Misconduct or Ethics Breach

AAAS enacted a policy on October 15, 2018, under which an elected AAAS Fellow’s lifetime honor can be revoked for proven scientific misconduct or serious breaches of professional ethics.

The AAAS Council, which includes the AAAS board of directors, voted during a special meeting on September 15, 2018, to enact the policy. The policy includes procedures that AAAS will follow in considering the revocation of an elected AAAS Fellow’s status. The revocation policy can be found here.

Introduction to the Statement on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility

Members of the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility presented the Statement on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility (brought to the AAAS Board in April, 2017) in a webinar on August 9, 2017, provided details on the project's development and content, and invited AAAS member feedback on the project overall. In particular, participants had the opportunity to recommend resources and supporting information that would assist others in using the project website in their work and organization, and suggest steps for effective dissemination and communication of the project. The recording of the webinar can be found here.

The Right to Science

AAAS and the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition have been eliciting the perspectives of scientists, engineers, and health professionals as to the meaning of the right to “enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications” and associated obligations (Article 15, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). An initial focus group study that engaged U.S.-based scientists added clarity regarding the broad benefits of scientific progress relevant to the right and gave rise to a new conceptual framework for considering ‘access to science’ in the context of Article 15.

A subsequent project involved the development, dissemination and analysis of a preliminary global questionnaire to elicit the views of scientists, engineers and health professionals as to the meaning of the right; and organization of a briefing for the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to inform its development of a General Comment on the right. Two additional research efforts were undertaken: a series of interviews with health advocates around the world on how the right to science might apply to and help advance their work; and a project to create data visualizations of the ‘right to science’ references contained in periodic reports of States Party to the ICESCR. The findings of this research are presented in this report.

The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers

In 2013, AAAS undertook a preliminary data-gathering initiative. An online questionnaire was broadly distributed to scientists, engineers and health professionals internationally for the purposes of learning their perspectives on the nature and scope of their social responsibilities and to identify any apparent similarities and differences in perspectives according to multiple demographic variables. The questionnaire relied on convenience sampling and, therefore, the results could not be generalized beyond the study sample. Nevertheless, the research did suggest potential research questions for further exploration. Read about the results of this questionnaire in the 2015 report, available here.

With the support of the National Science Foundation, and using the results of the questionnaire as guidance, AAAS designed and pre-tested a global survey of scientists and engineers that would enable broad generalization about their views on their social responsibilities. This planning phase involved the development of a statistically rigorous survey instrument, translation of the survey in Arabic, French, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish, a sampling frame and the development of a clear plan for reaching the broadly international targeted sample. Read about the results of this planning phase in the 2017 report.