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AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility

The Award is presented annually by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to honor scientists and engineers, or their organizations, whose exemplary actions have demonstrated scientific freedom and responsibility in challenging circumstances.

The types of actions worthy of this award include acting to protect the public's health, safety or welfare; focusing public attention on important potential impacts of science and technology on society by their responsible participation in public policy debates; or providing an exemplary model in carrying out the social responsibilities of scientists, engineers or in defending the professional freedom of scientists and engineers.

Some awardees have risked their freedom and even physical safety by their actions, while others have been honored for their advocacy and their leadership. Some have been recognized for a life-time of service and devotion to the values honored by the scientific community, and others for a particular act or instance in which they fostered scientific freedom and responsibility. Although some award winners are distinguished scientists or scholars, this is not a requirement for award selection.

This annual award was established in 1980 and consists of a prize of $5,000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration, and reimbursement for travel and hotel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting. Information about the Award, including the nomination process, is available here.

All nominations are reviewed by a selection committee, which consists of five members chosen for diversity of background and sensitivity to the activities honored by this award. The committee’s selection must be endorsed by the AAAS Board of Directors at their fall meeting.

The call for nominations for 2022 runs from April 15 to June 30, 2021.

Selection Committee of the 2021 Award

Eric Drogin
Harvard Medical School

Barbara Koenig
University of California, San Francisco

Kevin LaBar
Duke University

Neal Rubin, Member ex officio
Chair, AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility
Adler University

Douglas Ubelaker
Smithsonian Institution

Selected Past Award Winners

The 2021 award was given to Ricardo Galvão, a physicist who lost his position as director of a Brazilian science agency after defending its data on deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

2020: Erin Kimmerle – Dr. Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist who worked to account for dozens of children buried at a notorious Florida reform school.

2019: Sarath Gunatilake and Channa Jayasumana – Drs. Gunatilake and Jayasumana were recognized for their work investigating a possible connection between glyphosate and chronic kidney disease that occurred under challenging circumstances.

2018: Marc Edwards – Dr. Edwards was recognized by AAAS for his efforts to apply his engineering expertise to revealing dangerous levels of lead contamination in water supplies in Flint, Michigan.

2016: Kurt Godfried Dr. Gottfried, a recognized leader in the scientific community on missile defense and nuclear terrorism who was among the founders of the Union of Concerned Scientists, was honored for his long and distinguished career as a ‘civic scientist,’ through his advocacy for arms control, human rights, and integrity in the use of science in public policy making.

2015: Jean Maria Arrigo – Dr. Arrigo was honored for her courage in speaking against the American Psychological Association’s approval of its members’ participation in “enhanced interrogation techniques” and for standing up, in the face of personal attacks, for the ethical behavior of psychologists and the importance of rigorous international standards in US national security policy.

2014: Omid Kokabee – the youngest recipient of the AAAS Award for Scientific Freedom and Responsibiliyu, Mr. Kokabee was selected for demonstrating extraordinary courage in defending the freedom of scientists by his highly principled refusal to contribute to weapons research in his home country of Iran. For this stance, he was imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin penitentiary.

2013: Hoosen Coovadia – Dr. Coovadia was recognized for his lifelong devotion to children’s health and for defending, in the face of opposition from the South African government, the use of sound science in the development of policies addressing the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. 

2012: Kiyoshi Kurokawa – Dr. Kurokawa was recognized for his responsible leadership of an independent investigation into the events leading up to and following the 2011 nuclear Fukushima accident. The report issued by the commission he led was frank in its criticisms of the underlying cultural factors that led to the accident.

2011: David Jentsch, Edythe London, and Dario Ringach – Drs. Jentsch, London, and Ringach were honored for the rare courage they demonstrated in speaking out forcefully for the value of the use of animals in biomedical research, even in the face of grave threats and vicious acts of harassment and vandalism against them and their families. Drs. Jentsch, London, and Ringach are researchers at UCLA who used non-human primates in their research on schizophrenia, addiction, and visual processing.  They wrote op-eds; founded Pro-Test for Science, an organization of students and faculty that encourages support for research that uses animals; and initiated a dialogue with peaceful animal rights advocates.

2010: Elizabeth Loftus – Dr. Loftus is honored for the profound impact that her pioneering research on human memory has had on the administration of justice in the United States and abroad.

2009: Nancy Olivieri – Dr. Olivieri was honored for her indefatigable determination that patient safety and research integrity come before institutional and commercial interests and for her courage in defending these principles in the face of severe consequences.

2006: Eugenie Scott, the Dover High School Department, and R. Wesley McCoy – The two individuals and the teachers, each independently and in their own way, fought the attempts to replace sound teaching of evolution with the false science of creationism. Dr. Scott directed an organization that was established to publish scientific information, speak to the media, and initiate other projects to oppose teaching religious ideology in place of science. The Dover High School department, refused to follow the direction of the school board to “challenge students to think creatively about alternative scientific explanations” to evolution in their biology classes at the risk of their jobs. Mr. McCoy, chair of the science department at North Cobb High School in Georgia testified at public hearings in opposition to the Cobb County School Board’s intent to introduce intelligent design theory in the schools.

2004: The NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) – The committee was honored for establishing guidelines for the safe conduct of recombinant DNA research, thus alleviating the concerns of the public regarding this new technology.  In recent years, the RAC has registered and reviewed all NIH-funded trials of gene therapy.  The RAC model of diverse committee membership and open meetings has ensured a public voice in the review of the safety and ethics of gene therapy research among academic and industrial investigators.

2003: L. Dennis Smith – Dr. Smith, the president of the University of Nebraska, was honored for his staunch defense of academic freedom and for his advocacy for the responsible conduct of scientific research. In the face of intense opposition from the governor and members of the state legislature, he defended scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical School who were conducting important research that used tissue from aborted fetuses. Additionally, he set a precedent for the responsible conduct of research by establishing the first university bioethics commission in the country.

2000: Howard Schachman – A professor of the Graduate School and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and former chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology, Dr. Schachman was honored for his outstanding contributions, over a fifty-year period, in protecting and promoting values key to the scientific enterprise. For example, Dr. Schachman was at the center of the debate over the manner in which research fraud/misconduct should be addressed by the federal government.  While strongly supporting government efforts to curb fraud in science, Dr. Schachman began a decade-long struggle to insure that regulations would not impinge on the freedoms that allow scientists to be creative in their pursuit of knowledge.

1997: Salim Kheirbek – As an active member of the Syrian Engineers Association, Mr. Kheirbek spoke out on behalf of the civil rights of all Syrians and protested the government's disbanding of all independent professional associations.  Because of his outspoken defense of the rights of engineers and other professionals to form their own societies, independent of state control, he was arrested and imprisoned for more than 12 years.  Further, he refused to sign a document pledging loyalty to the state, thus paying the price of prolonged imprisonment.

1996: Daniel Callahan – Dr. Callahan is the co-founder and for many years was president of the Hastings Center, an institution that has greatly furthered interdisciplinary dialogue on the responsible conduct of science.  His leadership and guidance led to the establishment of a world center that serves as a home for scholars and fellows, from both the humanities and the sciences, to pursue interests in education and research on ethical and policy issues in the life and social sciences, in medicine and in the professions.

1995: Vil Sultanovich Mirzayanov – A chemist in the Soviet Union, Dr. Mirzayanov exposed that country's continuing manufacture of dangerous chemical weapons, in the face of official denials and in violation of the spirit of international agreements.  Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested, imprisoned and, after his release, denied employment.

1994: Mathilde Krim and June Osborn – Long before it was fashionable, Drs. Krim and Osborn were outspoken in their promotion of research efforts to find treatments for AIDS, to stem the spread of HIV through prevention and education, and to dispel ignorance about the disease and fear of those who are infected.

1993: Daniel Albritton and Robert Watson – Drs. Albritton and Watson not only spent their careers conducting research on crucial environmental issues, but also served as effective advocates in the public policy arena to help promote international cooperation and action to reverse the potentially dangerous effects of the disappearance of atmospheric ozone.

1991: Adrian Morrison – Dr. Morrison, a veterinarian whose scientific research focuses on the neural mechanisms associated with sleep, defended the right of scientists to use animals in their research and promoted responsible research practices among those scientists.  Dr. Morrison continued to speak out even when his life was threatened and his adult children received threatening telephone calls.

1988: Roger Boisjoly – As an engineer employed by a NASA contractor, Mr. Boisjoly argued (unsuccessfully) with his employer and with the government that because of unresolved and potentially dangerous engineering problems (including the now-infamous O ring) the upcoming Challenger launch should be cancelled.

1987: Francisco Ayala, Norman Newell, and Stanley Weinberg – This award was given jointly for the efforts of the awardees in alerting scientists and the public to the danger to the scientific enterprise and to sound scientific education posed by the creationist movement.

1986: Colegio Medico do Chile (Medical Association of Chile) – This association took a public stand protesting the practice of torture by the government of Chile, particularly decrying the role of some physicians in tacitly supporting the practice by hiding it through the issuance of false certificates of death.

1983: Anatoly Koryagin – A psychiatrist in the Soviet Union, Dr. Koryagin made public the fact that political opponents of the Soviet government were being falsely diagnosed as having psychiatric disorders, hospitalized in special institutions, and treated with strong and potentially dangerous medications.  He was imprisoned for making these revelations, lost his ability to practice medicine in his country, and was subsequently deported.

A list of all recipients is available here.