Public trust in the integrity of science and scientists remains essential to the effective use of scientific research in improving human welfare. In response to recent challenges to the integrity of science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has reaffirmed its commitment to robust, independent peer review as well as the sharing of research results through publications and public discourse, in accordance with well-crafted transparency policies and procedures.
Two recent events have raised questions about scientific transparency and the responsibility of scientists to fully disclose potential conflicts of interests: Questions were raised about the financial interests of a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose congressional testimony has discounted the human fingerprint on global climate change—a reality that has repeatedly been confirmed by a consensus of climate scientists. Also, a Member of Congress made unnecessarily broad requests of seven universities for all communications regarding the climate-change testimonies of other scientists.
AAAS and its journals will continue to take seriously any questions regarding conflicts of interest, while calling on all scientists and engineers to uphold the highest standards of transparency and responsibility. Toward that end, the Science family of journals has set forth clear and rigorous conflict-of-interest requirements for all authors, as have the leading scientific journals more widely. AAAS also routinely requires full disclosure by scientists involved in a wide array of programmatic activities (e.g., speakers at the association’s Annual Meeting, and award or fellowship reviewers) and participates, often with a leading role, in national and international discussions on the nature of scientific responsibility and integrity.
While AAAS has long upheld the importance of transparency and accountability in all scientific affairs, we have also cautioned that excessively intrusive demands for personal or irrelevant information that go beyond appropriate levels of oversight can negatively affect the research enterprise. Respectful scholarly debate remains essential to the progress of science, particularly related to issues at the intersection of science and society, but politicized or ideology-based intrusions to scientific discovery can create a hostile environment for researchers, inhibiting the free exchange of scientific findings. Such efforts can slow the pace of scientific discovery, and if they escalate beyond civil discourse, may sometimes even put researchers at risk: AAAS has previously decried instances of researchers—including some working on climate change as well as human health research involving laboratory animals—who have been subjected to demands for unnecessary personal information, efforts to discredit their professional integrity based on ideological grounds, and even death threats.
A proper balance between scientific freedom and accountability is therefore essential for advancing science in service of society, which is the AAAS mission. AAAS remains dedicated to promoting the responsible conduct and use of science, and it asks individual scientists and engineers to remain vigilant in ensuring the transparency of the scientific enterprise.
Rush D. Holt
CEO, AAAS, and executive publisher
of the Science family of journals