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American Association for the Advancement of Science


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, pronounced triple-A-S ) is the largest general scientific organization in the world. Its objectives are to further the work of scientists and promote cooperation among them, to foster academic freedom and responsibility, to improve and reform science education, and to encourage and facilitate better understanding about the nature of science, scientific research, and technology.


From its early years, the AAAS has promoted quality science education for children and adults, and many AAAS programs promote science literacy in schools and in communities. Project 2061, begun in 1985, is a major long-term initiative aimed at helping all Americans learn more about science, mathematics, and technology. One of Project 2061's main goals is the reformation of the American kindergarten through twelfth grade science, mathematics, and technology curriculum. In 1989 Project 2061 released its influential publication Science for All Americans, which established guidelines for what American students need to know about science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school.

The AAAS's Directorate for Education and Human Resources also works for science education reform through fifty programs and a wide variety of publications. Among its many programs, the directorate produces a weekly half-hour radio program called Kinetic City Super Crew. The program features a team of resourceful children chasing adventures and solving problems using science. Other radio programs, including Science Update and Why Is It? draw young people into science with interesting jargon-free science stories.

At the adult level the AAAS produces or sponsors a number of radio and television programs about science. In 1992 the AAAS and the National Institute on Drug Abuse launched the Science Plus Literacy for Health Drug Education Project to create materials for use in adult science literacy programs and community-based adult substance abuse and mental health education programs.

The AAAS's Directorate for International Programs promotes international scientific cooperation and fosters the potential of science and technology to solve many challenges facing the global community, especially those involving health and the environment. The Directorate for International Programs also works to strengthen the role and status of engineers and scientists in developing countries.

Among scientists, AAAS is best known for its large annual scientific meeting, which is devoted to the discussion of research topics and problems in all branches of science. The organization is also known for its weekly magazine, Science, an international journal that offers rapid publication of new research findings, as well as analyses of social, governmental, and educational policies and trends of interest to scientists and science teachers. The journal is popular with members and nonmembers alike.

The AAAS annually makes awards for excellent science writing in newspapers and magazines of general circulation. Other annual AAAS awards include the Philip Hauge Abelson Prize, the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award, the Award for International Scientific Cooperation, the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and the Mentor Prize. All awards are presented at the annual national meeting.

Organizational Structure

The AAAS is divided into twenty-four sections, each organized in an area of special interest, including agriculture, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine, psychology, physics, and zoology. The AAAS also includes sections covering the history and philosophy of science and the economic, social, and political sciences. Four regional divisions (Arctic, Caribbean, Pacific and Southwestern, and Rocky Mountain) each hold annual meetings, manage their own affairs independently, elect their own officers, and carry out other regional activities.

Affiliated with AAAS are 273 national and regional organizations in pure and applied science, including 226 scientific societies and forty-seven academies of science. Affiliates include such diverse organizations as the American Ethnological Society, the American Chemical Society, the American Ornithologists Union, the Institute of Food Technologists, the National Marine Educators Association, the Linguistic Society of America, the American Nuclear Society, and the Poultry Science Association. Each affiliate is entirely responsible for managing its own affairs. The AAAS maintains a special relationship with its forty-seven affiliate academies, because they, like the AAAS, cover many fields of science and in this sense take on the role of AAAS local branches.

The AAAS board of directors, elected annually by members for one-year terms, conducts association affairs. The board is headed by a chairperson, a president, and a president-elect. An eighty-three-member council meets annually to discuss and establish the association's general governing policies.

Membership and Financial Support

Membership is open to any interested persons, especially working scientists, engineers, science educators, policymakers, and undergraduate and postdoctoral students in any scientific field. The activities of the association are financed by dues, advertising, nonmember subscriptions to Science, the sale of other association publications, and registration fees at the annual meeting. Additional activities, such as the development of materials for teaching science in the elementary grades, are supported by grants from private foundations or government agencies interested in science and science education.

History and Development

The AAAS was founded at the library of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on September 20, 1848. The eighty-seven scientists who gathered that day were members of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists who wished to form a new organization called the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In its wide coverage and membership and in its interest in science education and the public understanding of science, as well as in scientific research, the new AAAS was to a large extent patterned after the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Most early members were scientists or engineers, but some, notably U.S. President Millard Fill-more and author Henry David Thoreau, were laypeople who were interested in science. The first woman to become a member was astronomer Maria Mitchell, who joined in 1850. The AAAS began publishing the journal Science (first published by Thomas Edison beginning in 1880) in 1883, and many leading scientists of the following decades, including Edmund B. Wilson, Thomas Hunt Morgan, Albert Einstein, and Edwin Hubble published articles in the journal.

In the years since 1848, the association has grown to include some 138,000 members worldwide. The AAAS has attracted to membership most of the leading scientists of the day. Among the distinguished men and women who have served as presidents have been zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, botanist Asa Gray, astronomer Simon New-comb, geologist John Wesley Powell, mathematician Mina Rees, anthropologist Margaret Mead, physicist Leon Lederman, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, and chemist Mary L. Good. The association has always included scientists of great distinction, but it has also maintained its basic and original character of a general scientific society open to any person interested in science.


Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory; Lewenstein, Bruce; and Sokal, Michael, eds. 1999. Establishment of Science in America: 150 Years of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Wolfle, Dael Lee. 1989. Renewing a Scientific Society: The American Association for the Advancement of Science from World War II to 1970. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.

internet resource

American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2002. <>.

Dael Wolfle

Revised by

Judith J. Culligan

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American Association for the Advancement of Science


AMERICAN ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE. The AAAS grew on the base of the small but successful Association of Geologists and Naturalists, founded in 1840, which met annually, shared research findings, pondered theoretical explanations for phenomena like mountain building, and skillfully advocated for scientific projects on the state and federal level. Under the leadership of the geologist brothers Henry Darwin Rogers and William Barton Rogers, among others, the AAAS was voted into existence in 1847 and held its first meeting in Philadelphia in 1848. Using British and German organizations as models, the AAAS held peripatetic annual meetings, gave reports on current research in specific fields, and opened sessions to the general public as part of their goal of "advancing science."

Until the National Academy of Sciences was formed in 1863, the AAAS served as a national forum and symbol of a growing scientific community. Nearly all active scientists joined, including the geologist Benjamin Silliman, the meteorologist William Redfield, the zoologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, the botanist Asa Gray, the geophysicist Alexander Dallas Bache, and the physicist Joseph Henry. The younger members were particularly insistent that the new association establish high standards for the published annual Proceedings and monitor public presentations at the meetings, and the sometimes stringent application of such standards led to antagonism toward a clique who privately called themselves the Lazzaroni. Perhaps because of tensions between amateurs and professionals, natural and physical scientists, and even regions—tensions not all directly related to the AAAS itself—membership began to decline at the end of the 1850s. When the members reconvened after a hiatus during the Civil War in 1866, the AAAS faced a challenge from the new National Academy of Sciences and later from a growing number of scientific societies organizing in specializing fields.

Under the long management of the AAAS secretary and anthropologist Frederick Ward Putnam, the AAAS continued to be a public forum for the sciences. Presidential addresses (rotating between the natural and physical sciences) and committee initiatives offered opportunities to debate major issues, including response to Darwinian evolution, the shaping of a new conception of "pure science," and the reformulation of nomenclature in entomology and other natural science fields. The membership numbers recovered as the scientific community grew and fellowships acknowledged outstanding scientific work and the new Ph.D. credential. As new specialized societies grew out of the sectional meetings of the AAAS, many of them would meet annually at the same time under the umbrella of the senior organization. When the psychologist James McKeen Cattell offered an arrangement that allowed the AAAS to publish the weekly Science as its official journal in 1900, the AAAS was able to achieve its dual goals, to promote (popularize) and advance (sponsor research) science through a regular publication.

With Cattell as editor for nearly the next half century, the AAAS remained a highly visible forum for science and in 1907 accepted the Smithsonian Institution's offer of free space in Washington, D.C. The organization sought to be representative of the large community of scientists and had never kept women, minorities, or physically handicapped scientists from membership. The astronomer Maria Mitchell had joined in the 1850s, for example, and W. E. B. Du Bois at the turn of the century—but they were a minority in the organization, as in the sciences more generally. During the 1930s, the association lacked leadership with initiative, and in 1944, Cattell sold Science to the AAAS. A postwar generation of leaders moved toward a more systematic set of programs run by professional staff.

In the exhilarating 1950s and 1960s, membership grew and the organization turned to questions about the relationships among the sciences and between the sciences and society. The AAAS sponsored a conference at Arden House at Columbia University in 1951 that stressed public understanding of science, essential in a democratic society that was also striding forward in the sciences. Dael Wolfle became the executive officer in 1954 and helped formulate programs on the quality of science education and on political issues that were important to the scientists themselves. Some were concerns about financial resources for "big science," but many related to issues of personal autonomy as many scientists grew concerned about the implications of their research in the context of the Cold War. The AAAS provided a place for discussion, if not always a resolution, of these issues and enhanced scientific journalism through a fellowship program.

At the end of the twentieth century, the AAAS had about 150,000 members and served an international community of scientists through its journal and a number of Internet sites, experimenting with new modes of communication. Its widely publicized reports on scientific policy and funding in the federal government added to the important news in Science and the presentations at annual meetings that regularly attracted more than 5,000 participants. Housed in an award-winning new building on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C., the AAAS had a large staff engaged in policy studies, projects on scientific ethics and religion, education and minority issues, and international programs.


Abelson, Philip H., and Ruth Kulstad, eds. The "Science" Centennial Review. Washington, D.C.: AAAS, 1980.

Bruce, Robert V. The Launching of Modern American Science, 1846–1876. New York: Knopf, 1987.

Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory, Michael M. Sokal, and Bruce V. Lewenstein. The Establishment of Science in America: 150 Years of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1999.

Sally GregoryKohlstedt

See alsoNational Academy of Sciences ; National Science Foundation .

One of the most controversial decisions of the AAAS involved the Atlanta meeting in 1955, which some members thought ought to be held outside the segregated South. When Margaret Mead, newly elected member of the AAAS board, mediated the question, she suggested that northern white scientists' experience with segregation would solidify their opposition to segregation. Certainly it affected Detlev Bronk, then a recent president of the AAAS, who was furious because he could not attend a session at black Atlanta University because white taxicab drivers could not take him to a black neighborhood and black taxicab drivers could not pick up a white man. The AAAS did not again meet in a southern city until 1990 in New Orleans.

Maria Mitchell, who had won a prize for her discovery of a comet and became professor of astronomy when Vassar College opened, attended an AAAS meeting in the 1850s and was fascinated by the politics of science. The discerning Quaker wrote: "For a few days Science reigns supreme—we are feted and complimented to the top of our bent, and although complimenters and complimented must feel that it is only a sort of theatrical performance for a few days and over, one does enjoy acting the part of greatness for a while."

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American Association for the Advancement of Science

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), private organization devoted to furthering the work of scientists and improving the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare. The association was founded in 1848; it presently includes some 143,000 individual members, as well as 296 scientific societies, professional organizations, and state and city academies. AAAS actively promotes science education, and many junior academies of science are affiliated with it. Separate sections of the association represent the various physical and biological sciences, as well as many of the social sciences. It publishes the journal Science.

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