American Association for the Advancement of Science

views updated May 17 2018


The American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS (triple A-S), founded in September 1848, began as an organization to establish a national identity and forum for U.S. scientists. It has become the largest federation of scientific societies in the world, with more than 250 affiliated institutions and 130,000 individual members. AAAS publishes the peer reviewed journal Science, and sponsors programs that include collaborations with organizations representing scientists and non-scientists throughout the world.

Science in Service of Society

Throughout its history, AAAS has addressed issues at the intersection of science and society. During World War I, as advances in science and technology created public expectations for progress, AAAS committed itself to "the use of science for public good" (Benson and Maienschein 1999, p. 3). In 1946, AAAS affirmed a commitment to bridging science and society by revising its Constitution to include objectives "to improve the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare, and increase public understanding and appreciation of the importance and promise of the methods of science in human progress" (AAAS Constitution 1946).

The 1950s brought concerns due to increasing government secrecy restrictions, growing controversies over nuclear weapons, and anti-communist suppression of dissenting views. In 1958 the AAAS Board created the Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare to recommend responses to the issues that concerned society. The Committee urged AAAS and the scientific community to fulfill "an obligation to call to public attention those issues of public policy which relate to science, and to provide for the general public the facts and estimates of alternative policies which the citizen must have ... to participate intelligently in the solution of these problems" (AAAS Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare 1960, p. 71).

Scientists' Rights and Responsibilities

Social unrest in the 1960s and 1970s, fueled by anti-nuclear, environmental, and anti-Vietnam War movements, which argued that science was complicit in creating national problems rather than in solving them, led to public demands for greater accountability by scientists. In response AAAS created an ad hoc committee in 1970 to report on the "conditions required for scientific freedom and responsibility" (Edsall 1975, p. v). In its report the committee recommended that AAAS establish a more permanent committee to reassess boundaries of scientific freedom and responsibility in a world where science is increasingly "inextricably intertwined with major political, social, and economic problems" (Edsall 1975, p. ix).

As a result, the Association created a new standing Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility in 1976 to "encourage and assist the AAAS ... and other scientific groups to develop statements of principles governing professional conduct, and to ... encourage scientists to accept their professional responsibilities both with regard to safeguarding the integrity of science and with regard to the application of science in the promotion of human rights and general welfare" (AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Internet site). In 1977 AAAS amended its Constitution to include "to foster scientific freedom and responsibility" in its mission and, in 1981, established the Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award to "honor scientists and engineers whose exemplary actions have served to foster scientific freedom and responsibility."

Since the founding of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility, AAAS ethics activities have focused on human rights and on the ethics associated with scientific research and the impacts of science and technology. The science and human rights activities of AAAS were initially influential in the 1970s and 1980s in defense of scientists, engineers, and health care professionals whose rights were violated by their governments. Collaborating with human rights groups, AAAS has helped to secure the freedom of scientists in the former Soviet Union as well as in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East. These efforts have not been without risk, or setbacks. Committee members and staff have been harassed, even in one case arrested, while working on behalf of scientists in their home countries and accused of meddling in countries' sovereign political affairs.

In 1990 the Association established a Science and Human Rights Program that directed resources and expertise to use science to help bring notorious abusers of human rights to justice. AAAS pioneered the application of forensic science, genetics, and statistics to human rights investigations. Its work helped to unite families in Argentina, and identify victims of mass executions in Guatemala; in 2002 results of Program investigations were presented as evidence in the international war crimes trial of former Yugoslavian president, Slobodan Milosevic. The Program's work has made it a frequent technical consultant to truth commissions in many countries, including Haiti, Peru, and South Africa.

In 1991 AAAS reorganized its other ethics activities into a Program on Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law, which focuses on the ethics associated with the conduct of science as well as on the uses and impacts of advances in science and technology. AAAS has been in the vanguard of scientific societies in developing "a knowledge base to deal intelligently with misconduct" (Johnson 1999, p. 51) in science, in providing educational resources for scientists and administrators responsible for preserving the integrity of research, and in advocating a prominent role for scientific societies in promoting research integrity. Through a series of practicums begun in 1992, AAAS has helped prepare institutional officials for investigating allegations of research misconduct under federal regulations. A set of videos, produced by AAAS in 1996 and used to educate students and researchers in the ethics of conducting and reporting research, is a popular resource in hundreds of colleges and universities.

Engaging the Larger Public

To complement its work in human rights and ethics, in 1995 AAAS established the program of dialogue on science, ethics, and religion to promote scholarship on the religious implications of advances in science and technology and to facilitate communication between the scientific and religious communities. Through its programs, AAAS has recognized that the consequences of science and technology often challenge public and expert sensibilities about what is ethically acceptable, and has highlighted the issues that may cause tension between the freedom of scientists and their social responsibilities. AAAS works to provide timely, credible, and balanced information to policy debates by bringing multidisciplinary analysis to bear on complex issues, and by brokering among a wide range of stakeholders to promote broad public dialogue on such matters as stem cell research, genetic modification, and human cloning. AAAS has used the knowledge and insights gained through these studies to brief the media, to provide testimony at legislative and administrative hearings, and to develop educational materials. It has also taken public positions on highly controversial issues, including the use of animals in research, the conduct of stem cell research, the prospects of human cloning, and post-9/11 debates over the impact of national security policies on the freedom of scientific inquiry. Although it is difficult to trace the precise influence that these efforts have had, it is testimony to AAAS's credibility that other scientific organizations, public interest groups, and government officials call on the organization for assistance (Teich 2002).

In 2002 under new executive leadership, AAAS revisited its historic mission and reinforced its commitment to "advance science and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people," and the priority to be accorded to the "responsible conduct and use of science and technology" (AAAS Mission 2002). As ethical issues associated with scientific research and technology continue to challenge public beliefs and attitudes, the professional responsibilities of scientists, and the capacity of public and private institutions to anticipate and respond effectively, AAAS has repositioned itself to be a more visible voice in science policy and reaffirmed its commitment to advancing science and serving society.


SEE ALSO Federation of American Scientists;Nongovernmental Organizations;Profession and Professionalism;Royal Society.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare. (1960). "Science and Human Welfare." Science 132: 68–73.

Benson, Keith, and Jane Maienschein. (1999). "Introduction: AAAS Narrative History." In The Establishment of Science in America, eds. Sally Gregory Kohlstedt; Michael M. Sokol; and Bruce V. Lewenstein. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. This well-documented history covers AAAS's first 150 years, and in the process connects the actions of the association with significant events related to the role of scientists in the United States and the changing relationship between science and American society.

Chalk, Rosemary, ed. (1988). Science, Technology, and Society: Emerging Relationships. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. This anthology includes eighty-five articles, editorials, and letters published in the journal Science, from 1949 until early 1988. Among the topics covered are science and responsibility, science and freedom, scientists and citizens, science and risk, and science and national security.

Edsall, John, ed. (1975). Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. (A Report of the AAAS Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility.) Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. This foundational document led AAAS to establish the committee on scientific freedom and responsibility. It maps the boundaries of scientific freedom and responsibility, prescribes criteria and procedures for the study of those boundaries, and recommends a role for AAAS in preserving the freedom of scientists and in encouraging scientists to address the broad social implications of their work.

Johnson, David. (1999). "From Denial to Action: Academic and Scientific Societies Grapple with Misconduct." In Perspectives on Scholarly Misconduct in the Sciences, ed. John M. Braxton. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Teich, Albert H. (2002). "AAAS and Public Policy: Speaking Softly and Carrying a Medium-Sized Stick." Technology in Society 24: 167–178.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1946). AAAS Constitution. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2002). Mission. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science Archives. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. Science and Human Rights Program. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science. Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and Law Program. Available from

American Association for the Advancement of Science

views updated May 29 2018


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

American Association for the Advancement of Science

views updated May 23 2018


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."

American Association for the Advancement of Science

views updated May 18 2018

American Association for the Advancement of Science

AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowships (Graduate, Postgraduate, Undergraduate/Fellowship)
AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships (Postdoctorate/Fellowship)
Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarships (Undergraduate/Scholarship)

1200 New York Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20005
Ph: (202)326-6400
E-mail: [email protected]

AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowships (Graduate, Postgraduate, Undergraduate/Fellowship)

Purpose: To increase public understanding of science and technology. Focus: Media Art; Science Technologies; Engineering. Qualif.: Applicants must be undergraduates in their senior year; must be graduate or post-graduate students. Criteria: Recipients are selected based on telephone interview made by the AAAS staff.

Funds Avail.: $450. To Apply: Applicants must fill out the application form. Applicants must submit a copy of resume including honors, awards and relevant activities; one brief sample of their writing (two-to-three pages on any subjects written in terms appropriate for the general public); journal articles; three letters of recommendation; transcript of the undergraduate and graduate work. Deadline: January 15.

AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships (Postdoctorate/Fellowship)

Purpose: To provide professional development opportunity to individuals interested in learning about the science-policy interface while applying their scientific and technical knowledge and analytical skills to the federal policy realm. Focus: Engineering; Science; Science Technologies. Qualif.: Applicants must hold doctoral-level degree in any physical, biological, health/medical or behavioral science, any field of engineering, or any interdisciplinary field; must demonstrate exceptional competence in their specialty appropriate to their career stage; must show an understanding of the opportunities for science and engineering to support a broad range of non-scientific issues, and display commitment to apply their scientific or technical expertise to serve society; must exhibit awareness and sensitivity to the political, economic, and social issues that influence policy; must be articulate communicators, both verbally and writing, to decision-makers and non-scientific audiences; must have the ability to work effectively with the individual and groups outside the scientific community; must demonstrate initiative, problem solving ability, leadership capacity, flexibility and willingness to address policy issues outside their scientific realm; must be U.S. citizens or hold a dual citizenship with the other country. Criteria: Recipients are selected based on the scientific/technical background and professional accomplishment, leadership and potential, analytical and problem solving abilities, communication, interpersonal and outreach skills.

Funds Avail.: No stated amount. Number Awarded: 2. To Apply: Applicants must provide profile indicating the name and contact information; candidates' data; candidates' statement providing the qualifications for the fellowship and career goals; reasons for applying for the fellowship. Applicants must also submit curriculum vitae; extracurricular activities; and references including three recommendation letters. Deadline: December 20. Contact: [email protected]

Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarships (Undergraduate/Scholarship)

Purpose: To enhance undergraduate education through research experience that emphasize the interrelationship between chemistry and biology; to encourage students to pursue graduate education in chemistry and life sciences; to foster undergraduate programs and activities that bridge chemistry and biology; Focus: Chemistry; Biology; Life Sciences. Qualif.: Applicants must be located in 50 United States; offered American Chemical Society-approved program in Chemistry; confer ten or fewer graduate degrees annually in Biology and Chemistry combined; defined by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Tax Code as a not-for-profit entity under section 501; must not be current Merck/AAAS USRP Award Recipient. Criteria: Recipients are selected based on the scientific merit of the proposed research project.

Funds Avail.: $60,000. Number Awarded: 15. To Apply: Applicants must submit an application cover page; eligibility form including a copy of the school's 501(c)(3) certification letter from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Deadline: November 2.

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