Federation of American Scientists

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Founded in 1945 by scientists involved in the Manhattan Project to create the atom bomb, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) is a nonprofit organization of more than 2,000 scientists, engineers, and other citizens dedicated to the responsible use of science and technology. Originally known as the Federation of Atomic Scientists, FAS continues to focus much of its efforts on nuclear arms control and security, but it also addresses issues involving information technologies, science policy, and the environment. To achieve its goals of informed debate and the application of science and engineering to national problems, FAS utilizes several strategies including research, advocacy, outreach, and grassroots organizing.

Membership and Finances

The composition of FAS, originally dominated by physicists, has slowly diversified. A 2002 in-house survey found that nearly thirty percent of the respondents identified themselves as physicists. The next largest fields represented were medicine (18%), biology (15%), engineering (15%), and chemistry (13%). Members receive Secrecy News, an informal electronic publication on government secrecy, security, and intelligence policies.

The FAS budget for fiscal year 2004 was $3 million, 70 percent of which directly funded projects, while the remaining 30 percent covered overhead expenses. Approximately two-thirds of the budget was derived from private foundation contributions and one-third from government grants. Membership dues in 2004 amounted to $125,000.

Origins and History

After World War II a minority of U.S. scientists (roughly 3,000) formed the loose "scientists' movement" that sought not just to create new technologies that had an impact on social and political change, but "tried to direct that change toward a particular end" (Smith 1965, p. 528). FAS was the most important element of this movement in the early post-war years. Roughly ninety percent of the Manhattan Project scientists supported the FAS mission. Ernest O. Lawrence, however, discouraged participation by scientists in organizations devoted to non-scientific ends. FAS, originally dubbed the "scientists lobby," emerged in the same spirit as the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (also founded in 1945 by members of the Manhattan Project) and the 1955 Russell-Einstein Manifesto, which led to the first Pugwash Conference on Science in World Affairs. In all these cases, scientists gathered to appraise the perils of science and technology, prevent their misuse, and advance solutions in the name of peace and prosperity.

Three topics dominated the early FAS agenda: the need for domestic and international control of atomic energy, the need to educate the public on the promises and perils of atomic energy, and the harmful effects of secrecy on international trust and scientific growth. One of the biggest battles waged by the early FAS members and other concerned scientists was over civilian versus military control of nuclear energy. Many scientists distrusted the military, and envisioned limitless, clean energy if only the proper civilian controls could be established.

FAS did play at least a minor role in the international monitoring and control of atomic energy and weapons. Although it is difficult to assess FAS impact on the process, the formation of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1946, a civilian entity that regulated nuclear energy and controlled national research, was a major success in the battle for civilian control of atomic energy (Hewlett and Anderson 1972). In general, however, FAS members always faced limits on what their technical data and scientific knowledge could contribute to international and domestic nuclear politics.

A period of disenchantment and diminished influence ensued after the early post-war years. Members defended the integrity of science and civil liberties of scientists vigorously, while their demands for a positive role in policy making waned. Although not a member of FAS, the judgment of J. Robert Oppenheimer as a security risk in 1953 further weakened the political clout of scientists by attacking their image of trustworthiness and independence. After the McCarthy era, members adopted more modest expectations about the contributions of scientists to public life. The increased incorporation of scientists into government also forced FAS to adjust its role.

By 1969, FAS had reached its lowest ebb, with an annual budget of roughly $7,000 and a mostly volunteer staff. The greatly defunct organization was rejuvenated with the appointment of Jeremy J. Stone as president in 1970. For the next five years, FAS was heavily influenced by Stone, because he was the only staff member. He began revitalizing and promoting FAS with his monthly newsletters. Membership grew rapidly over the next two decades (including a 450 percent increase between 1970 and 1974) and by the 1990s FAS was able to support a staff of roughly a dozen (Stone 1999). From its inception, FAS had been composed of local associations or chapters, which occasionally met but primarily worked independently of one another. In the 1950s, there were approximately thirty chapters, but by 1970 only two remained—one of which, the Boston chapter, called itself the Union of Concerned Scientists (Stone 1999). Stone disbanded the chapter system in 1970 and the two remaining chapters became independent organizations. In 1974, FAS established a permanent headquarters in Washington, DC, something it had not had since the late 1940s.

By the mid 1980s, FAS relied more heavily on journalists, professional staff, and policy analysts than famous scientists. FAS has maintained a sizable influence despite the increasingly crowded security-oriented public interest community and science lobby movement. Its mission has also steadily expanded to include other areas of science and technology. In 2000 Henry Kelly became the new president and further bolstered FAS under the overarching goals of strengthening science in policy and using science to benefit society.


In its early years (1945–1948), FAS played an important role in efforts to maintain civilian control of atomic energy. Alice Kimball Smith (1965) argues that "By guarding the rights of a particular profession in a dangerous period in the 1950s the FAS contributed to the general cause of civil liberties" (p. 531). It has also served as an effective watchdog over the relations of science and public policy. This has afforded some protection for scientists and science against attacks and, by providing a forum for self-criticism, has prevented scientists from being dangerously seduced by their own successes (Smith 1965). Its website is a comprehensive source of information pertaining to global military technologies, intelligence, terrorism, and other areas of science and society. It is a valuable educational and research tool that enhances military and government transparency.

FAS publishes an "Occasional Paper Series" to inform and stimulate debate on current science and security policy issues. The second paper in the series (Kelly et al. 2004) takes up the state of science policy advice in the United States, and argues that the infrastructure for providing science and technology advice to Congress and the President is in a state of crisis. It asserts that sound policy needs sound science advice. However, this claim raises the question of where scientists stop acting as advisers (that is, providing balanced, "objective" information) and start acting as advocates (promoting a course of action that serve the scientific community but may not align with common interests).

Since its inception, this has been the central question about FAS and other professional science and engineering organizations concerned to play an active role in shaping how science is used in politics and how policies affect the practice of science. Should scientists have a privileged voice in public decision making? What is their proper role in the value-laden, political questions raised by science and technology? These are the more subtle questions about the dual role of scientist and citizen underlying the FAS mission to focus the energies of scientists and engineers on issues of critical national importance.


SEE ALSO American Association for the Advancement of Science;Nongovernmental Organizations;Pugwash Conferences;Union of Concerned Scientists.


Hewlett, Richard G., and Oscar E. Anderson. (1972). A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Vol. 1: The New World, 1939/1946. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Smith, Alice Kimball. (1965). A Peril and a Hope: The Scientists' Movement in America: 1945–47. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Chronicles in detail the early years of scientists' efforts to affect public policies regarding atomic energy and weapons. Provides an extensive early history of FAS as part of the overall tension between science and government bureaucracy.

Stone, Jeremy, J. (1999). Every Man Should Try: Adventures of a Public Interest Activist. New York: Public Affairs. An autobiography that contains information on the rejuvenation of FAS beginning in 1970.


Kelly, Henry; Ivan Oelrich; Steven Aftergood; and Benn H. Tannenbaum. (2004). Flying Blind: The Rise, Fall, and Possible Resurrection of Science Policy Advice in the United States. Federation of American Scientists Occasional Paper Two, December. Available from http://www.fas.org/main/content.jsp?formAction=297&contentId=346.

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Federation of American Scientists