Thoughts from the President

May 17, 2024 - Why AAAS Matters

Dear Danforth Center Community,

I spent part of yesterday with a group discussing the following difficult questions: What can we do to better educate and inform “the public” about science and evidence-based decision making, and what can we do about rising anti-science influences in the U.S.? It was helpful that Dr. Sudip Parikh [CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)], and Lauren Seligman (AAAS Senior Director) were part of the conversation. With a mission to “advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all,” AAAS is one of the most important organizations supporting, promoting and advocating for science and research.

The reasons people adhere to beliefs that have apparent anti-science foundations are often not because they are generally anti-science. Among other reasons, social, political or other group affiliation and acceptance, and the information that groups share among members, has been shown to effectively drive and reinforce beliefs independent of consideration of evidence for and against the beliefs. But the same person who argues, for example, against evidence that people set foot on the moon may be a staunch defender of the science and scientists behind a modern anti-cancer treatment that saved their life. The difference is this: the life-saving medication mattered in a most personal, compelling way; belief that the moon landings were a hoax is an option with no apparent or tangible consequences.

The AAAS under Dr. Parikh’s leadership is taking a strategic approach to infuse better understanding of, and comfort with, science and evidence-based decision making within society. In addition to all of the work with scientists, scientific organizations, and educators, AAAS works closely with specific, influential groups to provide targeted education, resources and support. These groups include legislators and elected officials, federal judges, and religious leaders. Working with the latter starts with acknowledging that both faith-based beliefs and science in our lives can and must productively coexist. And the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program embeds 250 talented scientists and engineers across all three branches of the federal government, infusing scientific and evidence-based perspectives in offices and agencies that need them. The AAAS approach is based on non-partisanship, relationship-building and understanding of the challenges we all face.

I thank Dr. Parikh and Lauren for the great work they’re doing with AAAS for the benefit of all, regardless of ideology, group affiliation, or political identity. I’ve been a card-carrying member of AAAS for most of my life, and now you know some big reasons why.

Jim Carrington,
President and Chief Executive Officer

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