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The American Association for the Advancement of Science (or AAAS) is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation between scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the betterment of all humanity. It is the world's largest general scientific society, with 126,995 individual and institutional members at the end of 2008, and publisher of the well-known scientific journal Science, which has a weekly circulation of 138,549.


The American Association for the Advancement of Science was created on September 20, 1848 in Pennsylvania. It was a reformation of the Association of American Geologists and Naturalists. The society chose William Charles Redfield as their first president because he had proposed the most comprehensive plans for the organization. According to the first constitution which was agreed to at the September 20 meeting, the goal of the society was to promote scientific dialogue in order to allow for greater scientific collaboration. By doing so the association aimed to use resources to conduct science with increased efficiency and allow for scientific progress at a greater rate. The association also sought to increase the resources available to the scientific community through active advocacy of science.

There were only 87 members when the AAAS was formed. As a member of the new scientific body, Matthew Fontaine Maury, USN was one of those who attended the first 1848 meeting.

At a meeting held on Friday afternoon, September 22, 1848, Redfield presided, and Matthew Fontaine Maury gave a full scientific report on his Wind and Current Charts. Maury stated that hundreds of ship navigators were now sending to the United States Naval Observatorymarker abstract logs of their voyages. With pride he added, “Never before was such a corps of observers known.” But, he pointed out to his fellow scientists, his critical need was for more "simultaneous observations."

"The work," Maury stated, "is not exclusively for the benefit of any nation or age." The minutes of the A.A.A.S. meeting reveal that because of the universality of this "view on the subject, it was suggested whether the states of Christendom might not be induced to cooperate with their Navies in the undertaking; at least so far as to cause abstracts of their log-books and sea journals to be furnished to Matthew F. Maury, USN, at the Naval Observatory at Washington."

William Barton Rogers, professor at the University of Virginia and later founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered a resolution: "Resolved that a Committee of five be appointed to address a memorial to the Secretary of the Navy, requesting his further aid in procuring for Matthew Maury the use of the observations of European and other foreign navigators, for the extension and perfecting of his charts of winds and currents." The resolution was adopted and, in addition to Rogers, the following members of the Association were appointed to the committee, Professor Joseph Henry of Washington, Professor Benjamin Peirce of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Professor James H. Coffin of Easton, Pennsylvania, Professor Stephen Alexander of Princeton, New Jersey. This was scientific cooperation, and Maury went back to Washington with great hopes for the future.

By 1860 membership increased to over 2000. But the course of American history, however, intervened to prevent the continued growth of the AAAS. The AAAS became dormant during the American Civil War after their August 1861 meeting in Nashville, Tennesseemarker was postponed indefinitely just after the outbreak of the first major engagement of the war at Bull Runmarker. The AAAS was not, however, to become a casualty of the war. In 1866, Frederick Barnard presided over the first meeting of the resurrected AAAS at a meeting in New York Citymarker.

Following the reformation of the AAAS, the group once again experienced a period of growth. The growth, however, was not unlimited as peace brought with it the expansion of other scientific-oriented groups. The AAAS's focus on the unification of many fields of science under a single organization still yielded some novelty. A large subset of all new science organizations that were founded to promote a single discipline. For example, American Chemical Society, founded in 1876, promotes chemistry. The National Academy of Sciencesmarker (NAS) was, however, founded by the United States Congress in 1863 which provided an alternative multidisciplinary sciences organization. Unlike the NAS, which elects members, the AAAS permitted all people regardless of scientific credentials to join. The AAAS did, however, institute a policy of granting the title of "Fellow of the AAAS" to well-respected scientists within the organization.


  • Since 2006, AAAS’s CEO Dr. Alan I. Leshner has published many op-ed articles stating that science and religion can co-exist within the context of many people’s lives, but emphasizing that non-scientific content such as creationism or “intelligent design” should not be inserted into scientific curriculum.

  • In December 2006, the AAAS adopted an official statement on climate change in which they stated, "The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society....The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now."

  • In February 2007, the AAAS used satellite images to document human rights abuses in Burmamarker.

  • In 2008, AAAS launched the Center for Science Diplomacy to advance both science and the broader relationships among partner countries, by promoting international scientific cooperation.


The most recent Constitution of the AAAS which was enacted on January 1, 1973 establishes that the governance of the AAAS is accomplished through four entities:


Individuals elected to the presidency of the AAAS hold a three-year term in a unique way. The first year is spent as President-elect, the second as President and the third as Chairperson of the Board of Directors. In accordance with the convention followed by the AAAS, presidents are referenced by the year in which they left office.

Peter Agre, Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, became President of AAAS as of 16 February 2009, the last day of the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting. At that time, 2008-2009 President James J. McCarthy became Chairman of the Board.

Agre shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Roderick MacKinnon of Rockefeller University for the discovery of aquaporins, the key proteins that transport water across cell membranes.

McCarthy is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and has served on and led many national and international groups charged with planning and implementing studies of global climate change. McCarthy co-chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II, which had responsibilities for assessing impacts of and vulnerabilities to global climate change for the Third IPCC Assessment (2001).

Past presidents of AAAS have included some of the most important scientific figures of their time. Among them: explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell (1888); astronomer and physicist Edward Charles Pickering (1912); anthropologist Margaret Mead (1975); and biologist Stephen Jay Gould (2000).

Notable Presidents of the AAAS, 1848-2005
Year President Year President
2000 Stephen Jay Gould 1929 Robert A. Millikan
1990 Richard C. Atkinson 1927 Arthur Amos Noyes
1972 Glenn T. Seaborg 1887 Samuel P. Langley
1942 Arthur H. Compton 1886 Edward S. Morse
1934 Edward L. Thorndike 1882 J. William Dawson
1931 Franz Boas 1871 Asa Gray 1877 Simon Newcomb

A complete list of presidents is also available.

Administrative officers

There are three classifications of high-level administrative officials that execute the basic, daily functions of the AAAS. These are the Executive Officer, the Treasurer and then each of the AAAS's section secretaries. The current CEO of AAAS and executive publisher of Science is Alan I. Leshner.

Sections of the AAAS

The AAAS has 24 "sections" with each section being responsible for a particular concern of the AAAS. There are sections for agriculture, anthropology, astronomy, atmospheric science, biological science, chemistry, dentistry, education, engineering, general interest in science and engineering, geology and geography, the history and philosophy of science, technology, computer science, linguistics, mathematics, medical science, neuroscience, pharmaceutical science, physics, psychology, social and political science, the social impact of science and engineering, and statistics.


AAAS affiliates include 262 societies and academies of science, serving more than 10 million members, from the Acoustical Society of America to the Wildlife Society, including, for example, also the Parapsychological Association

The Council

The Council is composed of the members of the Board of Directors, the retiring section chairmen and elected delegates. Among the elected delegates there are always at least two members from the National Academy of Sciencesmarker and one from each region of the country. The President of the AAAS serves as the Chairperson of the Council. Members server the Council for a term of three years.

The council meets annually to discuss matters of importance to the AAAS. They have the power to review all activities of the Association, elect new Fellow, adopt resolutions, propose amendments to the Association's constitution and bylaws, create new scientific sections, and organize and aid local chapters of the AAAS.

The Board of Directors

The Board of Directors is composed of a Chairperson, the President and President-Elect along with eight elected directors, the Executive Officer of the Association and up to two additional directors appointed by elected officers. Members serve a 4-year term except for directors appointed by elected officers, who serve 3-year terms .

The current chairman is James J. McCarthy. He is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University. McCarthy will serve in the post until the end of the 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting, 22 February 2010. [The chairperson is always the immediate past-president of AAAS.]

The Board of Directors has a variety of powers and responsibilities. It is charged with the administration of all Association funds, publication of a budget, appointment of administrators, proposition of amendments and determination the time and place of meetings of the national Association. The Board may also speak publicly on behalf of the Association. The Board must also regularly correspond with the Council to discuss their actions.

See also


  1. Publisher's own data
  2. BPA Worldwide, June 2008
  3. "'Academic Freedom' Bill Dangerous Distraction," Alan I. Leshner, The Shreveport Times 28 May 2008
  4. "Anti-science law threatens tech jobs of future," Alan I. Leshner, The Times-Picayune 6 May 2008
  5. "Design: Critical Deception?," Alan I. Leshner, Akron Beacon-Journal 11 September 2006
  6. "Science and Public Engagement," Alan I. Leshner, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chronicle Review 13 October 2006
  7. AAAS Board Statement on Climate Change December 2006
  8. "Peter Agre's Ambitious Plans," AAAS 2009 Annual Meeting News Blog 14 February 2009
  9. "For Peter Agre, “the People’s Laureate” and AAAS President, Civic Engagement is Essential," AAAS 2009 Annual Meeting News Blog 14 February 2009
  10. AAAS - Science Talk, the AAAS Experts & Speakers Bureau
  11. ScienceTalk: Alan I. Leshner,
  12. AAAS Sections,
  13. list of affiliates starting with the letter P
  14. Board of Directors,
  15. 2010 AAAS Annual Meeting,

External links

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