The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is a science advocacy organization based in the United States and the largest general science association in the world. It is publisher of the journal Science.
AAAS has been accused of promoting a broadly left-leaning policy agenda and associating with front groups for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Many of its leaders have also been criticized for supporting environmentalist policies and promoting global population control measures.
In the modern era, the AAAS has become more involved in promoting left-wing “science-activism,” ideological activism performed in the guise of promoting science. Its involvement in the “March for Science,” which was organized in opposition to the election and policies of President Donald Trump.
Background and Founding
The AAAS was founded in 1847 in Boston, Massachusetts, at a meeting of geologists and naturalists. It held its first meeting in 1848 at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. The AAAS was the first national organization created to unify all scientific fields across the United States, and was formed with the goal of raising further resources for scientific inquiry. The AAAS had 78 founding members; by 1860, it had over 2,000. The association closed during the Civil War, and resumed operations in 1866. Throughout the rest of the 19th century it continued to grow rapidly, allowing non-scientists to join alongside practicing “elected fellows,” a practice it continues today.
In 1900, the AAAS took over publication of Science, a peer-reviewed journal founded in 1880 with financial assistance from Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. AAAS continues to publish Science as a weekly magazine. In 2014, the magazine reported circulation of 570,400.
Rise of “Science-Activism”
In the early twentieth century, the AAAS began to shift its advocacy from the pursuit of funding for scientific research to include general policy lobbying. The change was met with internal disagreement. A 1919 meeting of the association in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution that “scientific men should not discuss matters relating to acute political questions on which public opinion is divided.”
The evolution towards activism expanded during the inter-war period as a number of more activist-minded members pushed for greater intervention in public policy. In the January 1920 issue of Science, for instance, one member wrote that scientists have a duty “to throw the light of truth on the field of political discussion […] knowing well that his feet are set upon the path of progress.”
In 1938, physiologist Walter Bradford Cannon was elected annual president of the AAAS; and under his leadership, the organization began to tilt towards socialism and the Soviet Union. Cannon was widely considered to be sympathetic to the Soviet Union and international socialist causes, and visited the Soviet Union in 1935, where he reportedly made “friendly remarks” about it. In 1943, Cannon became president of the American-Soviet Medical Society, which promoted closer relations with the USSR until its dissolution in 1949.
Walter Cannon expressed his sympathies for socialism as a model of the scientific economy and society of the future, a position many of his fellow “science-activists” in the AAAS shared. According to one historian of the period, these science-activists criticized the Great Depression-era United States as:
a nation of alienated victims, lacking control over their destinies, [whereas] the Soviets appeared to be a nation of self-conscious individuals, willfully and deliberately constructing a rational, humane society. Instead of the moral hebetude and obliquity of avaricious bourgeois civilization, the Soviets projected universal sodality predicated on individual contribution to the common good. Instead of saturnine pessimism and the yearning for the satisfactions of bygone days, the Soviets extended the hope of a new world.
Since the 1920s, AAAS has been associated with a number of Soviet-aligned groups and radical far-left organizations, some of whose leaders have also been officers in the AAAS.
American Association of Scientific Workers (AASW)
In 1936, the AAAS and its British counterpart, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, held a conference in the United Kingdom at which radical members called for a “Magna Carta of Science” and a “Supreme Court of Science” to dictate policies to the world’s nations. In the late 1930s, those radical members created the American Association of Scientific Workers (AASW) in response to the rise of fascist dictatorships in Germany and Italy, which were initially bitter rivals of the Soviet Union and the AASW. In effect, the AASW operated as a “Stalinist outpost,” in the words of the self-described socialist anti-Stalinist Sidney Hook.
To that end, the AASW initially encouraged the American government to “Fight Hitler” and fascism in Europe.  But following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which aligned the Soviet Russian and Nazi German governments and divided Poland between them, the AASW turned its efforts towards lobbying the U.S. government to remain neutral in World War II. As Sidney Hook wrote in a letter to then-AAAS president Walter Cannon quoting a disillusioned AASW member:
After the Nazi-Soviet Pact the AASW changed its political slogans and interests in exactly the same way as did the American Communist Party or the American Youth Congress. The boycott of German goods, their chief topic at meetings, the slogans “Fight Hitler” and “Collective Security” and related catch phrases [sic] were suddenly dropped like burning embers and silence on foreign affairs accompanied by Keep America out of War campaigns took their place.
After World War II, the AASW continued its support for the Soviet Union and opposed the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
Various leaders of the AAAS were well-connected with the AASW: at least seven well-known scientists and AASW members (including three AASW presidents) also served as AAAS presidents from 1931-1951: AASW co-founder Franz Boas, Karl T. Compton, Walter Cannon, Arthur Compton, Anton J. Carlson, Howard Shapley, and Kirtley Fletcher Mather.
In 1985, the AASW changed its name to the U.S. Federation of Scholars and Scientists.
Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (SESPA)
Scientists and Engineers for Social and Political Action (SESPA) was a communist organization created around 1969 to oppose U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. According to former members Sue Tafler and Kathy Greeley, SESPA began when “a caucus of dissident physicists introduced an antiwar resolution at the American Physical Society convention,” later joining with a group of left-wing engineers in Boston and scientists in California to form SESPA. By 1976, the organization had chapters in thirteen states and seven countries outside the United States. 
SESPA targeted AAAS and other scientific organizations for “reorganization” from a mainstream if perhaps left-leaning political alignment into a anti-war groups aligned with the interests of far-left interests. This involved regular intrusion into AAAS conventions in the 1970s, headed by SESPA activist Steve Cavrak. For this purpose, Cavrak was put in charge of SESPA’s AAAS Coordinating Committee for the 1976 AAAS convention in Boston, and the committee organized a “Research for the People” workshop and handed out leaflets “revealing the class nature of science, and showing how the current crisis [of the Vietnam War] reinforces this class character.”  The AAAS officially recognized SESPA as a legitimate part of the AAAS in 1976.
Much of this success in infiltrating the AAAS was documented by SESPA members in their bi-monthly magazine, Science for the People, in which Cavrak wrote:
At the AAA$ [sic] meeting, we met a lot of people who are interested in working with Science for the People. We have names, chapter contacts, and a national organizing committee. We have activity groups and ideas for new activity groups. It is important that all of us help bring the two together; that we all take part in building a science for the people. 
Science for the People called itself “a vehicle for antiwar analysis and activity,” with an “anti-imperialist world-view.” SESPA developed close relations with the Communist-aligned World Federation of Scientific Workers in 1970, when WFSW sponsored a trip for SESPA members to visit Hanoi, the capital of Communist-controlled North Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Shortly thereafter, Science for the People began organizing support for the North Vietnamese government, prompting the FBI to classify SESPA as a “revolutionary activity or New Left” organization for aiding the enemies of the U.S. during wartime. This included publishing a list of items “needed for struggle against U.S. imperialism” in Vietnam, asking readers to submit materials requested by North Vietnamese scientists such as oscillographs, microbial stamps, and seismographs. 
A declassified report by the FBI from 1971 quoted an early Science for the People article entitled “Science for Vietnam,” which read:
The Science for Vietnam project is one way in which scientists can give practical as well as symbolic meaning to a people-to-people peace with Vietnam. It is a start of reparations to a country that is being devastated in our name [emphasis original]. By openly collaborating with those whom our Government [sic] calls the enemy, it dissociates us from the war and serves notice that we are looking for new ways of resisting.
AAAS leadership consists of a chief executive officer, a rotating annual president, and a board of directors.
Chief Executive Officer
The AAAS Chief Executive Officer is responsible for the day-to-day management of the organization. The current CEO is former U.S. Representative Rush D. Holt, Jr. (D-N.J.), who assumed the office in February 2015. He also serves as executive publisher of Science magazine. Prior to joining AAAS, Holt represented New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District from 1999-2015.
Holt’s tenure as CEO has been marked by left-leaning political advocacy, especially since the 2016 presidential election. Under Holt’s leadership, the AAAS partnered with the left-wing “March for Science” demonstrations in March 2018.
Following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords environmentalist pseudo-treaty, Holt released a statement criticizing the administration. Holt also signed the AAAS as a supporter of an open letter urging President Trump to rescind his executive order prohibiting nationals of several majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
Holt’s predecessor was Alan I. Leshner, who served as AAAS CEO from 2001-2015 and promoted left-leaning activism. Prior to joining AAAS, Leshner had been a civil servant, rising to serve as director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the National Institutes of Health.
Under Leshner’s leadership, the AAAS praised the Obama administration’s 2014 decision to establish diplomatic relations with the Communist regime in Cuba, praising it for going “a long way to ensure a more robust science relationship with great mutual benefit.” 
The AAAS presidency is a three-year rotating position. Individuals elected to the position by AAAS members spend a year as president-elect; the following year as president; and the third and final year as chair of the AAAS board of directors.
The AAAS president for 2017-2018 is neuroscientist Susan Hockfield. Hockfield is the former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, president emeritus at the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, and a past board member at the firms General Electric and Qualcomm. 
The president-elect for 2018-2019 is Margaret Hamburg. Hamburg served in the Obama administration as U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner (2009-2015). She also served in the Clinton administration as assistant secretary for planning and evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Steven Chu, a physicist who served as Secretary of Energy in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, was elected president-elect for the 2019-2020 term on January 9, 2018.
Board of Directors
The AAAS board of directors is the body responsible for establishing general policies and governing the association’s programs.
The 2018-2019 AAAS board of directors consists of CEO Rush Holt, board chair Susan Hockfield, president (2019) Margaret Hamburg, president-elect Steven Chu, board treasurer Carolyn Ainslie, and eleven other AAAS members.
Controversial Past Presidents
Anthropologist Margaret Mead served as AAAS president in 1975. Mead first gained prominence following publication of her 1928 book Coming of Age in Samoa. The book depicted life among the Samoans of Ta’u Island as free from traditional sexual taboos, including public masturbation, prostitution, and divorce. Mead wrote that, “Romantic love as it occurs in our civilization, inextricably bound up with ideas of monogamy, exclusiveness, jealousy and undeviating fidelity does not occur in Samoa.”
But while Mead’s book was hailed by a number of major newspapers as groundbreaking, in 1983 anthropologist Derek Freeman (who had lived in Samoa since 1940) published Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. Freeman’s book disproved Mead’s thesis that sexual mores are unnatural and socially constructed by profiling the strong traditional values prevalent in Samoan society. 
But Mead’s book won her high praise and led her to join the AAAS as a famous anthropologist, along with numerous other awards—including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1979 (after her death). Following the release of Freeman’s book, Mead was criticized for promoting her personal views on cultural relativism, atheism, and sexual promiscuity as scientific facts, themes appreciated by many left-leaning or Marxist behavioral psychologists.
For more information, see John Holdren
Environmentalist and physicist John Holdren served as AAAS president from 2006-2007, and AAAS board chair from 2007-2008. He later served as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he advocated against U.S. possession of nuclear weapons and left-wing environmentalist policies. He was later appointed Assistant to the President for Science and Technology in the Obama White House and co-chair of then-President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
Holdren is a noted left-wing activist on issues of environmentalism, nuclear disarmament, energy policy, and population control. He has been criticized as a “neo-Malthusian” for his severe stance on supposed global overpopulation and advocacy for population control policies. In 1969, the 25-year-old Holdren (and co-author Paul Ehrlich, also a population control advocate) warned in a BioScience article entitled “Population and Panaceas: A Technological Perspective” that:
No effort to expand the carrying capacity of the Earth can keep pace with unbridled population growth. . . . [I]t cannot be emphasized enough that if the population control measures are not initiated immediately and effectively, all the technology man can bring to bear will not fend off the misery to come.
In 1977, Holdren, Ehrlich, and Anne Ahrlich published a controversial textbook entitled Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, in which they argued for solutions to global overpopulation—including the creation of a “Planetary Regime” to “control the development, administration, conservation and distribution of all natural resources.” The textbook also advocated for “compulsory abortion” to slow population growth.
The AAAS had expenditures of $101.3 million in 2015, revenues exceeding $103 million, and assets of $156.6 million.
Between 1995 and 2016, the AAAS received $60.7 million from 352 grants. Most of that money came from a number of large foundations: the Golden Family Foundation; the left-leaning David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Lawrence Ellison Foundation (founded by the liberal tech entrepreneur Larry Ellison); the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Verizon Foundation; Gordon E. and Betty I. Moore Foundation; Rockefeller Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; and the Joyce Foundation.
The federal government is the largest identifiable source of funding for AAAS. Between 2008 and 2017, federal funding to AAAS averaged over $3.3 million annually. Data from the website USA Spending (managed by the Office of Management and Budget) shows AAAS received $27.9 million in 451 contracts between 2004 and March 2018. Of this sum, the largest contracts were given to AAAS by the Department of Health and Human Services (largely from a subsidiary agency, the National Institutes of Health) and the Department of Homeland Security. AAAS received another $41.5 million in 25 grants between 2011 and December 2017, of which an overwhelming majority ($35.5 million) came from the National Science Foundation.