AAAS: On the Brink of Gradual Change

WASHINGTON—Next week's annual meeting in Chicago will permit the American Association for the Advancement of Science to carry out its fundamental mission of promoting the public understanding of science. But something of even greater importance to the 139-year-old organization will take place after the meeting, when a successor to Executive Director William Carey will be announced. Carey, 70, is retiring March 31 after serving for a dozen years as head of the oldest, largest and most prest

By | February 9, 1987

WASHINGTON—Next week's annual meeting in Chicago will permit the American Association for the Advancement of Science to carry out its fundamental mission of promoting the public understanding of science. But something of even greater importance to the 139-year-old organization will take place after the meeting, when a successor to Executive Director William Carey will be announced. Carey, 70, is retiring March 31 after serving for a dozen years as head of the oldest, largest and most prestigious general science membership organization in the United States. The new executive director, according to authoritative sources, will be Alvin Trivelpiece, director of energy research at the Department of Energy since 1981. The Association declined to comment on the report.

The last six months have been a hectic and anxious time for an organization that prefers to take a cautious, gradual approach to the myriad issues facing the scientific community. And the future poses a stern challenge to its desire to maintain a strong voice on matters of science and public policy.

Carey has put off his retirement three times in the past two years. He agreed to remain at the helm of the 132,000-member organization during a period in which its magazine for a popular audience, begun in 1979, was suffering from failing financial health.

The prolonged and secretive search for Carey's successor has been widely criticized, both by officials within the association and by outside observers. Carey said the association's board of trustees did nothing when he told them five years ago of his eventual desire to step down. Two years ago he told them "to get moving," and a search committee was formed.

"We had a problem," acknowledged spokeswoman Carol Rogers.

"The process has gone on longer than originally anticipated, and with a degree of secrecy unusual in light of our philosophy of public access and openness." Sheila Widnall, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and president-elect of the Association, defended the lack of disclosure on the grounds that "we had to protect individuals who were happy in their jobs."

A Leader in Science

The trustees, Widnall said, "were looking for someone with the same, unique qualifications that Bill Carey brought to the position. We wanted someone who would speak out on the issues that threaten the vitality of science and who would be able to hit the ground running. We were hoping for someone with managerial experience," she added, "but scientific leadership—someone who knows the scientific process—was by far the most important characteristic."

Carey was vice president for public affairs at the consulting firm of Arthur D. Little when he joined AAAS in 1974. For 26 years he had served as a presidential adviser in the Bureau of the Budget and its successor, the Office of Management and Budget.

Trivelpiece, by comparison, has a worldwide reputation as a fusion energy scientist. He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology and was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California at Berkeley from 1959 to 1966 and a professor of physics at the University of Maryland from 1966 to 1976. In 1976 he became vice president for engineering and research at Max-well Laboratories in San Diego, and in 1978 became corporate vice president at Science Applications Inc. in La Jolla, Calif.

"He's a broad thinker," said Don Dobrott, a physicist who was recruited by Trivelpiece from government to work at Science Applications. "He's not a micromanager. His general approach is to lay out the groundwork and give you lots of freedom along with good advice."

Trivelpiece is also known as an able politician and a pragmatist. "He's a survivor," said Dobrott. "He's survived at the DOE for six years in a job where the average life span is 18 months. He dedicated his life to fusion research, but when the time came he was able to say, 'There's no public support for fusion right now. We have to live within budget constraints.'"

AAAS's efforts to find a new executive director were complicated by its preoccupation with the deficits run up by its acclaimed but financially shaky popular magazine. Science 86 won the prestigious National Magazine Awards three times in its seven-year history, and enjoyed a circulation of more than 700,000. But a 50 percent decline in advertising revenues during the last two years sealed its fate, an outcome Carey sees as "the greatest disappointment of my professional life."

Last June Science 86 was sold to Time Inc. for $5.5 million. Time immediately ceased publication of the magazine, although for a while it displayed its prize above the masthead of its own general science publication, Discover, in an effort to bolster that magazine's sagging fortunes.

Six months after the sale, the debate over whether it was right and proper has not subsided. Supporters argue that the magazine was viable, citing as one example the group of backers assembled by Editor Allen Hammond who made an informal offer to buy it. Carey said the Association "could have cannibalized the editorial content" to reduce costs, but that the magazine would still have needed a large amount of capital to survive. "We could have funded the magazine out of the Association's $22 million in short-term investments," he said, "but I couldn't see an end to the red ink and we weren't about to commit the Association to bankruptcy."

According to Widnall, who succeeds Lawrence Bogorad as AAAS president at the end of the Chicago meeting, "we simply were in over our heads in the commercial marketplace."

Despite its unhappy fate, the magazine generated nearly 40 per-cent of the Association's annual revenues. This year the AAAS ex pects to have an operating budget of around $28 million, compared with $41.5 million last year, and show an operating deficit of $500,000. In 1984 the Association balanced its books, but the loss in advertising revenues produced a deficit of $2 million in 1985 that is expected to be repeated when the books are closed on 1986.

The Association is also looking for tenants to fill the space now empty in the new building it leases in downtown Washington. Before the move 18 months ago its 310 employees (60 of whom worked on the magazine) were housed in four buildings downtown.

An Array of Programs

For all its recent setbacks, the AAAS maintains an impressive array of activities on behalf of science. Its annual report on federal funding of research and development has become an indispensable tool for lobbyists who need to track government policies toward science. Its numerous committees continue to monitor issues ranging from arms control to science education. In recent years the Association has sent teams of forensic scientists to locate the remains of "the disappeared" assumed to have been killed by government forces in Argentina and the Philippines.

Its other publishing ventures are flourishing as never before. Science, its venerable flagship publication, has gone through some edi tonal and graphic changes under Daniel Koshland, who succeeded Phillip Abelson as editor in January 1985. Its advertising revenues have risen steadily, from $6.3 million in 1983 to $8.9 million in 1985 and a projected $10.5 million this year. Its good health, in fact, will allow the Association to hold membership dues at $65, the first time in a decade that dues have not increased.

One knotty problem that Trivelpiece will face is how to revive interest in the Association's annual meeting, once described as "the world series of science." The five-day meeting regularly attracted more than 7,000 persons in the 1960s, said Arthur Herschman, head of the Office of Meetings and Publications. Current attendance ranges between 2,000 and 3,000, he said.

Association officials blame the drop-off on several factors, including an increase in hotel and transportation costs and the growing interest among scientists in specialized meetings that cover a single field. In 1983 the meeting date was moved from mid-January to the Memorial Day weekend, but the change did not halt the decline in attendance. "One factor we didn't consider," admits Herschman about the decision to, change the time of the meeting, "was that it was graduation time, and many professors could not attend."

Next week's meeting in Chicago marks a return to a winter meeting. An added attraction is a three-day symposium, entitled "Frontiers of Neuroscience," to entice scientists in the biological and life sciences who might otherwise not attend the general meeting. There is a separate registration fee of $60 for the symposium in addition to the $65 fee for the annual meeting.

Officials emphasize that the symposium is not a move away from the Association's focus on issues that affect the entire scientific community or its concern with larger, societal questions. Widnall called it "a meeting within a meeting." As of mid-January, however, the experiment had done little to boost attendance. "I had expected we'd do better," Herschman said about the early registration figures.

In 1989 the AAAS will add another wrinkle—a joint meeting with the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers. Widnall said the move is part of a three-year experiment in "co-locating" that will allow the three organizations to make better use of shared facilities and lower their operating costs. She added that the organizations have not decided whether the meeting will also feature joint registration, overlapping programming and other shared activities.

Bogorad, who becomes chairman of the board after the Chicago meeting, plays down the Association's financial problems. "I'm not suggesting everything's perfect," says the MIT plant physiologist. "It's a big struggle being an organization that represents all of science. But there is an important place for a general science organization."

Bogorad promises the board will be very receptive to ideas from its new executive director, although he stresses that the board will continue to set the overall direction for the Association. And the cautious style of leadership developed over 139 years is unlikely to be altered by any one person. As Widnall observed, "this Association is going to make evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes."

Gellerman is a freelance science journalist in Washington, D.C.

The Price of a Broken Heart

With a March 31 retirement date finally in sight, William Carey was eager to talk about his 12 years as executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Sitting at his desk with his 1929 manual Royal typewriter at his side and his ever-present pipe in his hand, Carey offered this retrospective in an interview with freelance science writer Bruce Gellerman.

On Taking the Job

Carey recalled his reluctance to leave Arthur D. Little Inc. when offered the AAAS position. "Why would I want to do that?" he remembers asking anthropologist Margaret Mead, then AAAS president. "She said it was a platform to influence public policy choices for science and technology. So I decided to take a shot at it."

On Human Rights

"I'm most proud of our stand on human rights. For years I've had one-sided correspondence with Soviet leaders. I've sent them telegrams and letters, but I've never gotten a response. I kept writing, and I'm pleased with the recent release of Andrei Sakharov, [whose detention was] a bone in the throat of East-West relations. There's a new door that each side can now gingerly approach, but the scars remain. It was a superb propaganda stunt, but Soviet human rights policy is still suspect."

On Science Education

"If we don't restore the worn-out aspects of our educational system, particularly in pre-college and undergraduate science and math, I'm afraid a very high price will have to be paid in the future. The system has become shoddy because of the emphasis on postgraduate work, and if we don't make the basic investments needed, it will be a short, happy ride to deep disappointment 10 years from now. The lack of government involvement in pre-college science is shocking. The feeder system upon which graduate work stands is getting creakier and creakier."

His Greatest Disappointment

"Science 86 was a high-risk decision to increase public understanding of science, to help deal with the extraordinary emergence of technological change and how these affect values, rights, attitudes and our future. But from 1984 to 1986 we lost 50 percent of our advertising income while costs continued to rise.

"In June 1986 we accepted Time Inc.'s offer. I suppose it was the blackest month in my professional life, but it had to be done to protect the assets of the Association. If Time continues to publish Discover, we may get $12 million or $13 million from the deal. But you can't pay for a broken heart."

On Leaving AAAS

"I'm abdicating, not retiring. I intend to assist private foundations and remain active in the affairs of the National Academy of Sciences and as a member of the board of governors of the Argonne National Laboratory. I'll assist the AAAS in a modest and unpaid capacity.

"If I'm remembered here for anything, I'd like to be remembered for positioning the AAAS in relation to the government sector—respected by Congress and the president as a responsible organization concerned with the national interest and the advancement of science, and one that fiercely defends its independence."

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