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A Look Inside NAS Election Process

WASHINGTON—The recent controversy over the rejection of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington for membership in the National Academy of Sciences, which spilled over into a rare public debate, has focused attention on the academy's election process. It's an elaborate procedure, deliberately shrouded in secrecy, that repeatedly screens out candidates until a consensus emerges on those most worthy of NAS membership. it is built around a system that divides all of science into five cl

Jeffrey Mervis
WASHINGTON—The recent controversy over the rejection of Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington for membership in the National Academy of Sciences, which spilled over into a rare public debate, has focused attention on the academy's election process.

It's an elaborate procedure, deliberately shrouded in secrecy, that repeatedly screens out candidates until a consensus emerges on those most worthy of NAS membership. it is built around a system that divides all of science into five classes, each of which receives a share (called a quota) of the 60 member slots that can be filled each year. (Non-U.S. citizens may be elected as foreign associates.)

The quotas are set by the Council, a 17-person policy-making body that meets six times a year. Although several present and former councilors admitted that the quota system is not entirely rational, many are reluctant to discuss a process that has set them above their colleagues. The academy's...

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