Summary: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the largest general science organization in the world; judging by the accomplishments of many of its members, it has contributed widely to our understanding of science and technology. But the association also has a long and painful history of “science-activism”—promoting ties to Marxist and other extremist groups, propounding junk science theories, and supporting draconian population control policies.
The Tradition Continues: Today’s Radicals in High Places
The AAAS has a revolving annual presidency given to AAAS fellows and notable scientists across numerous fields. After the election, they spend one year as president-elect, a second as president, and a third as chair of the AAAS board of directors. Neuroscientist Susan Hockfield, current president of the AAAS, formerly served as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and as a director for General Electric and Qualcomm.
The board of directors for 2018-2019 has a number of Obama administration connections: in addition to Susan Hockfield, it includes incoming president Margaret Hamburg, the Obama administration’s U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner; and Obama’s Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. It also includes board treasurer Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for finance and treasurer of Princeton University; AAAS chief executive officer Rush D. Holt; and a collection of other scientists and professors.
CEO Rush Holt is responsible for much of the organization’s day-to-day operations. Holt, the son of former West Virginia Senator (1935-1941) Rush D. Holt, Sr., a socialist-turned-conservative Democrat-turned Republican. Holt, Jr. represented New Jersey’s 12th district in Congress from 1999-2015. He succeeded longtime AAAS CEO Alan Leshner in 2015 and continues Leshner’s advocacy for left-wing policies.
Holt’s advocacy is markedly anti-Trump: under his watch, AAAS partnered with the anti-Trump March for Science in March 2018; he signed a letter urging the President to rescind his 2017 executive order temporarily blocking immigration from certain terrorist-ridden countries; he criticized the administration’s “disregard for science…[for] falling behind a new reality” following the 2018 State of the Union address; and he blasted the administration for “abdicat[ing] our leadership role” by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.
Holt is not the first AAAS chief to espouse science-activism. Under the leadership of his predecessor, Alan Leshner, the ostensibly science-motivated organization applauded President Obama’s 2014 decision to reestablish diplomatic ties with communist Cuba, that bastion of independent thought and scientific inquiry. Leshner was also markedly anti-Christian, lecturing school boards for choosing to teach (catastrophic man-made) climate change as a “controversial issue” instead of immutable truth; and preaching against teaching intelligent design alongside evolutionary theory in classrooms. As Leshner wrote in 2006, the AAAS, “America’s largest general science society, says fact and faith can happily co-exist—just not in science classrooms, lest we confuse tomorrow’s innovators about what is and isn’t science.”
Examining AAAS’s past presidents and CEOs long radical history reveals a pattern of political extremism, association with Marxist groups, and political activism masquerading as science. Take the case of environmentalist John Holdren who served a term as AAAS president from 2006-2007, and as board chair from 2007-2008. A 13-year tenured professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Holdren taught anti-nuclear and global warming policies—but he’s perhaps best-known for advocating for global population control measures. In 1969, the then-25-year-old Holdren co-published an article in the science journal BioScience entitled “Population and Panaceas: A Technological Perspective” in which he argued 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.
“[T]here is a tendency among the public, nurtured on Sunday-supplement conceptions of technology, to believe that science has the situation well in hand,” Holdren continued. “Today more than one billion human beings are either undernourished or malnourished, and the human population is growing at a rate of 2% per year.”
An unsustainable trend? Perhaps not. World hunger has declined by 216 million hungry people since 1992. World poverty has also declined from over 60 percent of the Earth’s population in 1970 to roughly 9.6 percent in 2015—a drop of over 50 percent in a generation. Simultaneously, the world average GDP per capita has increased from $5,165 in 1970 to $10,418 in 2015. And in the five decades since Holdren’s dire warnings first surfaced, the global population has more than doubled.
Holdren was (happily) wrong in all his dire predictions, and humanity has proved more resilient and inventive than he conceived in 1969. But that didn’t stop Holdren’s co-author, biologist Paul Ehrlich, from further evangelizing their gospel of population control.
Ehrlich’s infamous 1968 book, The Population Bomb, sensationalized theories of imminent human starvation and global ruination. According to Ehrlich, famine would prevail worldwide, diseases would sweep away whole continents of people, and social upheaval would finish the job on Mankind. But who did Ehrlich blame for overcrowding the planet? The opening scene of The Population Bomb might have an answer. It describes an Ehrlich family cab ride through “a crowded slum area” in Delhi, India, in 1966:
The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrust their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people….[S]ince that night, I’ve known the feel of overpopulation.
As science journalist Charles C. Mann later pointed out in Smithsonian, a little over 2.8 million people lived in Delhi in 1966. Compare that with the 8 million people living in Paris, France, in that same year. “No matter how carefully one searches through archives, it is not easy to find expressions of alarm about how the Champs-Élysées was ‘alive with people,’” Mann wrote. “Instead, Paris in 1966 was an emblem of elegance and sophistication”—a far cry from Delhi’s apparent Third World vulgarity that so shocked and horrified Ehrlich.
In a 1970 CBS News interview, Ehrlich took his alarmist claims one step further, saying that “most of the people who are going to die in the greatest cataclysm in the history of man have already been born. Sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.”
It’s worth noting that the world population when Ehrlich stated his case was just under 3.7 billion people; by 1985—the expected year of civilizational collapse—it had risen to 4.85 billion. Today it stands at around 7.4 billion people.
Ehrlich himself was ridiculed by many as a “neo-Malthusian,” referring to the warnings of the 19th century British scholar Thomas Malthus, who warned that population growth was outpacing growth in food production. Nevertheless, the preaching of Holdren and Ehrlich found fertile ground in the social reengineering world, which took their calls for severe policies to be “initiated immediately and effectively” as scripture.
The result was, in no uncertain terms, barbarie en masse. The Association for Voluntary Sterilization, United Nations Population Fund, Planned Parenthood, the Population Council, and other organizations leveled gruesome policies on developing nations. Many Third World governments mandated the use of contraceptives, sprinkled birth control pills across rural villages via helicopter, fixed healthcare workers’ salaries to the number of IUDs they inserted into women, and sterilized millions of people—often forcibly. It culminated, of course, in communist China’s infamous “one-child policy,” which was often enforced with compulsory abortions.
And in case you thought that these policies were confined to countries with apparently nightmarish hellscapes like Ehrlich’s India, think again. Consider this quotation from Holdren and Ehrlich’s 1972 book, Human Ecology: Problems and Solutions: “Political pressure must be applied immediately to induce the United States government to assume its responsibility to halt the growth of the American population.”
In the face of “the greatest crisis the United States and the world have ever faced,” the duo proposed a slew of chilling new solutions to the so-called “population bomb.” These included pressuring “pregnant single women to marry or have abortions,” instituting a two-child limit for families, and—momentarily revealing their totalitarian impulses—combining global agencies into “a Planetary Regime—sort of an international superagency for population, resources, and environment [to] control the development, administration, conservation, and distribution of all natural resources [emphasis theirs].” In a 1977 textbook, Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment, Ehrlich and Holdren offered a brutal solution to the problem of overpopulation:
Adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods is a suggestion that seems to horrify people more than most proposals for involuntary fertility control….To be acceptable, such a substance would have to meet some rather stiff requirements: it must be uniformly effective, despite widely varying doses received by individuals, and despite varying degrees of fertility and sensitivity among individuals; it must be free of dangerous or unpleasant side effects; and it must have no effect on members of the opposite sex, children, old people, pets, or livestock [emphasis added].
Nevertheless, John Holdren was later awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (also known as the MacArthur genius award) and senior research positions at prestigious laboratories and institutions such as Lawrence Livermore and the California Institute of Technology. He has served on the board of the MacArthur Foundation (a notable left-wing funder), and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Council on Foreign Relations. He even served as chair of the executive committee of the Pugwash Conferences, which brought Western scientists together with their Soviet counterparts (and sundry embedded KGB intelligence officers) to promote “peace” between East and West. Holdren remains an elected fellow of the AAAS.
In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Holdren to serve as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He used his podium to try to “muster the political will for serious evasive action” in order to halt the threat of global warming.
He cropped up again in an April 2017 speech following the so-called March for Science in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. It was pure science-activism: “Scientists, who are better positioned than most to appreciate what is at stake in these political decisions,” Holdren said, “surely have no less a right and responsibility than any other group to ensure their voices are heard in the political process.” He proposed dedicating 10 percent of scientists’ and engineers’ time to “educating policymakers and the public on issues such as climate change, protecting the world’s oceans and public lands,” and other environmentalist aims. It’s their duty, Holdren continued, because President Donald Trump “has not given any indication or awareness of the role of science in government, or the role of government in science.”
Paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould served as AAAS president in 2000. Following his death from lung cancer in May 2002, Gould was widely mourned; but his memory also found a peculiar home in forlorn obituaries across revolutionary socialist and communist websites.
The Marxist publication Monthly Review hailed Gould as active in the New York Marxist School (now the Brecht Forum) and the anti-Vietnam War movement and insisted the longtime liberal “identified himself as a Marxist.” Socialism Today, the Socialist Party’s magazine, praised Gould for “apply[ing] a broadly-Marxist method of analysis to evolution” and “continually campaign[ing] against creationism.” Solidarity—an organization founded in 1986 and opposed to “the capitalist system and its destructive impact on humanity and the planet”—celebrated “Gould’s thinking about science [which] was deeply infused with his humanist and socialist commitments.”
A biographical website, StephenJayGould.org, praises the paleontologist’s career but neglects mentioning his affiliations with socialist and communist organizations like SESPA. Gould’s 2002 obituaries in leading newspapers—such as the New York Times, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times—brushed off references to allegations of his Marxism, if they bothered to mention it at all (most didn’t). Only Britain’s Guardian even mentions his involvement in the “radical science movement.”
But in its own obituary, Solidarity also mentions that “Gould was on the fringes of a movement of left-wing scientists which in the 1970s called itself ‘Science for Vietnam,’ later becoming ‘Science for the People.’” In fact, a January/February 1988 special issue of Science for the People lists Stephen Jay Gould as a member of its editorial advisory board. Further research reveals Gould was a panelist in at least one Socialist Scholars Conference.
Gould, the son of a Marxist, seems to have publicly danced around his affiliation with radical groups—insisting he was a “card-carrying liberal in politics.” But America’s socialists, it seems, are only too happy to claim him for their own. As the pastor David A. Noebel put it in 2007, “Stephen Jay Gould ultimately may not have been an atheist or a Marxist, but nearly his whole life argues in favor of both positions.”
In the conclusion of Mad Science, we look at how the AAAS is funded and how it influences policy debates.