AAAS Considering Revisions To Fellows Selection Process

Earlier this month I noted the criticism levied at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) about the selection of Dr. Patrick Harran as one of its new class of Fellows.  Dr. Harran’s lab was the site of a fatal lab accident in 2008, and both he and his university, UCLA, are complying with settlement agreements reached in the case.

AAAS Fellows are nominated either by existing fellows (as Harran was) or by the leadership of the relevant topical section (Chemistry, in Harran’s case).  Regardless of how a potential Fellow is nominated, the relevant topical section must review the nomination.  Then the elected members of the AAAS Council vote on the nomination.

On December 18 the steering group of the Chemistry topical section was granted approval to re-evaluate Harran’s nomination.  On the 22nd AAAS released this statement announcing that the Chemistry Section voted to not move Harran’s nomination forward and outlining the process used to come to that decision (H/T The Scientist).

For me, the troublesome language is at the end of the second paragraph.

“Members of the nomination reviewing committee recently became aware of a 2008 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran.”

I understand that the selection criteria for a Fellow is work in advancing science and/or its applications.  But I think it prudent to note – in advance of final selection – where there are other factors that make the prospective honoree a problematic selection.  That the Chemistry section failed to note the accident the first time is the problem.  The process allows for the opportunity to discuss nominees and any information that

Also noted in the AAAS announcement was that the AAAS Council Subcommittee on Fellows will be considering changes to the review process for future selections.  The American Chemical Society (ACS) may well beat them to any official changes, based on this report from Chemical and Engineering News.  Its leadership started including safety questions in its award nominations in 2013, and it is considering adding safety criteria to ACS fellow nominations.


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