Organizations give awards to recognize those individuals who best display the values that organization seeks to represent and uphold. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the leading scientific organization in the United States. From a vast pool of excellent scientists who engage with the public, the AAAS has decided in 2018 to give its prestigious award for Public Engagement with Science to climate scientist, Michael E. Mann.
I find this remarkable. Who is Dr. Mann?
- He Tweets all day about Donald Trump, typically calling him names and mocking him. Mann writes dozens and dozens of Tweets about Trump every day. Here is one from today.
- He has suggested, on more than one occasion, that the death penalty is appropriate for a Republican member of Congress. Here is one example:
- He has worked hard to have people he disagrees with fired from their jobs and suffer career repercussions, including by directly contacting employers and leading public campaigns. He has had some success. Here is a just a short list of individuals he has recently targeted:
- Bret Stephens
- Rebecca Mercer
- Megan McArdle
- Judith Curry
- He has sued people he disagrees with, including a journalist and a fellow academic. His lawsuits have been criticized by leading newspapers, including the Washington Post: “Mann essentially claims that he can silence critics because he is ‘right’ … [his lawsuit will] chill the expression of opinion on a wide range of important scientific and public policy issues.”
- He routinely excoriates individuals for being members of the Republican party and has expressed a desire for Congress to consist only of Democrats. He helps to run a Political Action Committee that has targeted several Republicans in Congress.
- He routinely engages in name-calling, outright misrepresentation of others’ views and leads social media bullying against fellow academics.
That is just a short list.
Mann is fully entitled to his views and the use of whatever techniques he thinks appropriate to advance his extreme politics. He is certainly not alone in playing political hardball in 2018.
My issue here is not with Mann. It is with the decision by AAAS to single out Mann as someone who embodies our highest values of the scientific community: a role model to emulate who engages in behaviors to celebrate.
With this award, what message is AAAS sending to the scientific community and to the public?
The AAAS is telling us that engaging in hyper-partisan, gutter politics, targeted against Republicans and colleagues you disagree with, using unethical tactics, will be rewarded by leaders in the scientific community.
AAAS could work to help to defuse the pathological politicization of science. Instead, it has thrown some gasoline on the fire.