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Former congressman to exit science group after four years

Rush Holt led American Association for the Advancement of Science as scientists sought to raise advocacy profile in Trump era

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Photo: Chet Susslin, National Journal

Feb. 15, 2019
By Walt Williams

Rush Holt will retire as CEO of the $95 million-revenue American Association for the Advancement of Science later this year, with a search for his successor to begin soon.

Holt has led AAAS since 2015. He previously spent 16 years in the House of Representatives as a Democratic lawmaker representing the 16th congressional district of New Jersey. A physicist, Holt spent nine years as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, a Department of Energy national lab, and was an arms control expert at the State Department.

He has a Ph.D. in physics from New York University.

Holt’s tenure at AAAS has been marked by the association taking a more visible role in national debates concerning science policy, particularly after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. AAAS jumped on board and then took a leading role in helping organize the March for Science rally in Washington, D.C., and other cities in 2017. The group launched its “Be a Force for Science” campaign that same year, seeking to raise awareness about the role of science in forming public policy.

AAAS also has had to grapple with heightened awareness about sexual harassment in the science community during Holt’s time there. The association adopted a new policy in 2018 allowing it to revoke lifetime fellowships for scientists if they have engaged in “serious breaches of professional conduct”—a move coming after multiple scientists pressured the group to take action against members accused of sexual harassment.

AAAS said the board will soon launch an international search to find Holt’s successor. The group did not provide a definite date for the CEO’s departure, saying he plans to stay on until early fall to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

“We are grateful for Rush’s leadership over the last four years,” Susan Hockfield, chair of the AAAS board of directors, said in a statement. “He has advanced AAAS in many critical ways to the great benefit of the organization and science at large. At a time when scientific expertise is more important than ever, he launched key new initiatives to make that expertise more accessible to journalists, policymakers and public audiences.”

During Holt’s tenure, the “world’s largest general scientific society” also increased the number of individual members to 120,000 people.