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AAS Statement on Limiting the Use of GRE Scores
in Graduate Admissions in the Astronomical Sciences

Adopted 4 January 2016

Each year, roughly 55,000 physical science majors take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)[1] and 5,000[2] take the Physics Subject Exam (PGRE). Both the GRE and PGRE are widely used in the astronomical community as a metric to rank graduate talent. Most US graduate programs in the astronomical sciences require the GRE and PGRE to evaluate applicants. In addition, GRE scores are required by several major fellowships and are used to rank graduate programs by organizations such as US News and World Report[3] and the National Research Council[4].

The evidence, however, suggests that GRE and PGRE scores are poor predictors of success in graduate study in the astronomical sciences. Glanz (1996)[5] demonstrated that GRE scores are weakly correlated with average grades in graduate physics courses at Harvard University. Sternberg & Williams (1997)[6] demonstrated that GRE scores fail to correlate with several key skills for graduate study, including analytical thinking, creativity, research acumen and teaching, and correlate only modestly with first-year grade point average. Preliminary research indicates similarly weak predictive power for the PGRE[7]. To be clear, the predictive power of these exams is not zero; longitudinal meta-analytic studies do find statistically significant linear correlation coefficients at the 0.1-0.2 level between test scores and long-term outcomes such as citations and scholarly output decades later. However, these correlations emerge only through multivariate analyses that control for the more dominant correlations of test scores with demographic variables — systematics for which graduate admissions committees rarely correct quantitatively.

Indeed, because the tests have such strong systematics, the use of GRE and PGRE scores as a measure of potential success has well-documented and powerful effects on the demographics of the resulting graduate cohorts. Halley et al. (1991)[8] showed that GRE performance correlates with whether the undergraduate institution has a graduate program, implicitly penalizing students from many liberal arts colleges. Research by the Education Testing Service (ETS), and more recently by Miller & Stassun (2014)[9], demonstrate that GRE scores correlate with demographic characteristics unrelated to potential for graduate study, such as gender, race and socioeconomic status. These correlations persist even in the GRE's recently revised general test[10]. These demographic correlations are a feature of standardized exams more generally (e.g., Helms 2009)[11] and may well be the result of stereotype threat, the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one's own group (Steele & Aronson 1995)[12],[13]. Miller & Stassun show that misusing GRE scores, particularly by establishing score thresholds, fuels the underrepresentation of white women and minorities in graduate programs. ETS itself states, “A cutoff score [on the GRE] should never be used as the only criterion for denial of admission or awarding of a fellowship.”

A third issue with the GRE exam is its financial burden on test takers. Students currently pay $195 to take the GRE[14] and $150 to take the PGRE[15], as well as $27 for each institution/fellowship they designate to receive an official score beyond an initial four. Considering that students often take these exams multiple times (particularly the PGRE) and apply to 5-10 graduate programs, these tests require a significant investment. While ETS has a Fee Reduction Program[16] that covers 50% of exam costs, it applies to a single test and has stringent eligibility requirements. Fulfilling the GRE requirement is thus beyond the means of many students.

Based on this research, several physics and astronomy graduate programs and fellowships, notably the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) and the Ford Foundation Fellowship, have dropped the GRE and/or PGRE from their admissions or application requirements[17]. The National Society of Hispanic Students (NSHP) recently called for a critical reevaluation of the use of the GRE as an admissions metric[18]. Nevertheless, Miller (2013)[19] found that 96% of physics programs retain them, and over half specify cutoffs. As an alternative, some programs have begun to incorporate measures of non-cognitive skills (e.g., structured interviews that specifically assess these skills[20]) as less biased and much stronger predictors of potential for long-term success.

Recommendation: Given the research indicating that the GRE and PGRE are poor predictors of graduate student success, that their use in graduate admissions has a particularly negative impact on underrepresented groups, and that they represent a financial burden for many students in pursuing advanced degrees in the astronomical sciences, the AAS recommends that graduate programs eliminate or make optional the GRE and PGRE as metrics of evaluation for graduate applicants. If GRE or PGRE scores are used, the AAS recommends that admissions criteria account explicitly for the known systematics in scores as a function of gender, race, and socioeconomic status, and that cutoff scores not be used to eliminate candidates from admission, scholarships/fellowships, or financial support, in accordance with ETS recommendations.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]Glanz, J. (1996). How Not to Pick a Physicist? Science 274, 710 [6]Sternberg, R. & Williams, W. (1997). Does the Graduate Record Examination Predict Meaningful Success in the Graduate Training of Psychologists? American Psychologist 52, 630-641 [7]Miller, C. (2015), preliminary analysis presented at Inclusive Astronomy 2015, [8]Halley, J. W. et al. (1991). The Graduate Record Examination as an indicator of learning of the curriculum taught to physics majors in US institutions. American Journal of Physics 59, 403 [9]Miller, C. & Stassun, K.G. (2014). A test that fails: A standard test for admission to graduate school misses potential winners, Nature Careers 510, 303 [10] [11]Helms, J. E. (2009). Defense of tests prevents objective considerations of validity and fairness. American Psychologist 64, 283-284. [12]Steele, C.M., & Aronson, J. Stereotype Threat and the Intellectual Test Performance of African Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69, 797 [13]A great resource on stereotype threat is [14] [15] [16] [17]See for a subset of these institutions. [18] [19] [20]Stassun et al. (2011). “The Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program: Recognizing, enlisting, and cultivating unrealized or unrecognized potential in underrepresented minority students”, American Journal of Physics, 79, 374. See also

AAS Statement on Sexual Harassment by Faculty

Adopted 15 October 2015

Last Friday, news organizations reported that one of our colleagues, Prof. Geoff Marcy of the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), was investigated for having sexually harassed at least four women over a period of at least a decade. The two women mentioned by name in the news reports are respected AAS members. Prof. Marcy posted a letter of apology for his behavior on his website, which he also sent to the AAS and to several colleagues, and he has resigned from the UCB faculty and from his position as principal investigator of the $100 million Breakthrough Listen project searching for life beyond Earth.

Scientists do their best work in a respectful environment that “encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas” — to quote the AAS Anti-Harassment Policy, which is codified in our Bylaws. The AAS Ethics Statement states that “All people encountered in one’s professional life should be treated with respect” and furthermore, that “More senior members of the profession, especially research supervisors, have a special responsibility to facilitate the research, educational, and professional development of students and subordinates.” The statement specifically mentions their responsibility for “providing safe, supportive work environments.”

The AAS deplores sexual harassment and expresses its unequivocal support for the people who risk their own professional status by speaking publicly in order to protect others from similar abuse.

The publicity surrounding the recent incident offers an important opportunity for all of us to discuss, within our groups and institutions, what responsibilities we have as professionals and how we can ensure that everyone in our profession is afforded a safe, supportive workplace within which they can thrive. It is unlikely this kind of behavior has occurred at only one institution, and each of us should look carefully to our own spaces. The AAS believes this is a moment in which we can improve our professional climate in important ways, and we encourage everyone to discuss harassment in astronomy with their colleagues and to contribute to its eradication. For our own part, the AAS will create a special task force to expand the AAS Ethics Statement to include procedures to be followed in the event that an AAS member violates any aspect of its provisions.

We live in a special moment for astronomy, with major discoveries and new worlds to uncover. It is a privilege to participate in the quest to understand our universe. If we pay attention to climate and accessibility in our teaching, learning, and research spaces, we will benefit from a broader talent pool, new ideas, and new energy. Astronomy will be the better for it.

AAS Statement on the National Research Council’s Report
Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System

Adopted 12 September 2015

The American Astronomical Society* strongly endorses the recommendations of the recently published National Research Council (NRC) report Optimizing the U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared Astronomy System.

Specifically, the AAS agrees with the report’s statement that our nation’s top priority in this domain should be a “system that is well coordinated and facilitates broad access to achieve the best science.” The AAS further endorses the report’s key recommendations on optimizing instrumentation for, and offering broad access to, the full suite of public and private telescopes; on developing the capacity to further investigate Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) discoveries; on identifying the facilities needed to realize other decadal survey priorities; and on continuing technology development and astronomer training needed for the future.

We are on the threshold of a new era of discovery in U.S. ground-based optical and infrared astronomy, given the incredible capabilities of LSST and the planned 30-meter telescopes. The scientific opportunities provide a compelling case for optimizing and advancing the country’s system of observatories, even if the National Science Foundation’s Astronomical Sciences Division (NSF/AST) does not yet have the resources to implement all of the report’s key recommendations without severely impacting program balance — the long-standing priority of the NRC’s decadal surveys.

NSF/AST has just released a public response to this NRC report, identifying the next steps to be taken in consultation with the broader astronomical community. Notwithstanding the constrained funding environment today, we encourage AST to use the report to advocate for additional resources and to partner with non-federal U.S. observatories to vigorously pursue this compelling ground-based optical/infrared astronomy program. The AAS is committed to helping achieve the important goals presented in the report.

*Because of their involvement with the NRC’s U.S. Ground-Based Optical and Infrared (OIR) Astronomy System study, Debra Elmegreen (Chair of the OIR study committee and Chair of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy), Lynne Hillenbrand (member of the OIR study committee and of the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy), and Joel Parriott (consultant to the OIR study committee and AAS Director of Public Policy) all recused themselves from the issuance of this statement.

AAS Statement on the President's Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Request

Adopted 12 March 2015

Investments in scientific discovery lay the groundwork needed to secure America’s future economic prosperity and a higher quality of life for our nation’s citizens. It is crucial that the government make these investments a priority as our economy continues to recover if we are to compete globally. The study of the universe drives technology development that contributes to US national and economic security, captures the public’s imagination, and serves as a disproportionately important gateway science attracting students from diverse backgrounds to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is troubled by the lack of priority placed on scientific discovery in the president’s FY 2016 budget request, including a proposed 2% cut for the astronomical sciences. This cut is set against the backdrop of a budget that proposes to increase total discretionary spending by 7% above FY 2015 appropriated levels (and FY 2016 budget caps). The AAS does appreciate that the FY 2016 request for the astronomical sciences reflects an increase over past administration proposals, but the compounding impact of another year of cuts would have lasting negative consequences and further erode US leadership in this field.

The astronomical science community has a long history of producing prioritized visions for the field via “decadal surveys” from the National Research Council. These reports require difficult, consensus-based choices and serve to maximize the scientific return on the public’s investment by guiding federal budget priorities in the astronomical sciences within an environment of highly constrained resources. Over just the past year, decadal-survey prioritized missions and facilities have enabled US researchers to discover potentially habitable Earth-like planets around other stars, orbit a dwarf planet in the outer solar system for the first time, observe fireworks from the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy, and better predict energetic outbursts from the Sun that have serious implications for power and communications systems on Earth.

Dramatic research results such as these, made possible by previous federal investments, are met with flat or declining budget requests that force unhealthy trade-offs between breakthrough facilities and the research grant programs required to fully exploit them. The unrestricted competitive grant programs at the NSF and NASA have seen proposal award rates — an imperfect but useful indicator of the adequacy of a competitive grant program’s funding — steadily decline for a number of years, with many productive research groups around the country now at a tipping point. Increasing numbers of top new scientists and engineers trained at American universities are choosing to pursue their careers in research and innovation abroad, reversing a multidecade trend started when Albert Einstein first came to the US. This budget does little to address this mounting problem. There is a serious long-term threat to the nation’s international competitiveness as our long-standing leadership position in many areas of science is lost to other countries where very different investment decisions are being made.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

The AAS is concerned that while the administration’s proposal would increase the NASA top-line budget by 3% — well below the overall proposed 7% increase in discretionary spending — little of the increase would flow to SMD. In fact, SMD’s astronomical science divisions in aggregate would be cut by almost 4%. The proposed budget for FY 2016 and future years would require already funded missions to be canceled before the end of their scientifically productive lives and would underinvest in the research grants that enable our community to maximize the scientific return on federal investment in SMD’s missions. A number of top-priority decadal-survey recommendations such as the modest Diversify, Realize, Integrate, Venture, Educate (DRIVE) initiative in the Heliophysics Division continue to be delayed in this budget.

We also continue to have concerns about the administration’s proposals for SMD’s education and public outreach activities. The FY 2016 budget supports a consolidated program within SMD, which we support in principle, but the proposed funding level is only half the amount appropriated in FY 2015 and prior years for these activities. The AAS shares the administration’s goal of a more effective and efficient STEM education portfolio but disagrees with such steep budget reductions before the impact of the newly consolidated program can be properly evaluated.

Within this overall troubling budget outlook for SMD, there are a number of positive elements: support for high-priority flagship missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, Mars 2020 rover, and Solar Probe Plus) and a steady cadence of cost-capped, competed missions in the Astrophysics Explorer and Planetary Discovery budget lines. The Society also appreciates the administration’s support for beginning formulation of a cost-effective flagship mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa and its continued commitment to pre-formulation investments in the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

The AAS appreciates NSF’s continued commitment to building cutting-edge telescopes through the Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction account and growing the Mid-Scale Innovations Program (MSIP). However, we note that while the NSF would receive a 5% increase under the request, the Mathematical and Physical Sciences (MPS) directorate would increase by only 2%, and the Astronomical Sciences division by just 1%. With increasing operations costs for new facilities coming online and an overwhelming demand for MSIP grants, this request would lead to a 2% reduction in the core competitive research grant programs that allow the astronomical user community to capitalize on federal investment in new and existing facilities and instrumentation.

A recent NSF report listed a number of important priorities from the latest astrophysics survey that NSF is unable to implement given the Astronomical Sciences Division’s ongoing funding constraints. These lost opportunities ranged from exciting new large- and medium-sized facilities to modest augmentations to research grant and advanced technologies and instrumentation programs.

Department of Energy’s Office of Science

The AAS appreciates the administration’s support for the DoE’s Cosmic Frontier program, including full funding to keep the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope camera project on track as NSF continues construction of the telescope, and initial fabrication support for the high-priority Dark Energy Survey Instrument.

As the budget process moves forward over the coming months, the AAS looks forward to working with the Congress and the administration to ensure robust and sustained investment in scientific discovery. Together we can forge a brighter future for the scientific research enterprise and our country as a whole.

AAS Statement on "Shirtgate"/"Shirtstorm"

Adopted 19 November 2014

The past few days have seen extensive international discussion of an incident (known online as #shirtstorm or #shirtgate) in which a participant in a European Space Agency media conference wore a shirt with sexualized images of gun-toting women and made an unfortunate remark comparing the featured spacecraft to a woman. Viewers responded critically to these inappropriate statements, especially jarring in such a highly visible setting (one in which very few women appeared), and the scientist apologized sincerely. But in the meantime, unacceptable abuse has been directed toward the critics, from criticism of “over-active feminism” to personal insults and more dire threats.

We wish to express our support for members of the community who rightly brought this issue to the fore, and we condemn the unreasonable attacks they experienced as a result, which caused deep distress in our community. We do appreciate the scientist’s sincere and unqualified apology.

The AAS has a clear anti-harassment policy, which prohibits “verbal comments or physical actions of a sexual nature” and “a display of sexually suggestive objects or pictures.” Had the offending images appeared and comments been made under the auspices of the AAS, they would be in clear violation of our policy.

We also note the important sentiments that preface the policy:

As a professional society, the AAS must provide an environment that encourages the free expression and exchange of scientific ideas. In pursuit of that environment, the AAS is committed to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment for all members, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, veteran status, or any other reason not related to scientific merit. All functions of the Society must be conducted in a professional atmosphere in which all participants are treated with courtesy and respect…

The AAS Council reaffirms the importance of the Society’s anti-harassment policy to our mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe. Only when all astronomers feel welcome and supported in the profession can our discipline realize its full potential for excellence.

AAS Statement on the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request

Adopted 24 March 2014

As the nation works toward a hard-fought economic recovery, it is crucial that we strengthen investments in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research that will help drive our long-term prosperity in the global knowledge economy. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is troubled by the reduction in basic science research funding proposed in the President’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget Request. We are particularly concerned by the budget allocations for NASA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. While we appreciate the limitations imposed by the statutory caps on discretionary spending, these vital basic science research programs warrant a higher priority within these spending caps. 

The astronomical sciences play an important role in our nation’s science and technology enterprise as a discovery-focused field that captures the public’s imagination, drives technology development, contributes to our national security, and serves as a gateway science introducing students to the scientific method and other STEM fields. Our community has a long history of producing exciting and prioritized visions for the field via “decadal surveys” from the National Research Council. These broad community-based reports serve to maximize the scientific return on the public’s investment by guiding federal budget priorities in the astronomical sciences.

As with many other areas of basic science research, the astronomical sciences have never been more ripe for discovery. In just the past few weeks NASA’s Kepler mission has nearly doubled the number of confirmed planets outside our solar system (many of them in multiple-planet systems much like our own solar system). Shortly thereafter, a U.S.-led team of researchers using an NSF-funded telescope at the South Pole announced compelling evidence of primordial gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time itself. These waves originate in the explosive inflationary period just after the Big Bang and open a whole new window on our Universe’s first moments.  

Dramatic research results such as these are now juxtaposed with a lackluster budget that cuts funding outright for NASA and provides only small, sub-inflationary increases for the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Within these top-line funding levels, our primary concern — an overarching priority of the decadal surveys — is achieving a balanced research program. Steadily declining proposal funding rates across competitively selected grant programs at NASA and NSF are a bellwether of imbalance.

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD)

At a time when space science is one of nation’s brightest lights, delivering outstanding scientific discoveries and substantial public support, the President’s proposed 3.5-percent cut for NASA’s SMD is extremely worrying. We are particularly concerned by the 9 percent cut to the Astrophysics Division and the unanticipated decision to mothball a major mission outside the well-established senior review process. The AAS is also concerned about the imbalance within SMD given the inadequate funding for ongoing mission operations (including damaging cuts to major missions), flat or declining research and analysis grant funding, and the outlook for the Planetary New Frontiers and Heliophysics Explorer competed mission lines. Within this overall troubling budget outlook for SMD, there are positive elements of the request that deserve praise: support for high-priority flagship missions (James Webb Space Telescope, Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, Mars 2020 rover, Solar Probe Plus, and the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope) and the improved cadence of cost-capped, competed missions in the Astrophysics Explorer and Planetary Discovery lines.

The new proposal for mission-focused STEM education and public outreach (EPO) activities to be consolidated within SMD is also noteworthy since it is an improvement over the drastic and damaging restructuring proposed in the 2014 Budget. We are pleased the Administration has recognized that successful EPO programs need to deeply embed mission scientists and engineers in the program. However, we are concerned that the Budget reduces funding for these EPO activities by two-thirds. This drastically reduced funding level is inadequate for continuing the current high-quality EPO activities within SMD. The AAS shares the Administration’s goal of a more effective STEM education portfolio, and we welcome the opportunity for improved stakeholder input as the Administration pursues the strategic goals outlined in its recent interagency STEM education plan.

National Science Foundation

Given the importance of NSF’s core research programs to the nation, the AAS is concerned by the flat funding for NSF’s research account — including a one-percent cut for the Division on Astronomical Sciences — in the President’s Budget. The loss of buying power and outright reductions in funding for the astronomical sciences and other core research programs at NSF will continue to erode our nation’s leadership in many fields. There are, nevertheless, two relative bright spots in the NSF budget for which the AAS is appreciative. We welcome the significant increase for the second year of construction funding for the groundbreaking Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), the number one priority for ground-based astronomy in the most recent astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey. The Division for Astronomical Sciences and its parent Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate are to be commended for identifying more resources for a mid-scale instrumentation and facility program, also a top decadal survey priority. The AAS stands ready to work with the NSF as it tries to rebalance its astronomical sciences and space physics portfolios in the face of increasing facility operations costs and declining proposal success rates.

Department of Energy’s Office of Science

While the AAS laments the proposed cut to the High Energy Physics program at the Office of Science, we are pleased by the increase in the Cosmic Frontiers area. We enthusiastically welcome the planned increase in funding for the LSST camera fabrication, which would keep this NSF-DOE project on track to provide our first deep look at the violent, ever-changing universe at the beginning of the coming decade

As the budget process moves forward over the coming months, the AAS looks forward to working with the Congress and the Administration to strengthen the country’s investment in basic science research. Together we can forge a brighter future for the scientific research enterprise and our country as a whole.

AAS Statement on Community-based Priority Setting in the Astronomical Sciences

Adopted 17 March 2014

The American Astronomical Society strongly endorses community-based priority setting as a fundamental component in the effective funding, management, and oversight of the federal research enterprise. Broad community input is required in making difficult decisions that will be respected by policymakers and stakeholders. The National Academies' decadal surveys are premier examples of setting priorities with extensive community input. Other National Academy studies, senior and portfolio reviews, standing advisory committee studies, town hall meetings, and mid-decade adjustments to the decadal surveys are also important components. These processes leverage the combined effort and expertise of the community to maximize the scientific return of the public and private investments in the astronomical sciences. These community processes are particularly beneficial during times of highly constrained budgets. Efforts that go outside these long-standing advisory processes in an attempt to benefit or harm specific projects or alter priorities are counterproductive and damage the scientific endeavor as a whole.

AAS Statement on the Impact of Federal Agency Travel Restrictions on Scientific Conferences

Adopted 27 March 2013

The American Astronomical Society and its six divisions (Planetary Science, High Energy Astrophysics, Solar Physics, Dynamical Astronomy, Historical Astronomy, and Laboratory Astrophysics) are deeply concerned about the impact of the Administration’s new conference travel restrictions on the scientific productivity and careers of researchers who are Federal employees and contractors.

Scientific meetings and conferences are a principal mechanism for researchers, students, and educators to facilitate and strengthen their interaction and collaborations with peers in their field, thereby advancing the state of knowledge in that field. Scientists who are Federal employees or contractors play a critical role in all fields of science and engineering, so the Federal agency mission suffers when they, and any students collaborating with them, are unable to travel to relevant conferences.

In response to guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget on implementation of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 sequestration, many agencies have issued new travel restrictions for employees, contractors, and grantees for the rest of FY 2013. For example, NASA has effectively capped conference attendance at 50 employees and contractors and prohibited all attendance at foreign conferences. Given the mission need for NASA personnel to regularly meet with international collaborators, we believe our international leadership in space will be undermined by this prohibition.

While conferences occurring in the remaining six months of FY 2013 will be severely impacted by these new directives, our deeper concern is the likelihood that the restrictions and reduced conference travel spending will become standard policy going forward. We agree that all government travel expenditures should be subject to vigorous review and oversight, but we urge the Administration to consider carefully the harm that these top-down restrictions could cause the U.S. research enterprise and our international standing.

American Astronomical Society Endorsement of AGU's 2012 Statement on Climate Change

Adopted 6 January 2013

In its 2012 statement on Climate Change, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) has reconfirmed that there is compelling evidence of human impact on the climate system with potentially far-reaching consequences for ecological and political systems.  The AGU has made a powerful case that increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere significantly contributes to the warming of the global climate. The AGU recognizes that the climate system is complex, and there are uncertainties in climate projections that are made. However, it notes that there are no known sources of uncertainty that could make the impact of climate change inconsequential, and it recommends substantially reducing our net annual CO2 emissions. 

There are numerous aspects of this complex, multi-disciplinary problem that fall within the realm of astronomy, such as solar variations, planetary atmospheres, radiative transfer and numerical modeling. Our fundamental approach to interacting with the world -- collecting reproducible large datasets, using state-of-the-art detectors, reconstructing remote phenomena, understanding the world through physical models, and employing sound statistical analyses of significance -- are highly congruent with the modus operandi of earth scientists.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) acknowledges the AGU’s careful review of the current body of knowledge using sound scientific methodologies, and recognizes its collective expertise in scientific subfields central to assessing and understanding global change. The AAS joins the AGU in calling for continued peer-reviewed climate research to inform climate-related policy decisions, to provide a basis for mitigating the harmful effects of global change, and to help communities adapt and become resilient to extreme climatic events.

AAS Resolution on Being a Responsible Non-Profit Organization

Adopted 6 January 2013

Environmental challenges are among the most important issues facing human society today. The AAS, as a responsible nonprofit, has adopted a "green policy" for its office practices and established a Sustainability Committee dedicated to fostering awareness and participatory social responsibility for all AAS members. These initial steps are insufficient actions given the scope of environmental and other challenges we face today. Therefore, the AAS resolves that, while undertaking activities to fulfill its mission, it will demonstrate responsibility for the natural world, the people who work to implement its projects and programs, its own financial security and longevity, and society more broadly.

AAS Statement on the NSF Portfolio Review

Adopted 9 September 2012

For more than fifty years, the Astronomical Sciences have set a standard for responsible stewardship of public resources. Each decade, the community reviews the current state of the disciplines of astronomy and astrophysics, planetary science, and heliophysics and produces a prioritized list of projects, programs and initiatives important for scientific progress in the coming decade. The AAS strongly supports the principle of making such decadal recommendations and works to have them implemented as part of its mission to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the Universe. These grand aspirations are now being pursued in a changing fiscal environment that is likely to see severe constraints on federal research expenditures.

As a consequence, the Astronomical Sciences Division of the National Science Foundation convened a committee to review its complete portfolio of facilities and programs. The Portfolio Review Committee report provides a thorough and detailed audit of the nation's ground-based resources in light of the scientific priorities set forth by the Decadal Surveys. Their recommended balance of large, medium, and small-scale efforts highlights the need to maintain sufficient funds to support individual investigators, to continue a program of technical innovation, and to train the next generation of scientists, while also funding those facilities essential for addressing the decadal surveys’ scientific priorities.

The AAS supports such community involvement in the hard decisions imposed on us by the current trend of diminishing federal investment in the nation's future scientific capacity, a trend we regard as unwise. The Astronomical Sciences Division's diminished projected budget cannot both initiate the new projects envisioned by the decadal surveys, and operate the entire current suite of ground-based facilities. These national facilities, available to all solely on the basis of scientific merit, are essential to keeping the astronomical community strong and diverse. Curtailment of access will have a major negative impact on many in our active research community. Even if some public-access facilities can be converted to private ownership, smaller programs will be disproportionately challenged, producing a negative impact on the training of a diverse scientific workforce.

The Portfolio Review presents an opportunity for a new dialog with the leadership of the NSF and other federal agencies, along with the Executive and Legislative branches, on the value to the nation of their investments in the astronomical sciences. The recent surveys — New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science, and Solar and Space Physics: A Science for a Technological Society — aptly noted that astronomy is a key “gateway science”, promoting growth in the K-16 STEM pipeline which, in turn, helps to build the innovation economy.  If, however, the NSF budget projections become our reality, the Portfolio Review has both provided a framework for developing creative new arrangements for facility operations and opened important new pathways for innovative mid-scale projects by advocating divestment rather than closure of lower-ranked facilities, by explicitly recognizing the importance of co-tenants and work in progress, and by recommending some restructuring of grant programs.

The operation of new and existing world-class facilities, coupled with robust support for the individual scientists and engineers — including those in training — who will use these facilities in charting the future of our science, will impose hard choices of the kind the Review Committee has recommended. The AAS stands ready to help support the transitions required, while working to promote continued US leadership in the exploration of the Universe and the understanding of our place in it.

The Decadal Surveys Guide AAS Advocacy

Adopted 14 September 2011

The American Astronomical Society has in the past endorsed and continues to endorse the decadal survey priority-setting process used by the planetary, heliophysics, and astronomy and astrophysics communities. These surveys build a community consensus on the most compelling questions, priorities, missions, projects, and activities in each discipline, and provide guidance on priorities and balance when difficult funding decisions need to be made. The AAS stands behind the recommendations of all the decadal surveys and works to have them implemented.

AAS Resolution on the 2010 Decadal Survey Report

Adopted 13 August 2010

The American Astronomical Society enthusiastically endorses the Astro2010 Decadal Survey: "New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics". Given recent advances in technology and understanding, this is a time of extraordinary opportunity for research in astronomy and astrophysics. This report is based on a comprehensive community-driven process, and presents exciting yet realistic recommendations for the next decade. The AAS urges the astronomical community to support the report and its priorities.

AAS Mission Statement

Adopted 7 June 2009

The mission of the American Astronomical Society is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the Universe.

Vision statements/Goals (text not in italics may be modified without formal Council Action)

(1) The Society, through its publications, disseminates and archives the results of astronomical research. The Society also communicates and explains our understanding of the universe to the public.

(2) The Society facilitates and strengthens the interactions among members through professional meetings and other means. The Society supports member divisions representing specialized research and astronomical interests.

(3) The Society represents the goals of its community of members to the nation and the world. The Society also works with other scientific and educational societies to promote the advancement of science.

(4) The Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers. The Society supports and promotes increased participation of historically underrepresented groups in astronomy.

(5) The Society assists its members to develop their skills in the fields of education and public outreach at all levels. The Society promotes broad interest in astronomy, which enhances science literacy and leads many to careers in science and engineering.

AAS Statement on the Importance of Planetariums

Adopted 22 October 2008

The American Astronomical Society supports planetariums as an effective means to educate the public about the wonders of the night sky. More than 30 million people visit planetariums each year in the United States and more than 100 million do so worldwide. In our modern age, when most people live in cities where the night sky is drowned out by light pollution, planetariums offer an effective way to introduce the public to the motions of the planets, stars and comets. The projection of these objects onto the curved ceiling of a planetarium requires the use of sophisticated projection systems that are capable of projecting stars not only as they appear today, but as they appeared in the past and will appear in the future. Such projection systems are expensive, but their purchase and installation represent an important investment in the education of the public, and the AAS supports all planetariums in this endeavor.

AAS Statement on the Teaching of Evolution

Adopted 20 September 2005

The American Astronomical Society supports teaching evolution in our nation’s K-12 science classes. Evolution is a valid scientific theory for the origin of species that has been repeatedly tested and verified through observation, formulation of testable statements to explain those observations, and controlled experiments or additional observations to find out whether these ideas are right or wrong. A scientific theory is not speculation or a guess -- scientific theories are unifying concepts that explain the physical universe.

Astronomical observations show that the Universe is many billions of years old (see the AAS publication, An Ancient Universe), that nuclear reactions in stars have produced the chemical elements over time, and recent observations show that gravity has led to the formation of many planets in our Galaxy. The early history of the solar system is being explored by astronomical observation and by direct visits to solar system objects. Fossils, radiological measurements, and changes in DNA trace the growth of the tree of life on Earth. The theory of evolution, like the theories of gravity, plate tectonics, and Big Bang cosmology, explains, unifies, and predicts natural phenomena. Scientific theories provide a proven framework for improving our understanding of the world.

In recent years, advocates of “Intelligent Design,” have proposed teaching “Intelligent Design” as a valid alternative theory for the history of life. Although scientists have vigorous discussions on interpretations for some aspects of evolution, there is widespread agreement on the power of natural selection to shape the emergence of new species. Even if there were no such agreement, “Intelligent Design” fails to meet the basic definition of a scientific idea: its proponents do not present testable hypotheses and do not provide evidence for their views that can be verified or duplicated by subsequent researchers.

Since “Intelligent Design” is not science, it does not belong in the science curriculum of the nation’s primary and secondary schools.

The AAS supports the positions taken by the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers’ Association, the American Geophysical Union, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association of Physics Teachers on the teaching of evolution. The AAS also supports the National Science Education Standards: they emphasize the importance of scientific methods as well as articulating well-established scientific theories.

A PDF version of this statement with additional resources is available for printing and distribution.

Policy on Resolution Approval Process

Adopted 24 May 2003

  1. a) Draft resolutions may be submitted to the Executive Committee by AAS Committees or Council members at any time.
    b) Draft resolutions may be submitted directly to the Executive Committee at any time by any full member if accompanied by four signatures of other full members.
  2. The Executive Committee should review the content of the draft resolution and refer the draft to the Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP) for review or to any other appropriate AAS Committee(s) or Division(s) as necessary
    a) CAPP should review the draft resolution specifically in regard to any specific benefits or potential harm that may accrue to the Society by the adoption of the resolution.
    b) Other Committees or Divisions should provide expert advice on specific matters, e.g. planetary science, employment issues, education concerns, RFI mitigation as necessary.
  3. a) Once the opinion of CAPP and any other cognizant committee is received by the Executive Committee, it should either adopt the resolution or forward the resolution to the full AAS Council for discussion and review. The Executive Committee may modify the resolution prior to forwarding the resolution to the entire council.
    b) Discussion by the full Council would be recommended for those resolutions that are deemed by the Executive Committee to be either controversial in nature, that require the broadest possible discussion and debate or that may require additional expert input or development prior to adoption.
    c) A public comment period, of a reasonable length of time and made widely known to the membership, should be established by the Executive Committee during the consideration of all resolutions,so that AAS members may comment on any proposed policy statement.
    d) In cases requiring rapid action, the Executive Committee may proceed to take action without allowing a public comment period, but should notify the Council of any action undertaken.
  4. a) The Council must (in accordance with the by-laws of the Society) in all cases vote to approve the actions of the Executive Committee taken between Council meetings, which may include the adoption of resolutions.
    b) A super majority (2/3 of the voting members of the Council shall be required for adoption of any resolution.
  5. a) AAS Resolutions should be reviewed by CAPP each year and a list of those resolutions recommended to be retained by the Society should be presented to Council at each summer AAS meeting.
    b) Council should decide which resolutions to retain for the coming year at each summer AAS meeting.
  6. a) A list of the titles of the current AAS Resolutions and links to the full text on the AAS web pages should be published regularly in the AAS Newsletter or distributed to the membership by other means.
    b) The AAS Press Officer should be consulted as to the best way to widely disseminate any newly adopted AAS resolution.

On AAS Resolutions

Adopted 24 May 2003

AAS Resolutions ordinarily should pertain to areas in which the Society has special expertise. In areas where the AAS lacks special expertise, but wishes to take a position, the President or their delegate should negotiate a joint resolution with a scientific society (or societies) having that special expertise, or consider an endorsement of a pre-existing position by another society (or societies).

On AAS Policy Actions

Adopted 24 May 2003

From time to time the President or Executive Committee may decide to take some action, either in response to input from the Council, a committee or on their own initiative, that does not require the adoption of a Resolution. Examples include sending a letter to a government official or the media on a policy matter, joining other societies in signing such a letter, issuing Action Alerts to the membership, or thanking policy makers for taking some particular action. Activities such as these will be called Policy Actions and be reported to the Council in accordance with the by-laws. In the case of Action Alerts or Informational Emails, only the approval of the chair of the Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy is required to allow distribution.

Multi-Society Endorsement of National Dark Sky Week

Adopted 5 January 2003

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) hereby endorse National Dark Sky Week, a grassroots effort to highlight the beauty of the night sky and to draw attention to the ever-increasing levels of light pollution across the United States caused by poorly designed lighting.

The AAS and the IDA believe that the opportunity to experience the natural night sky should be available to every citizen of our Nation. This natural resource, which inspires our attempts to understand the cosmos, should be protected through the use of well-designed lighting systems that put light where it is needed and not waste energy through unnecessary illumination of the sky. Properly designed lighting systems provide safety and convenience without polluting one of our greatest natural assets.

The American Astronomical Society and the International Dark Sky Association encourage all Americans to use the evenings of April 1st to April 8th 2003, from 10 pm to 12 am (ET & MT) and 9 pm to 11 pm (CT & PT) to attend public star parties, visit their local planetarium or public observatory, or simply go outside to a safe, dark location to enjoy the wonder of the night sky. Learning the constellations, observing the planets, wondering about the stars and the Milky Way are one of the most basic of human experiences and should be enjoyed by all.

National Dark Sky Week is also endorsed by the Astronomical League, a non-profit federation of 250 astronomical societies and nearly 20,000 members and Sky and Telescope magazine.

More information on National Dark Sky Week is available at this site.

In Support of Research in Astronomy Education

Adopted 2 June 2002, Albuquerque, NM

In recent years, astronomy education research has begun to emerge as a research area within some astronomy and physics/astronomy departments. This type of research is pursued at several North American universities, it has attracted funding from major governmental agencies, it is both objective and experimental, it is developing publication and dissemination mechanisms, and researchers trained in this area are being recruited by North American colleges and universities. Astronomy education research can and should be subject to the same criteria for evaluation (papers published, grants, etc.) as research in other fields of astronomy. The findings of astronomy education research and the scholarship of teaching, when properly implemented and supported, will improve pedagogical techniques and the evaluation of both teaching and student teaching.

The AAS applauds and supports the acceptance and utilization by astronomy departments of research in astronomy education. The successful adaptation of astronomy education research to improving teaching and learning in astronomy departments requires close contact between astronomy education researchers, education researchers in other disciplines and teachers who are primarily research scientists. The AAS recognizes that the success and utility of astronomy education research is greatly enhanced when it is centered in an astronomy or physics/astronomy department.

On the Teaching of the History of the Universe

Adopted 11 January 2000, Atlanta, GA

"The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is the largest organization of professional astronomers in the United States. Its 6,000 members are men and women of all convictions and a variety of religious faiths. They work in ALL fields of astronomy, including the study of planets, of stars and of the Universe as a whole. Research in each of these areas, and in many other areas of astronomy, has produced clear, compelling and widely accepted evidence that astronomical objects and systems evolve. That is, their properties change with time, often over very long time scales.

Specifically, the scientific evidence clearly indicates that the Universe is 10 to 15 billion years old, and began in a hot, dense state we call the Big Bang.

Given the ample evidence that change over time is a crucial property of planets, including our own, of stars, of galaxies and of the Universe as a whole, it is important for the nation's school children to learn about the great age of, and changes in, astronomical systems, as well as their present properties.

More generally we believe that it is important to teach students the nature of the scientific method. Scientific inquiry involves the development and testing of hypotheses based on a systematic collection and analysis of data acquired through observations, experiments, and computer simulations. Science is not a collection of facts but an ongoing process, with continual revisions and refinements of concepts necessary in order to arrive at the best current views of the Universe. Science is unified; it is not possible to make use of scientific laws in one context, and then deny them in another. The same laws of science that govern — or empower — our advanced technology also underlie changes in time of astronomical systems. Science is not based on faith, nor does it preclude faith. Whatever personal beliefs teachers, students, parents or administrators may hold, the teaching of important scientific concepts, such as the formation and aging of planets, stars, galaxies and the Universe, should not be altered or constrained in response to demands external to the scientific disciplines.

The astronomical discoveries of the past century, many made by American scientists, are among the great triumphs of the human intellect, and we deeply regret any attempt to ignore them or deny them.

Children whose education is denied the benefits of this expansion of our understanding of the world around us are being deprived of part of their intellectual heritage. They may also be at a competitive disadvantage in a world where scientific and technological literacy is becoming more and more important economically and culturally."

This Statement was distributed to the AAS Membership in Newsletter #100, June 2000. A PDF version is also available for printing and distribution.

APS Statement on National Security and Open Conduct of Science

Adopted by the APS Council 21 May 1999; endorsed by the AAS Executive Committee July 1999

The Council of the American Physical Society emphasizes the critical connection between U.S. national security and scientific research activities. Effective national security requires the highest standards of vigilance and circumspection, and the science on which it is based must meet the highest standard of excellence. However, national security will ultimately be damaged if the underlying science suffers as a result of government practices that indiscriminately discourage or limit the open exchange of ideas.

The Council of the American Physical Society recognizes the great importance of protecting classified information. We urge Congress and the Executive agencies, in carrying out this responsibility, to employ measures and practices that will maintain the strength and effectiveness of the scientific activities on which national defense relies.

Over the course of many years, immigrant scientists as well as foreign visitors and students have contributed enormously to the American scientific enterprise. They have enriched our knowledge and culture, promoted the growth of our economy, and improved the quality of our lives. Any negative characterization of scientists on the basis of ethnic or national origins is destructive to science and American values.

On the Protection of Radio Frequencies Used for Radio Astronomy

Adopted 11 June 1995, Pittsburgh, PA

"The continuing protection of the bands in the radio frequency spectrum allocated to radio astronomical observations is of great concern to the Council of the American Astronomical Society. Protection of the radio astronomical bands should include the effects of unwanted emissions from transmissions in nearby bands. Of particular current concern to the Council is the potential allocation of the band adjacent to the 15.4 GHz radio astronomical band to space-to-earth transmissions. Unwanted emissions from such an allocation have the potential to severely disrupt radio astronomical observations in the 15.4 GHz protected band. The Council respectfully requests the NTIA to consider the potential effects on radio astronomical observations of any plans for use of the bands adjacent to the 15.4 GHz protected band."

On Women, Under-Represented Groups and the Baltimore Charter

Adopted 11 January 1994, Washington, DC

"Recognizing the principle that the inclusion of women and other under-represented groups in the ranks of professional astronomers is important and highly desirable, the American Astronomical Society is committed to addressing issues of attitude and procedure that negatively impact any groups. The American Astronomical Society supports the goal of the Baltimore Charter, which is to promote a culture in which both women and men can realize their full potential in scientific careers. We recognize that there are many differences in the institutional structure of astronomical organizations, and that no single strategy is likely to be suitable to all of them. We do, however, urge all astronomical programs to formulate strategies that will enable them to realize the goal of the Baltimore Charter. We note that the AAS has already modified its bylaws to reflect commitment to this goal."

On the Postdoctoral Application and Selection Process

Adopted June 1988, Kansas City, MO; Reaffirmed May 2003, Nashville, TN; Reaffirmed January 2006, Washington, DC

"The AAS Council is concerned about the procedures in the postdoctoral application and selection process. The postdoctoral experience now includes almost all recipients of the Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics. In recent years, deadlines for application and selection of postdoctoral appointments have advanced in the year and there is strong competition for new graduates.

To ensure an orderly and fair postdoctoral appointment procedure, the AAS Council recommends that the deadline for decisions on postdoctoral offers will not be required earlier than February 15th of a given year."

On Creationism

Adopted 10 January 1982, Boulder, CO

"During the past year, religious fundamentalists have intensified their effort to force public school science classes to include instruction in "creationism." As defined in publications of the Institute for Creation Research and in laws passed or under consideration by several state legislatures, this doctrine includes the statement that the entire universe was created relatively recently, i.e less than 10,000 years ago. This statement contradicts results of astronomical research during the past two centuries indicating that some stars now visible to us were in existence millions or billions of years ago, as well as the results of radiometric dating indicating that the age of the earth is about 4 1/2 billion years.

The American Astronomical Society does not regard any scientific theory as capable of rigorous proof or immune to possible revision in the light of new evidence. Such evidence should be presented for critical review and confirmation in the appropriate scientific journals. In this case, no such evidence for recent creation of the earth and universe has survived critical scrutiny by scientific community. It would therefore be most inappropriate to demand that any science teacher present it as a credible hypothesis.

We agree with the findings of Judge William Overton that the Arkansas creationism law represents an unconstitutional intrusion of religion doctrine into the public schools, that "creation science" is not science, and that its advocates have followed the unscientific procedure of starting from a dogmatically held conclusion and looking only for evidence to support that conclusion.

The American Astronomical Society deplores the attempt to force creationism into public schools and urges Congress, all state legislatures, local school boards and textbook publishers to resist such attempts."