1 November 2022

Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy Working to Modernize Guiding Principles

Julie Davis

Julie Davis American Physical Society (APS)

On October 7th and 8th, the Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP) met for a planning retreat for the first time since 2014. For those unfamiliar with the committee, CAPP serves an advisory role to the AAS President and Board of Trustees on matters of public policy. Its members are appointed by the President for their expertise or institutional knowledge in various aspects of public policy relevant to the AAS mission or advocacy goals. Committee members are drawn from the main membership, the Divisions (Division for Planetary Sciences, Solar Physics Division, and High Energy Astrophysics Division), industry partners, and from previous leadership such as past presidents. 

The goal of this meeting was to revisit the committee’s guiding principles to better serve the membership and its needs in a dynamic political environment. The CAPP guiding principles are increasingly insufficient to address the scope of concerns from our socially and politically engaged membership. CAPP strives to represent the diversity of views among 8000+ members, respond in a timely manner to pressing issues, and balance priorities to make the best use of the Society’s limited resources: money, staff, and volunteers.  

At the retreat, CAPP members discussed some of the following questions: 

  • How can the guiding principles be improved to be flexible with the times?
  • What should be the threshold or criteria that makes a policy issue a priority for AAS?
  • How much weight should be given toward supporting the profession of the astronomical sciences vs the professionals who do the science when deciding to engage on a policy issue? (i.e., how do we advocate non-science issues that affect a scientist’s life?)
  • How should we act on an issue where AAS may have very little policy impact, but the issue clearly fits within the mission and vision of the AAS?

The AAS membership has increasingly called upon the Society to respond to policy issues that are beyond the traditional topics of science funding, higher education, or radio spectrum and light pollution issues. As an exercise to test the current guiding principles, CAPP considered several scenarios. They revisited actions taken on issues like the naming of JWST or the #StrikeforBlackLives, and explored several other polarized social topics to reevaluate the AAS role in these issues. The committee’s upcoming work will involve a reevaluation of how we engage in public policy to more accurately represent the membership.  

Watch this space and the CAPP committee page for further updates in the future.