A psychologist and neuroscientist is at the helm of the world's largest general scientific organization: Alan Leshner, PhD, has been named chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Leshner, the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), joined AAAS in December, replacing chemist Richard S. Nicholson, PhD. As CEO, he directs all AAAS activities and serves as publisher of Science, a weekly publication read by more than one million people worldwide. He follows in the footsteps of two other notable psychologists in AAAS's rich history--James McKeen Cattell, PhD, who edited AAAS's peer-reviewed journal Science for nearly 50 years, and APA's first CEO, Dael Wolfle, PhD, who served as AAAS CEO from 1956-70.
To kick off his tenure, Leshner is developing a public education campaign for AAAS to increase the visibility of its scientific and science-related programs. "Building on a strong base, there is a tremendous opportunity to bring science closer to the American public and to make sure that the science we all love is both useful and used," says Leshner, who has also served as an acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health and held key positions at the National Science Foundation.
He has a history of success with conveying science to the public and making scientific research an essential part of policy-making. At the helm of NIDA, he was extremely active in publicizing the effects of drugs on the brain, health consequences of drug abuse, innovative approaches to prevention and treatment, and the benefits of science-based treatment.
As NIDA's chief, he worked closely with APA, a collaboration he will continue. "I am hoping that we'll find ways that the interests of AAAS and APA intersect and we can leverage each others' unique positions," he says. "I hope more and more psychologists will see it as worthwhile to be associated with AAAS, and, conversely, that the membership of AAAS will more and more see the importance of psychology as a part of the scientific community."
He believes there are many science programs that would benefit tremendously from the input of psychologists, such as those on ethics, the use of animals in research and the use of expert witness testimony in the courts.
Leshner also plans to use his new role to bring science to bear on the subject of terrorism. "The importance of science and scientific information for every aspect of dealing with terrorism is obvious now," he stresses. "AAAS has an obligation to use its ability to mobilize the scientific community and scientific expertise to serve the nation, and I plan to be active in doing that."