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Science and Human Rights Coalition Report

ASIS&T Representative to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Coalition on the Coalition Meeting on Climate Change and Human Rights,

January 26-27, 2017, Washington, D.C.

Report from Toni Carbo (with input from Abebe Rorissa)


As the ASIS&T representative, I participated in the January 26-27, 2017 AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition and Council meetings in Washington, D.C. Our newly appointed second ASIS&T representative, Abebe Rorissa, also participated in the meetings. The Coalition is a very distinguished group of representatives from more than 30 member and affiliated organizations, as well as 70 individual, affiliated scientists. The member organizations include groups in a wide range of scientific and engineering, as well as humanities and social sciences. Members include: the

American Physical Society, American Mathematical Society, Sigma Xi,  American Statistical Association, American Sociological Association, Society for Research in Child Development, Sociologists Without Borders, Council on Undergraduate Research, Linguistic Society of America, Society for the Study of Social Problems, National Center for Science and Human Engagement, and American Philosophical Association.  Overall, the Coalition has 23 member organizations, two affiliated organizations, and 103 affiliate individuals (  The Coalition describes itself broadly as “a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations that recognize a role for scientists and engineers in human rights”. (

For more information about the Coalition and the shared interests with ASIS&T see: Carbo, Toni. (2013, October-November) Information Science & Technology and Human Rights: ASIS&T’s Participation in the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition.  Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 40(1), 10-12.

The January meeting focused on the Human Right to Water. Connections between climate change and human rights may at first seem to be apparent to everyone; however, the issues are far greater and broader than many of us realized. All of us participating in the meeting certainly increased our understanding of the breadth and depth of these connections.  As Kathleen O’Neil noted in her summary of a session:

“‘It may be surprising it took so long to be added to the list of human rights, since it seems so obvious to most people,’ said Inga Winkler, a lecturer in human rights at Columbia University. ‘But figuring out how exactly to define each aspect of that right is less obvious and will require help from social and physical scientists,’ she said.

Scientists and engineers can, and should, also play a role in protecting people’s access to clean and safe water, speakers said during the 26-27 January meeting of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. The meeting, held at AAAS headquarters, gathered scientists, engineers, health professionals, human rights advocates, community activists and policy makers to discuss water and human rights.

Under the existing system in the United States, poor cities and towns get the water they can afford, which may not be safe or clean, said Marc Edwards Marc Edwards, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech. Edwards delivered the meeting’s keynote address focusing on U.S. public water health crises, including the ongoing lead water crisis in Flint, Michigan (which he helped uncover: that began in 2015 and the lead water crisis in Washington D.C., in 2000-2004 both of which he helped uncover.

‘Old infrastructure, old pipes in particular, can kill people,’ Edwards said. ‘A century ago, many U.S. cities preferred or even required lead pipes to be used for water and sanitation because they were easier to install and more durable than concrete or steel. The health effects of water lead exposure were not well understood at the time, despite warnings dating to Roman times,’ Edwards said. We now know that there is no safe level of lead exposure, he said, and the problem of using lead pipes will only get worse if they are not replaced.

Many of the sessions focused on the role of the STEM community in addressing these issues, and the importance of sharing information about water-related problems both in the U.S. and around the world. Although we were familiar with the Flint, Michigan problems, any of us had not realized that there were such serious water problems in many areas of the U.S., including Washington, D.C., Providence, RI, Pittsburgh, PA, and many others.  Discussions included examining current and possible future partnership with vulnerable communities, which helped to increase our understanding of the impacts on many different cultures and communities around the world.  These discussions reminded us once again of the importance of understanding international issues and needs of specific communities, particularly those related to information needs and to human rights/ethical principles, as we have discussed at many ASIS&T conferences, especially in sessions sponsored by SIG III and SIG IEP. We are working to update and expand the Coalition’s Human Rights and Science Bibliography (to which we at ASIS&T contributed several sources); and developing potential new resources. We will provide suggestions for additions, and we encourage all ASIS&T members to submit suggestions.

Several questions arose concerning how best to increase awareness, and our suggestions of the use of various forms of technology and ways to incorporate into information sharing, were welcomed.  We raised opportunities for collaboration, including a possible joint session at our 2017 Annual Meeting. We encourage ASIS&T members to consider these topics in local and SIG events and to collaborate with AAAS and other STEM organizations when appropriate.

We strongly encourage members to examine the summaries and videos on the AAAS website at:

The announcement for the AAAS 2017 Student Essay contest is now available:

“Submissions should be written in the form of an analytical or critical paper that raises thought-provoking questions. For example, potential essay topics might include: the applications of a scientific approach or a new technology to address specific human rights concerns; an analysis of synergies between human rights obligations and the social responsibilities of scientists, engineers and/or health professionals; or the ways in which full implementation of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress may influence realization of other human rights. These examples are only provided to spark ideas: students are encouraged to write essays that reflect their own ideas, interests, and insights.

Prizes will be awarded in the following categories: 1) Undergraduate student and 2) Graduate student.

The winning students will be recognized at the July 2017 meeting of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition. Winners of the competition will receive a year of membership in AAAS and a one-year subscription to Science, as well as a travel stipend to attend the Coalition’s meeting, generously provided by the AAAS-Andrew M. Sessler Fund for Science, Education, and Human Rights. Students who receive prizes will be asked to support AAAS stewardship of the Sessler Fund by providing feedback about their experience in the competition. The winning essays will be considered for publication in Professional Ethics Report, a quarterly publication of the AAAS Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Program. ”

Council Meeting

The Council meeting covered a very full agenda, as always, focusing on Coalition visioning activities in three stages: 1) Independent work by the Secretariat, particularly on the development of a Coalition; 2) Member-based task groups to identify priority areas for change; and 3) changing the structure, along with necessary changes to the Foundational Documents. Each Coalition member presented a brief summary of human rights-related activities, and I noted the Diversity theme of our 2017 Annual Meeting, along with some other ASIS&T activities.

The remainder of the Coalition’s Council meeting focused extensively on updating key Coalition documents, and several suggestions were made for updates. The revised documents should be available in advance of the July meeting.

At the Council Meeting, we discussed the structure and project teams in more depth, learned of a new communication system that has been set up for Coalition members to continue discussion of topics form the meetings

Participating in this meeting reinforced my views that it is important for ASIS&T to continue to be a member of the Coalition for many reasons. These include as I have noted earlier, to: 1) increase awareness among leaders in the STEM international community about ASIS&T and our work, both to increase our own membership and participation in our conferences, and to provide expertise and information to our members; 2) partner with members of associations within the Coalition and our SIGs to present joint programs at conferences and meetings; 3) collaborate on joint publications and webinars; and 4) work together with this very important international group of scientists and many in humanities as well to advance our Vision and Goals, especially the values and principles of ethics and human rights in our global information society.

Also, the timing of the meetings coincided with the actions by President Trump restricting the sharing by Federal employees of some types of information and the announcement of restrictions on immigration, which resulted in very active and intense discussions among the participants about their concerns. The following week, AAAS issued a statement and established a Force for Science website at: We will continue to share information about AAAS’s actions with those in ASIS&T who are interested. The March for Science rally, sponsored by AAAS, with many other organizations participating, is scheduled for April 22nd in Washington, D.C. Our two organizations, and many of the members of the Coalition continue to address these important issues.

I am looking forward to continuing to serve as one of the ASIS&T representatives to the Coalition, and to continuing to work with Abebe Rorissa, whom I recommended to be our second representative. We will work to increase the ASIS&T participation on Coalition activities, including human rights activities, additions to the bibliography, collaboration between our organizations, including a joint session at our Annual Meeting, and other activities. We will be happy to answer any questions and provide any additional information.