by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
Commentary of the Day - February 10, 2001: Is the AAAS Unfair to Independent Online Journalists?
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is one of the largest scientific societies in the world. Its members represent virtually every scientific discipline and subdiscipline in existence today. The Irascible Professor has been a member for three decades. The annual meeting of this august association will be held in San Francisco next week.
In addition to covering advances in all major areas of science, the meeting includes an extensive symposium on Education and Public Understanding of Science. The IP covered this symposium at the 2000 AAAS annual meeting, and had applied for press credentials in order to cover the same symposium this year.
However, a scant week before the start of the meeting the IP was informed by email that his application for press credentials had been denied. A telephone conversation with AAAS representative Cate Alexander confirmed that the request for press credentials had been turned down. The reasons given were: (1) The Irascible ProfessorSM is just personal online commentary, (2) there already are too many reporters and public information officers (PIO's) registered (more than 1,000), and (3) the IP doesn't have the "right" credentials.
The IP would admit that this journal does specialize in online commentary on matters educational, and that the number of our readers is perhaps modest. However, we do have a loyal readership both inside and outside academia. In fact, it would not be too much of a stretch to say that we have as many or more readers than several of the "house organs" that many of the PIO's at the meeting represent. Under this first standard, we might assume that such well known journalists as Molly Ivins or Matt Drudge also would be denied credentials to cover an AAAS meeting -- Molly because what she writes is purely personal commentary, and Matt because he publishes solely and online. In a prior time Samuel Clemens and H.L. Mencken likely also would have had a tough time getting credentials for an AAAS meeting under these rules.
As to the complaint from AAAS staffers that there already are too many reporters and PIO's registered for the meeting, he would reply that given the willingness of the association to provide press credentials to a large number of university public information officers who are unlikely to do anything more than produce "puff" pieces on the presentations of their own faculty members , it seems strange that credentials would not be granted to working reporters and commentators who intend to provide genuine, independent coverage and commentary that examines the broad issues presented in the symposia.
Finally, with regard to "not having the right credentials", the IP would readily admit that he is not a member of the National Association of Science Writers, the Canadian Association of Science Writers, the International Science Writers Association, or the Society of Environmental Journalists. But he would venture to guess that he knows as much or more science than most folks who belong to those organizations. After all a Ph.D. in physics from a major Ivy League university coupled with a continuous publication record in refereed scientific journals for the past 35 years should prove that the IP is not a complete ignoramus. However that is beside the point. The IP's intent was to cover a symposium on education and public understanding of science -- two topics which are germane to this journal, and for which he has reasonably respectable credentials (membership in the Education Writers Association, a substantial record of commentary on education, and more than 30 years of university teaching experience).
The IP intends to cover the meeting without credentials. This means that he will have to shell out another $300 for registration as a regular AAAS member -- certainly not too high a price to pay for freedom of the press. However, it also means that it will be more difficult for the IP to function as a working reporter/commentator. Lack of access to the press center is a serious, but not insurmountable impediment. The IP can do without the stale doughnuts and coffee. However, lack of access to a high-speed Internet connection is more of a problem for an online journalist. Likewise, the inability to read advance copies of participants' presentations will keep the IP hopping, but he intends to get the job done.
The IP will be at the AAAS meeting next week, and he we will be filing commentaries as originally planned. Meanwhile, the IP encourages his readers to send an email to Cate Alexander or Nan Broadbent at AAAS, and let them know your position on freedom of the press and the small-mindedness of the AAAS press staff.
© 2001 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.