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AAAS News and Notes

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Science  30 Jun 2006:
Vol. 312, Issue 5782, pp. 1891-1892
DOI: 10.1126/science.312.5782.1891


Pioneering AAAS Project Uses Satellites to Aid Human Rights

On 14 May 2004, a satellite passing 450 km over Zimbabwe captured an image that included portions of the hardscrabble Hatcliffe settlement—more than 700 homes and other buildings scattered across the grasslands just north of the nation's capital city, Harare. Less than 16 months later, on 2 September 2005, a satellite sent back a stunning new picture: The pattern of red-dirt roads was still visible, but the buildings were gone.

Portions of the Hatcliffe settlement outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, on 14 May 2004.

The same part of Hatcliffe on 2 September 2005—with scores of buildings demolished.

Credit: Copyright 2006 DigitalGlobe Inc. All rights reserved

The pictures were among the first collected by a commercial satellite company as part of a year-long AAAS pilot project to assess how satellites and other geospatial technology can be used in support of human rights. Already the project is having an impact: Amnesty International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights used satellite pictures of the destroyed Porta Farm settlement in a 31 May report on the Zimbabwe government's destructive campaign to uproot opposition, generating extensive newspaper and broadcast coverage in Europe, Africa, and the United States.

Otto Saki, an attorney with the Zimbabwe lawyers group, said in e-mailed remarks that the satellite images may have “a phenomenal impact” in legal action over the systematic destruction of villages under the government of President Robert Mugabe.

“New satellite technology provides the unprecedented ability to document human rights abuses via a virtual ‘eye in the sky’,” said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “With satellite projects like this one, we are gaining the ability to detect, publicize, and even prevent future human rights abuses from occurring in Zimbabwe and around the world.”

Geospatial technology is not new—the development of hot air balloons and airplanes brought the use of aerial cameras; intelligence agencies have long used spy satellites; and scientists use such tools to study the weather and forest fires. But images from government satellites are not usually available in a timely way to human rights groups, and new images from privately owned satellites can cost $2000 or more.

Last December, the AAAS Science and Human Rights program obtained a $110,000 grant for a pilot project from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Imaging satellites and other geospatial technology have been “vastly underutilized” in human rights work, said Lars Bromley, who has guided the project as a senior program associate in the AAAS Office of International Initiatives. “By handling all the technical and analytical aspects, AAAS allows groups like Amnesty and the lawyers to match their issue expertise with the power of the imagery. If we can smooth this relatively complicated process, the NGOs working to protect human rights around the world can see lots of benefits.”

Among key partners in the effort are Amnesty International USA; the United Nations Special Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide; the Natural Resources Defense Council; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum; the U.S. Campaign for Burma; and EQUITAS, the international center for human rights education. DigitalGlobe, a Colorado-based satellite image company, has been a partner and has provided images at a discounted price from its high-resolution QuickBird imaging satellites. Another satellite image company, GeoEye, also has provided generous support.

Bromley and others say that sophisticated commercial satellites and the increasing power of personal computers and the Internet have made the data more available than ever. The costs are likely to fall in coming years as more commercial imaging satellites are launched.

After AAAS finishes analyzing images from Hatcliffe, Porta Farm, and two other settlements, the project will turn to test cases in the Darfur area of Sudan and Burma. Published reports on the project's interest in allegations of wholesale destruction in Burma's Karen State have elicited a sharp rebuke in a newsletter controlled by the nation's government.

Over the years, AAAS's Science and Human Rights program has pioneered a number of initiatives to develop and promote the use of scientific methods to advance human rights, including forensic sciences, statistics, and social science methods. If the geospatial pilot project is successful, AAAS and its partners will explore how to make it permanent.


Senior Scientists and Engineers Bring Experience to Class

Don Rea had been a research chemist and a research director at NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He had never dissected a frog, though—but there he was, closely watched by a troop of middle-schoolers, gamely grabbing a scalpel.

Don Rea

“I had also never looked at protozoa before, but I was able to set up the microscopes and help the kids observe these,” Rea added proudly.

Last September, Rea was one of nine volunteers who entered seven middle schools and a high school in Montgomery County, Maryland, to help students with their science lessons, support teachers with a little extra information, and even build a few experiments. Rea organized the volunteer program as a project of Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE), a AAAS-affiliated group of retired researchers dedicated to public service.

Rea and the SSE thought the schools might be a good place to fight back against science illiteracy and apathy. “The general populace is not well tuned in to science, and frequently takes positions that are contrary to the interest of good scientific development,” Rea said.

“At a time when many political leaders—and many parents—recognize the need for a renewed national commitment to education in science, technology, and mathematics, this program is an inspiration,” said Alan I. Leshner, AAAS chief executive officer. “If retired professionals were able to form partnerships with schools nationwide, this approach could help improve science literacy and give students further evidence that these are exciting, important fields.”

After discussions with the Montgomery County schools, Senior Scientists and Engineers and AAAS signed an agreement with the schools for a 1-year pilot program. SSE then sent out a call for retired AAAS members who could help out in classes once a week.

Rea said the idea was to broaden science's appeal to the first generation of the 21st century. “We're aren't interested in providing tutoring to students who want to become scientists,” he explained. “Our objective is to try to increase science understanding of the entire class.”

Teachers and students alike welcomed the newcomers. “It has been wonderful to have a person from the community who cares about science and knows a lot about scientific concepts to share his expertise with the students,” said Michelle Stanton, a Montgomery Village Middle School teacher.

Nina Hoffman, a teacher at Argyle Middle School, worked with volunteer Dave Weiss, a retired mechanical engineer. “His rapport with the students was wonderful,” she said. “When we're doing labs, it's great for the kids—now they have two adults to ask questions. And he just didn't go and answer their questions. He asked questions in response to their questions to really make them think. They really do appreciate his knowledge and what he brings to the classroom.”

Rea noticed that, too. “In one case, the teacher asked me to make an observation and I got a round of applause, which was totally unexpected,” he joked.

Volunteers built a wave machine for one class and a metal ramp for a physics demonstration in Hoffman's class, but Rea said that the volunteers focus mostly on supporting the teacher's lessons rather than introducing new activities.

The program won rave reviews in its first year, and both teachers and volunteers said that a year of experience would make them even more effective. It will be expanded to more Montgomery County middle schools this fall. SSE also is sharing ideas with similar programs around the country, Rea said.

“There are over a million scientists and engineers over 60 around the country, and the number is probably growing every year,” Rea said. “That's a big pool we can draw on to improve science teaching in schools.”

For more information on Senior Scientists and Engineers, visit —Becky Ham


New AAAS Dues Rates Approved for 2007

The AAAS Board of Directors has approved a dues increase for 2007. The Board authorizes increases to cover two kinds of expenses: unavoidable costs associated with running AAAS and publishing Science, and new expenses that add value to membership. Postage and paper increases and improving online resources are examples of the kind of expenses that the Board anticipated in setting the 2007 rates.

The new rates are effective for membership terms beginning after 31 December 2006. As listed below, they do not include postage or taxes for international members, which is additional.

  • Regular professional members — $142

  • Postdocs and K-12 teachers — $99

  • Emeritus members who receive print Science — $110

  • Students — $75

  • Patrons — $310

  • Supporting and Emeritus members who do not receive Science — $56*

The Board also set the institutional subscription rate for print Science at $360 for high school and public libraries and $710 for all other institutions. For further information, including subscription rates for Science Online, librarians should contact AAAS or their subscription agents, or go to on the Web.

All members will be advised of the new dues rates on their renewal notices for 2007. Member dues and voluntary contributions form the critical financial base for a wide range of AAAS activities. For more information, contact the AAAS Membership Office at 202-326-6417,


NAS, AAAS Launch Integrity Web Site

In a move to provide practical resources on ethics and integrity, AAAS and the National Academy of Sciences have joined to offer an online bibliography on scientific integrity.

The collaboration will bring an array of articles, essays, and other materials published by NAS and AAAS to young scholars, working scientists, and educators. The bibliography is based on the idea that trust and accountability are integral to the research enterprise and the sharing of scientific information.

Visit the bibliography at


AAAS Annual Election

The slate of candidates for the 2006 election of AAAS officers will be announced in News and Notes in the 28 July issue of Science.


Screeners Needed for AAAS Science Journalism Awards

Scientist volunteers are needed to review entries in the prestigious AAAS Science Journalism Awards program. Scientists residing in the Washington, D.C., area, or who will be in the area in mid-August to mid-September, are invited to help screen print, radio, and television reports for scientific accuracy. If interested, please contact Lonnie Shekhtman (202-326-6434; lshekhtm{at} in the AAAS Office of Public Programs.

Winners of the awards, which are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development, L.L.C., will be honored at a ceremony in February 2007 at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Members of the screening committees will be recognized in the awards booklet distributed during the ceremony.

  • *Supporting member dues rate is set by the membership department

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