Message from the President
As I'm sure all who attended will agree, and as described by our dedicated, hard-working program officers in this newsletter, the 2008 Annual Meeting in San Antonio was a great success. It was among the largest in our Society's history, and saw a wide diversity of participants from high school students to old-fogy's like me, all drawn by our fascination with inclusive biology, comparing and integrating different perspectives of life. I was particularly pleased to see so many students and postdocs, some of them now familiar colleagues, others fresh arrivals. They hold the promise of a vibrant future for our Society, welcoming and facilitating continuing change.
Much of the success of the San Antonio meeting was due to the diligence of Sue Burk, Lori Strong, and their team at Burk & Associates, who negotiated good rates and a convenient venue for our meeting, as well as making sure that events during the meeting ran smoothly. As a testament to their success this year, one member came to the registration desk on the last day of the meeting and loudly announced, "I have a complaint!" Sue Burk, used to the member's often pointed complaints in the past, asked what it was this time. He replied, "There is nothing to complain about!!" That was my experience as well, and indeed, things went so smoothly that I unexpectedly found myself with time on my hands to actually attend talks and peruse posters. These, of course, are the center of successful meetings, and they were rich and diverse, much to the credit of our program officers, especially our out-going Society-wide program officer, Linda Walters. Thank you, Linda!
Interlaced throughout the meeting, of course, were the many divisional and other meetings, where much of the Society business takes place. The Executive Committee meetings at the beginning and end went smoothly, considering all the different needs and activities addressed. As you can read in the Treasurer's report in this newsletter, the Society continues to be financially healthy, although attention is needed to get us out of the current projection of deficit spending. That projection is largely due to the generous financial support we provide our student members, many of whom we anticipate will eventually move into full membership to help in that support. Like all non-profit organizations, including our local and state governments (but stupidly not federal), we need a balance between income and expenditures, and we need either to increase our income or to decrease our expenses. The adjustment probably requires only minor tweaks, but it is essential, and will be addressed this coming year.
I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of members in attendance at the Society's lively annual business meeting (see: http://www.sicb.org/resources/minutes.php3 -- once again, I commend Lou Burnett and Ruedi Birenheide for the easy-to-use, information-packed website). Having such a large turnout made our discussion and passage of a resolution presented by Past President Michael Hadfield especially meaningful. The resolution (http://www.sicb.org/resources/resolutions.php3) addresses the serious political distortion of science and the scientific process that our nation is experiencing from the current federal administration, as well as from some areas of the public arena. Our Society joins other organizations, including AIBS, Union of Concerned Scientists, National Center for Science Education, and Defend Science, to counter this movement, not only to protect funding, but more importantly, to promote knowledge of the world we live in so that it can be better appreciated and understood. Defend Science had one of the most visited tables in the Exhibit hall this year, illustrating the concern of our members with this issue; I hope to see them again in Boston.
Following the authorization provided by the resolution, Peter deFur, in-coming Chair of the Public Affairs Committee, authored with me an opinion piece that was submitted to major national newspapers, and that we distributed by email to all SICB members to modify and submit to local newspapers. To date, no newspaper has published any version of the opinion piece, and I have heard from only four of you (thanks George, Larry, Ruth, and Ted). Nevertheless, it is reassuring that our Society has continued to take an active stance in bringing to public awareness the importance of science for improving our lives, both materially and spiritually. I welcome your comments.
I should also acknowledge that the high attendance at the Annual Business Meeting was in part because we presented awards at the meeting. It was a pleasure for me to announce the following awardees: Peter Thomas (Howard Bern Lecture), Sheila Patek (George A. Bartholomew Award), Deborah Lutterschmidt (Dorothy M. Skinner Award), and Johanna Cannon (Libbie H. Hyman Scholarship). In addition, recognition awards were presented to Society officers completing their terms: Linda Walters (Program Officer), Sönke Johnsen (Member-at-Large), Robert Denver (Chair, DCE), Pat Walsh (Chair, DCPB), Billie Swalla (Chair, DEDB), Don Swiderski (Chair, DSEB), and Miriam Ashley-Ross (Chair, Public Affairs Committee). Moreover, it was especially pleasing for me to present our webmaster, Ruedi Birenheide, with an Outstanding Service Award.
I was also pleased to list the names of the students who received Grants-in-Aid of Research (GIAR) and Fellowship for Graduate Student Travel (FGST) awards at the Annual Business Meeting and then hand them out at the Society-wide Evening Social in Honor of Students and Postdocs. Sherry Tamone, Chair, and her dedicated colleagues on the Student Support Committee poured through 92 applications and selected 24 GIAR and 4 FGST for awards. The awardees are listed on our website: http://www.sicb.org/grants/giarawards2008.php3. In addition, 24 best student paper/poster awards were made at the San Antonio meeting by the divisional committees; see: http://www.sicb.org/students/awards/.
As evidenced above, much of our Society depends on the on-going, sometimes little recognized work of committees at all levels. A lot of satisfaction can be gained by committee work. Not only is the work worthwhile in benefiting many members and beyond, but it also builds up long-lasting friendships among like-minded colleagues. One of my responsibilities is appointing suitable people to our Society-wide committees. I have gained a great deal of insight into our Society's needs and strengths when talking to colleagues about the roles of the committees and their service on them. If you are interested in serving (see the Resources page of our website), please let me know. And, of course, I just might track you down too, so don't be surprised if I contact you.
Of course, one of our most important committees is the Nominating Committee, this year ably chaired by Past Program Officer Catherine Loudon. This year was particularly challenging, with a large number of positions to fill: President-Elect, Program Officer-Elect, Treasurer-Elect, Member-at-Large, and Education Council Chair. As you can see in this newsletter, Kate and her committee have succeeded in compiling an outstanding slate of candidates. Please consider them carefully and vote. Let the candidates know that you appreciate their willingness to serve.
Next year will be a big year for all of us. It is both the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birthday and the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck's "Philosophie Zoologique," which was among the first publications to clearly frame the idea of biological evolution. Fifty years later, Darwin not only provided overwhelming evidence in support of this idea, but also the underlying mechanism that drives evolution. And now, 150 years later, the idea has spread throughout biology and into other sciences as well. It is a time to celebrate, and I look forward to doing so with you in Boston.