HomeVolume Fall 2008
Message from the President

John Pearse

Time flies. My two-year term as president is all but over. Not that I’m broken up about that, but it is startling how fast the time has transpired. Looking back I can see that lots of good things have happened with great meetings in Phoenix and San Antonio, and the promise of another in Boston. We seemed to have really nailed down our meetings through the hard work and conscientious treatment by our program officers and symposium organizers, as well as the care provided by Sue Burk, Lori Strong, and their staff at Burk & Associates, Inc. The meeting in Boston will be the largest we’ve seen in a very long time, packed with talks, posters, symposia, and workshops.

Our journal, Integrative and Comparative Biology, also is thriving. For the second year in a row, all the papers resulting from our meeting last January will have appeared in 6 evenly-sized issues published between July and December of the same year. In addition, our editor, Hal Heatwole, has added timely book reviews to each issue. All of these articles are sent to you now by e-mail as soon they are ready, and then put together as issues in print form. I trust you have all enjoyed the stunning cover photos. The Panther Chameleon peering out of the October issue is particularly striking.

While doing so well, our journal is also mid-way through our 5-year publishing contract with Oxford University Press. Accordingly, I have appointed a 5-person committee, chaired by Chuck Booth, to review every aspect of our journal. They are charged to submit a report to President Satterlie and the Executive Committee for the 2010 meeting in Seattle. If you have any suggestions for the committee to consider, please send them to Chuck (booth@easternct.edu); however, a survey including questions about the journal will be sent to the membership in the spring.

As you can read in Ron Dimock’s Treasurer’s Report in this newsletter, the Society continues to be in good shape financially. However, the financial decline worldwide is hitting us too. Ron and our Executive Director, Brett Burk, have worked closely with our financial advisor, Matthew Tederick, to protect our investments. We remain in a good position to take advantage of conditions when the market recovers.

On the other hand, of more immediate concern, because we need to deal with it ourselves, is the substantial deficit we see at the end of each fiscal year. Now that our budget is on a fiscal rather than calendar year, and we can budget the meeting well before it occurs, we have more control. And we can see better where all the money goes. Clearly, we need to achieve a balanced budget. To do this, the Finance Committee, on which I serve, have taken steps both to increase our income and reduce our expenditures. Ron presents these actions in his Treasurer’s Report. I ask for your understanding and welcome any suggestions that can help us achieve a balanced budget.

Of course, bringing in more funds from outside sources is a first goal. Our Development Committee under Tom Daniels is following promising leads, especially for our 2010 meeting in Seattle.

In another welcome development, Gunter Wagner, on his own, facilitated an arrangement with Wiley publishers, who will begin to cover the costs of all the student best-paper awards, as well as give the awardees 1-year subscriptions to journals appropriate to each division. Of course, this arrangement gives Wiley recognition as well, but it is mutually beneficial and a nice model for collaboration. We expect the arrangement to be finalized soon so that it can begin in Boston. Thank you, Gunter.

The person who has worked hardest on behalf of the Society during my tenure is our Secretary, Lou Burnett. As I mentioned in earlier newsletters, he took on completely recasting our website with our gifted webmaster, Ruedi Birenheide, and together they turned it into an informative and attractive site, intuitively easy to use. And of course, such work is never ending; he and Ruedi continually update and improve the site.

Lou also has been tireless in seeing that we all follow the constitution and bylaws, the latter not just of the Society but of the 11 separate and distinct Divisions. No small endeavor, as each Division has its own cast of officers, who (as might be expected of scientists) are all very busy and have many different viewpoints and idiosyncrasies. But Lou persists, and he prevails.

He has also had to deal with me, and nudge me, sometimes quite sharply, to carry out my responsibilities. In particular, he has been successful in getting me to nearly fill all our 10 or so committees with members. No small feat. Not that people are reluctant to serve. Indeed, I am continually impressed and gratified how dedicated and responsive so many of our members are to the requests asked of them. Truly more than I can list here. Getting to know and working with so many fine people is one of the most satisfying parts of being President. I am confident that Rich Satterlie will have the same experience when he succeeds me in Boston.

The few of you who read these reports may recall that as President-Elect, I wrote in the fall newsletters of both 2005 and 2006 that I intended to focus on four issues: 1) increasing ethnic diversity, 2) increasing the international character of our society, 3) expanding our scope, especially to include more plant scientists, and 4) addressing the re-emergence of faith-based thinking as it encroaches into science and an enlightened worldview. These are challenging issues, and not unexpectedly, it has proved difficult for me to get much traction with any of them.

I am encouraged that the Broadening Participation Committee continues to address the first issue, as expressed in Pat Hernandez’s report for that committee in this newsletter; perhaps we can make progress in that area.

We continue to be affiliated with the International Union of Biological Sciences (and I attended their meeting last year) and the US National Committee for the International Union of Physiological Sciences (in which Lou Burnett and others in DCPB participate), but these affiliations have hardly increased our international character. This year we affiliated with the International Society of Zoological Sciences, and Past President Ed Cooper represented us at the International Congress of Zoology in Paris, again without much connection to SICB. Last year I also attended the annual meeting of the Japanese Society of Zoology. While I did not attempt to initiate any collaboration between our two societies, I was struck by how similar we are in both how we operate and the problems we face. Finally, I should point out that our editor of Integrative and Comparative Biology, Hal Heatwole, has reached out internationally by adding Associates to the Editorial Board from France, Japan, Germany, Scotland, and Denmark. That is a step in the right direction.

For the past three years, I have attended the spring meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents in Washington DC, where I met and mingled with officers of many other societies much like SICB. While enjoyable and personally enriching, I was unable to bring much concrete benefit to our Society in terms of broadening collaboration with other groups. The meetings and dues are expensive, and the Executive Officers have decided to drop our membership in the Council of Scientific Society Presidents. Our close association with the American Institute of Biological Sciences will continue to serve a similar function.

At the San Antonio meeting last year, former SICB President Mike Hadfield offered a Resolution on Evolution and Climate Change to our annual business meeting. It proposed that “SICB take a public stand in support of scientific truth,” especially with respect to evolution and climate change, and that the Society “issue press releases and editorials, initiate and publish statements, and sign collective statements” addressing these issues. I was greatly encouraged that we would make some headway in this area of concern.

Subsequently, Peter deFur, Chair of the Public Affairs Committee, and I wrote an opinion piece in support of evolution that we submitted to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times. It was not published. We also emailed it to all SICB members, asking for their comments and suggesting that they submit their versions of the statement to their local papers. Several of us did that as well, but as far as I know none was published.

Despite the discouraging response we received in trying to get our opinion piece published, we are in an especially favorable position for promoting evolution and science in general this year at our meeting in Boston. The 200th year of Charles Darwin’s birthday is next year, 2009. As Ed Rosa-Molinar outlines in his Program Officer Report in this newsletter, we are collaborating with the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science (COPUS) to kick off the Year of Science 2009 at our meeting (see: http://www.copusproject.org/announcements/year_of_science_announces_janu.html/). That promises to provide our meeting with more than usual public attention, and the presentations, workshops, and science cafés will enrich the whole meeting. It should be a wonderful experience. I look forward to seeing everyone there.