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DSEB: 1998 Spring Newsleter

This Newsletter by Section

Message from the Past Chair

Carole Hickman

My term is officially over, but I’m filling in for Paula Mabee as she makes the transition, on little advance notice, into her role as chair. Paula was unable to attend the Boston meeting because of deaths in her family, but she looks forward to joining forces with Miriam Zelditch and Jon Norenburg to provide new and stronger directions for systematic and evolutionary biology in SICB. It is a pleasure to welcome the three of them to their new offices.

The 1998 SICB Annual Meeting in Boston was well-attended and full of good systematics. Our division was especially pleased to contribute support to the excellent symposium on "Evolutionary Relationships of Metazoan Phyla," organized for DSEB, and DDCB by Damhnait McHugh and Ken Halanych. Jackie Webb organized a great evening reception following the symposium. We had a full-day of contributed papers in systematic and evolutionary biology.

Writing this column provides me with an opportunity to thank both Jackie and Dominique Dagit for all their contributions over the past two years as divisional program officer and secretary.

I am also taking this as an opportunity to welcome those of you who have declared DSEB as your new second divisional affiliation. Please plan to participate actively in both of your divisions. Vote in both divisions. Bring new members to both divisions. Encourage your students to join or give them gift memberships. Remind them of everything that the society does through Grants-in-Aid to help support their research and of the travel support to present papers at the Annual Meeting.

Our new DSEB image, corresponding with the new SICB image, reflects many more taxa than you will find at the zoo. Encourage your colleagues in systematic and evolutionary plant biology to join us. Consider organizing a symposium or workshop for the division. And plan right now to join us in Denver next January.

Message from the Program Officer

Jon Norenburg

Regeneration of DSEB continued in fine form at the 1998 SICB Annual Meeting in Boston, with 19 oral and 12 poster contributed presentations of high quality. The oral presentations were well-attended most of the day, despite being on the last day and facing stiff competition. DSEB was a major co-sponsor for the symposium "Evolutionary Relationships of Metazoan Phyla: Advances, Problems and Approaches." We will also be sponsoring symposia in Denver and, for the Atlanta meeting, in January 2000...YOUR SYMPOSIUM OR WORKSHOP COULD BE HERE.

The deadline for submitting symposium proposals for Atlanta, Jan. 4-8, 2000, is April 15, 1998. So, it’s not too early to start planning for Chicago in 2001! Symposia don’t have to be formal, high-stress endeavors. Having organized symposia with SICB and independently, I can attest to the convenience of organizing one within the SICB framework. Workshops or informal symposia (e.g., not intended for publication) also are valuable approaches for focusing on a subject, with SICB picking up most of the logistics stress.

Improving SICB Annual Meetings
A lot of effort and thought is going into trying to maximize participation in, and productivity of, the SICB meetings. Everything is on the table, from the transmittal form to the structure of the meeting. If you have strong ideas about what brings you to or keeps you from the meetings, or what would improve them for you, send me an e-mail with your complaint or suggestion.

There seems to be consensus among divisional program officers that the interdivisional sessions for contributed papers are a good thing. The choice of topics and implementation still needs work — this year, we again had talks of very similar nature scheduled in different divisional sessions. Part of the problem is evident confusion by authors when they select a preferred venue on the abstract transmittal form. I accept all comments, but I would like especially to hear from individuals who feel that their presentation would have been more at home in a different contributed paper session than where it was. I also would like to hear from individuals who recognize that their presentation would have been appropriate for a DSEB session, but who consciously elected a different venue — my question is, why?

Message from the Secretary

Miriam Zelditch

This past meeting in Boston documented the strength of DSEB. Finally we have stopped asking whether the division should survive and are now asking how to strengthen and improve it. Being able to choose two divisional affiliations is a major step forward, and I repeat Carole Hickman’s urgings to choose DSEB as one of your two (and to encourage your students to do so as well). DSEB should be even more attractive to students because we are reviving student paper awards.

While it appears DSEB will survive, it is important to realize why it should. One reason for questioning the need for a systematics division is the centrality of systematics in SICB. Considering that systematics is at the heart of all comparative biology, why have a separate division devoted to systematics? I think it’s a good question, and it’s one we need to answer (if only to decide where to present our papers). Why not just present them in divisions organized around our taxa or kinds of data? Obviously many people do, and they may have good reason for doing so. I also think, though, there is a good reason for presenting them within the systematics division: We can anticipate having an informed and critical audience. Thus we can expect intelligent and useful criticism. That kind of criticism may be the major benefit of presenting a paper at national meetings. Clearly we need to hear if we’ve made serious errors, or if we’re unaware of major methodological innovations (preferably sometime before publication). Even if you imagine that your results would interest only a small group of specialists, you might find that your analysis is actually of general, methodological interest.

Our division seems like a logical place to discuss (and evaluate) systematic methods, including methods of sequence alignment, methods of phylogenetic inference, and methods for tracing character evolution on trees and for evaluating hypotheses that predict those patterns of character evolution. As most of us know, there are a variety of methods available for making all these kinds of inferences. Different methods can yield different results. Even when they do not yield different results, they are based on different principles and those principles enter into our choice among methods. DSEB is where we can look for informed feedback on our choices.

I encourage you to think about the methods you find most useful in your own research, and those you would most like to learn. If you find certain methods useful or intriguing, I suspect many others will too. If we start thinking about this now, maybe we can pursue the idea of holding a general workshop on methods. Like Jon, I’ve found it relatively painless to organize a symposium for SICB. Considering that none of us is informed on all the methods out there, a symposium (plus workshop) would be useful for us as well as informative for our colleagues. As Jon said, it’s not too early to think about symposia for 2001, but it’s not too late to think about 2000.

American Association for Zoological Nomenclature

Are you among the endangered population known as taxonomists? Do you care about the rules of zoological nomenclature? Then you should be a member of AAZN, especially if you question the status quo. Activities of the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature are supported by voluntary contributions, of which North American zoologists contribute less in actual cash than the British do. Does money buy influence? You betcha. The AAZN has been an effective voice for action, but too many zoologists abdicate the process of constructive dialogue. To be in on the action, send $20 for membership dues to: Treasurer, AAZN, c/o National Museum of Natural History, MRC-168, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560.

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