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1999 SICB
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Committee Reports

Educational Council Report

John Pilger, Educational Council Chair

Your Educational Council sponsored a teaching workshop the afternoon before the Denver Annual Meeting. The topic was "Inquiry-Based Learning in the Life Sciences." The 30 people who attended first enjoyed a keynote presentation by Dr. Gordon Uno from the National Science Foundation Division of Undergraduate Education and then participated in small group and combined-session discussions. Responses from participants about the experience were positive and encouraging. We feel that we have made a good start toward bringing the art and craft of teaching about life sciences to a higher profile in the Society.

Last year, we encouraged the Executive Committee of the Society to change the regulations governing the number of papers that one could present at a single meeting. Specifically, the new regulation states that the presentation of an educationally oriented paper or poster will not prohibit one from contributing an additional paper or poster on one's biological research. There were at least 17 education-oriented oral and poster presentations at the Denver meeting, up from two such presentations at the Boston meeting. Presentations in the contributed paper session on education attracted as many as 75 people at a time. We would like to have more such contributed paper and poster sessions at the Atlanta meeting, so we encourage you to share your teaching strategies and innovations.

Much of the discussion at our business meeting in Denver centered on ways that the Educational Council would implement president Feder's mandate for a task force on educational issues. As you probably know by now, we are charged with obtaining member opinions on various aspects of education as it relates to the position and activities of the Society. From this survey, we will prepare a report that will recommend to the Executive Committee a strategic plan for educational issues. The portions of this plan that are accepted by the Executive Committee would guide the Society in the area of educational issues and activities for the next several years.

The task force on educational issues is comprised of the regular members of the Educational Council with an additional member appointed to better represent the constituencies of the Society. Currently, the task force is working on a concise survey that will assess member opinion on the activities of the Educational Council and specific topics of integrative and comparative biology education that are relevant to the Society. Look for this survey to arrive by e-mail. We encourage you to respond promptly.

The Educational Council also decided at their business meeting to sponsor education workshops to be held on alternate years at the SICB Annual Meeting. Thus, we would have the next workshop in Chicago. We expect that these workshops will deal with both theoretical and practical aspects of teaching life sciences. The success of the Denver workshop leads us to believe that the afternoon before the first day of the meeting is a good time to schedule these activities, but we would appreciate your comments about this.

As usual, please contact any member of the council if you have questions or comments.

Public Affairs Committee Report

Ted Grosholz and Miriam Ashley-Ross, Public Affairs Committee Co-Chairs

Communicating Science to the Media
The SICB Public Affairs Committee was pleased to host David Baron at this year's Annual Meeting in Denver. David is an environmental reporter for National Public Radio, though usually based in Washington, D.C., he was conveniently on "sabbatical" at the University of Colorado this year. David presented and answered questions from the 50 attendees for over two hours. In his presentation, he provided his perspective of the broadcast media by taking us through a typical day in the life of a broadcast journalist. He made it clear how much information he receives on a daily basis from scientific journal news briefs, university publicity offices and other sources. He also made it apparent how little time he actually has to wade his way through all of this information and develop stories for that day's broadcast. It was obvious to all that the typical science journalist receives many more story ideas than they could possibly hope to use. David also provided some of his views about what makes a story newsworthy and how scientists can better communicate what they do. He discussed the need for balance in the stories presented and how he deals with presenting differing views in scientific debates. He also discussed the attraction for journalists to stories in which the nature of the debate is altered, rather than simply adding another piece of information to an already established paradigm. He concluded by noting that since journalists have little time to seek out new sources for stories, it is incumbent upon us as scientists to communicate our most exciting results to the media, rather than expect them to come to us.

Y2K Update: The University in the 21st Century
A panel discussion, jointly sponsored by the Educational Council and Public Affairs Committee, is anticipated for the upcoming Y2K meeting in Atlanta. This discussion will address the rapidly changing face of research and education at universities in the next century and the forces behind these changes. Issues to be discussed may include the declining research capabilities at small and medium-sized universities, conflicting priorities in education and research in an era of declining resources, and the increasing corporate underwriting of medical and biological research. The specific topics and list of speakers will be jointly agreed upon by both committees.

SICB Awards its First Prize in Science Communication
At the upcoming Y2K meeting in Atlanta, SICB together with the Public Affairs Committee will award the first Science Communicators Prize to a writer or broadcast journalist for their contributions in communicating science to the public. This year, an external awards committee was appointed, including Public Affairs Committee member Hans Laufer. The external committee will consider a number of candidates for this prize to be awarded at a special presentation at the Society's annual banquet. The prize will consist of a $500 prize and a plaque awarded by the SICB president. We hope that this prize will help publicize the goals of SICB and underline our commitment to better communicate science to the public.

Grants-in-Aid of Research Report

David Borst

The SICB Student Support Committee (SSC) once again awarded Grants-in-Aid of Research to support scientific investigations in the fields of integrative and comparative biology. Awards are limited to graduate students currently enrolled in degree programs who are active members of SICB. Fifty-one applications were received this year and 11 grants were awarded for a total of $7,500. The following is a list of the 1999 awardees in alphabetical order:

Michael Alfaro, University of Chicago, Division of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology
Marilyn Banta, University of Nevada, Division of Comparative Physiology and Biochemistry
Andrew Crawford, University of Chicago, Division of Ecology and Evolution
Erika Iyengar, Cornell University, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Loretta Mayer, North Arizona University, Division of Comparative Endocrinology
Tamara McGovern, Florida State University, Division of Ecology and Evolution
Sheila Patek, Duke University, Division of Invertebrate Zoology
Lisa Rosenberger, University of Chicago, Division of Vertebrate Morphology
Valerie Simon, Duke University, Division of Animal Behavior
Keith Sockman, Washington State University, Division of Comparative Endocrinology
Michael Vickery, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Division of Developmental and Cell Biology

Next year, the SSC hopes to have a larger budget, and would welcome any member contributions that are specifically made for this program. SICB student members who are interested in applying for next year's grants should be advised that all proposals and letters of recommendation will be accepted electronically and the deadline for consideration will most likely be earlier.

American Association for the Advancement of Science Report

Mary Beth Saffo

Representing SICB, I recently attended the Affiliates Meeting at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in January 1999. Several issues were discussed which should be of interest to SICB members.

1. Annual Meeting, February 2000 and Other Public Activities
The theme of the year 2000 meeting, to be held in Washington, D.C., will be, "Science in an Uncertain Millennium," chaired by the incoming president, Stephen Jay Gould. Among the several intriguing thematic tracks for the meeting are: "Creativity in Science, Art and the Humanities" (emphasizing the exploration of the commonalties of these enterprises rather than culture clashes among them), "Cycles and Scales of Time," and "Natural History in the New Millennium" (with a broad, dynamic, forward-looking perspective on natural history).

The AAAS is also hoping to stage a public celebration of science in Washington that would involve students, working scientists, affiliated societies (including SICB) and the public. Plans are currently under discussion, and should be ready for public dissemination by the end of April. If this project comes off, it could present a wonderful opportunity for SICB to advertise itself and promote organismal and integrative biology. AAAS has promised to keep SICB updated on its plans for this celebration.

2. Online Activities
In addition to its news service, Science NOW (, Science has recently launched a new website, "Next Wave" (, "created by young scientists for young scientists". "Next Wave" includes access to funding databases, job listings, career advice from working scientists and job-search professionals, and non-academic career venues for trained scientists. Subscriptions to each of these web sites are available. For more information on Science NOW and Next Wave, call 202-326-6435, or visit the web sites listed above.

3. Interactions Between Government and Scientists
The AAAS has initiated an innovative demonstration project to assist the courts in identifying and appointing independent scientists and engineers as expert witnesses. As a first step, AAAS is drawing up a committee composed of judges, lawyers, scientists and engineers to draw up general guidelines for determining conflicts of interest, etc. AAAS will ask its affiliated societies, including SICB, for help in identifying scientists in particular fields who are qualified and willing to serve as expert witnesses in judicial proceedings. For further information, contact Deborah Runkle (202/326-8964;

To increase the scientific expertise of U.S. diplomats, AAAS is also working to increase interactions between scientists and the State Department, lobbying for briefing of State Department officials (especially U.S. diplomats on home leave) on science issues, and eventually for inclusion of scientific attaches to embassies.

4. Scientific Data, Public Access to Information, Copyright Protection and Government Confidentiality

All of these issues are of relevance to biological researchers.

Psychologist William Gardner (Montefiore Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pa.), outlined several issues regarding copyright protection of databases. AAAS is working to modify an antipiracy bill so that it will not impede sharing of databases for scientific purposes. For more information, contact William Gardner ( or Mark Frankel at AAAS ( See also: W. Gardner and J. Rosenbaum, 1998. "Database Protection and Access to Information," Science, 281: 786-7.

Lawyer Richard Marks discussed various issues involving "strong encryption," especially the U.S. government's strong (and understandable) interest in preventing export of encryption software, and the difficulties such export bans pose to the "information industry," and to academia. (As an example of the problems, American mathematicians who teach strong-encryption algorithms to math classes which enroll foreign students are considered to be engaged in illegal exportation of encryption software). As Marks said, the conflict between protection of secure information versus the right of scholars to obtain the most up-to-date information will be an intensely contested issue, and "an area in which scientists could and should play a role."

Two Congressional staffers (Joanne Carney of the House Science Committee, and Jean Frucci from the staff of Congressman George Brown) discussed the problems raised by the Omnibus 1999 Appropriations Bill, which includes a broadened application of the Freedom of Information Act, that will affect directly individual scientists whose work is funded by federal grants, since it will require all data sets from all federally funded grants to be provided to the public upon request. In his April 1 e-mail memo, Martin Feder has already alerted the SICB membership to this serious problem. Do respond to his request for letters to James Charney at the Office of Management and Budget.

In addition to the problems noted by Martin (which emphasized the dangers of release of preliminary data before it has been published, along with related issues), Arney and Frucci noted other difficulties of the bill as well: it threatens to essentially eliminate the distinction between a grant and a contract; it will seriously compromise (especially in NIH-funded clinical research) patient confidentiality; and it will make data available to animal rights activists and other groups, who may use the data for political purposes. Most importantly, it will put huge logistical burdens on individual faculty (who would be personally responsible for releasing such information on demand), and on non-profit corporations (if you have a project supported by both federal and non-federal dollars, you would be obliged to release all the information, including that supported by non-federal dollars!). None of these specific consequences were intended; as Frucci noted, it was a bipartisan mistake, and it ultimately will require a bipartisan solution. Your individual input to OMB is very important!

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