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
Y2K Update: The University in the 21st Century
SICB Awards its First Prize in Science Communication
Grants-in-Aid of Research Report
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
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 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
3. Interactions Between Government and Scientists
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mark Frankel at AAAS (email@example.com). 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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The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology