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Division of Integrative and Comparative Issues (DICI): 1999 Spring Newsletter

This Newsletter by Section

Message from the Chair

Richard M. Burian

The State of the Division
The Division of Integrative and Comparative Issues is at a turning point. Since its formation three years ago, it has not achieved a strong sense of identity. What we make of it is very much up to the membership. As most of you will recall, the division was formed out of the former Division of History and Philosophy of Biology in an attempt to reflect the make-up and interests of the membership and to better serve the needs of SICB in its transition from the ASZ. I am probably the last division officer to come to the office from the background of history and philosophy of biology; with the shift in membership and interests in DICI and interests of SICB, it is time to reshape the division and put new leadership at the helm. We are in urgent need of volunteers who are ready to take charge. Accordingly, the division is in urgent need of candidates for all three offices: program officer, secretary and division chair. Interested parties, willing to be nominated and stand for office, should contact Joe Graves or me at the earliest convenience.

As of this date, neither the officers nor the membership of DICI have formed a clear image of what the division should be. We need to develop a fairly clear sense of the sorts of issues DICI should address, what sorts of symposia it should instigate, and how it can best serve the needs and interests of its members and the Society. Input from division members is sorely needed to help answer these questions constructively. Accordingly, we will be sending out an open-ended questionnaire (via e-mail for those of you who have supplied the SICB office with e-mail addresses) to the membership. We would greatly appreciate your responses, for they will play an important role in shaping the future of the division.

A Symposium for Atlanta
The division is co-sponsoring and co-organizing a symposium on the history and philosophy of evolutionary developmental biology at the SICB Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Jan. 4-8, 2000. The background to this symposium is interesting, for it illustrates the way in which our division can help foster important developments in the Society. At the Denver meeting, the SICB Executive Committee approved the formation of the new Division of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology (which will be formed in part by cladogenesis of the Division of Developmental and Cell Biology and in part by an infusion of new members into the Society). Together with the Division of Developmental and Cell Biology and the Division of Systematics and Evolutionary Biology, we are co-organizing what will, in effect, be the inaugural symposium of the new division. To date, the following people have agreed to participate in the symposium: Jessica Bolker, Sean Carroll, Michael Dietrich, Jean Gayon, Scott Gilbert, Brian Hall, Manfred Laubichler, Paula Mabee, Rudy Raff, Louise Roth, Günter Wagner and myself. Given the importance of the revival of work integrating evolution and development and the recent success of work in this field, this symposium promises to be of great interest. We hope it will provide an auspicious start to an important new division of our Society.

Call for Contributed Papers for Atlanta
"Integrative Issues and Integration of Biologists." The Division of Integrative and Comparative Issues seeks to stimulate a contributed paper session for Atlanta on a particularly important topic, especially well suited to Atlanta. As a division, we are concerned with integrative approaches to biology and, in a second meaning of the term, with integration in biology. We would believe that there would be great value in fostering a contributed paper session focused on the importance of diversity among biologists. We think that questions like the following should be addressed: How does integration of biologists foster the needs and help benefit integrative biology? How can we, as a society, foster integration in biology? We encourage you to submit papers examining the contributions of minority biologists, ways of attracting minority biologists, the successes and failures (or strengths and weaknesses) of programs with this aim, theoretical examinations of the value of multiple perspectives in research and teaching, etc. We would also like to ask the help of any of you with an interest in this topic in helping to locate and sponsor suitable contributions from individuals in the Atlanta region who are not members of SICB and who have useful information or valuable perspectives on this topic. Remember that non-members may present papers provided that their paper is co-authored by a member or they belong to an organization co-sponsoring a session with SICB and a member (not necessarily the co-author) sponsors the paper. Remember too that the only way an individual may present or sponsor more than one paper is if the second paper is submitted to DICI.

It is very important that the division have at least one identifiable contributed paper session at Atlanta. In Denver, there were only four contributed papers submitted to the DICI, and most of these actually fit better in the contributed paper sessions of other divisions. The program officer felt (rightly!) that it was better to distribute these papers to other sessions. For that reason, there was no DICI contributed paper session in Denver. For the health of the division, it is very important that we have a contributed paper session covering a good range of topics in Atlanta. Accordingly, I urge you to consider submitting a paper to DICI, perhaps taking advantage of the privilege of presenting two papers thanks to the special status of papers submitted to DICI. Since the deadline for submitting contributed papers is not until August, there is ample time to prepare a submission for this purpose.

Call for Symposium Proposals
The division has not yet proposed any symposia for the Chicago meeting in 2001. The formal deadline for proposals is June 7, although there is usually some margin for submitting proposals after that date. A number of topics come to mind immediately as suitable. For example, the application of complexity theory to biological problems; the impact of molecularization on work in _____ [fill in the blank], and the importance of explicit attention to higher levels of organization in ______ [fill in the blank]. Members who are interested in proposing a symposium should contact me at their earliest convenience. A technical note: provided that the proposers make a grant application for support of the proposed symposium, the Society will waive the registration fee for invited speakers who are not members of the SICB. (It has undertaken to do the same for members of SICB as soon as it is financially feasible, but I think we cannot count on this for Chicago.) The division has a small budget with which to support symposia.

Before closing, I would like to call your attention to a meeting this summer that may be of interest to a number of you. It is the biennial meeting of the International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, which will take place in Oaxaca, Mexico, July 7-11. Details about this meeting are available at the Society's web site,

We look forward to your responses to the various calls for help put forward in this message and to seeing many of you at the SICB in Atlanta, starting January 4 next year!

Message from the Secretary

Joseph L. Graves

Why Should Biologists Care About Integration (of Themselves?)
I echo the chair's call for the submission of papers at the 2000 SICB Annual Meeting, Jan. 4-8, in Atlanta, that deal with the issue of diversity within the community of science itself. Some may believe that this is entirely an issue of social justice, thus not really within the concerns of division of a scientific society. There are however, many reasons to believe that this issue should be a major concern about the quality of science that can be produced by a scientific community that is not "integrated."

For example, recently the National Cancer Institute (NCI) was asked to pay more attention to "minorities" and the medically underserved by a panel enjoined by the Institute of Medicine, (IOM, Science v. 283. p. 615.) In making this request, the IOM panel also requested that NCI change the way that it gathered mortality and incidence data. It called for the rejection of standard "racial" categories and called for data to be collected in ethnic or cultural categories. This state of affairs immediately raises a number of important questions. One could immediately ask would scientific research on disease incidence and causality in "minorities" have ever been neglected, if there were significant numbers of research scientists originating from "minority" groups? What are the consequences of the absence of information for the dominant disease causality paradigms by the exclusion of this information? Another example may suffice. Tang et al. (1998) found that the apoE4 allele indicated as increasing the risk of showing the Alzheimer's Disease phenotype in "whites" is not associated with increased risk in African-Americans and Hispanics. There are a number of nested questions in this example. The most important of these is "How do biological or genetic phenomena get tested by associations that are social constructions?" This is a question that is of interest to me, precisely because I am of African-American ancestry. I have noticed that this question goes mainly un-addressed by Euro-American scientists (as indicated by the language used in the NCI report.) This question is of great importance in that national funding agencies are currently framing research agendas utilizing these biologically untenable categories (Hispanic, African-American, white).

Atlanta, with its history of involvement in the civil rights struggle, is a natural venue for DICI to initiate its contribution to this question. This needs to be an ongoing discussion in our division and society. I therefore submit that there is much to be gained in the quality of science by the true integration of the scientific community. Certainly, I can see nothing that will be lost.


Tang et al. (1998) The APOE-epsilon4 allele and the risk of Alzheimer disease among African-Americans, Whites and Hispanics. JAMA 279 (10): 751-755.

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