HomeVolume Fall 2005
Message from the President-Elect

John Pearse

In my time as President-Elect this year, I have enjoyed working with Sally and Ron, our President and Treasurer, and learning how strong our society has become since the crisis of the early 1990s. This reassuring situation is the result of a lot of very hard work by our earlier leadership; we owe them major thanks. Not only have we emerged from a huge and crippling debt, but are now managed by the very capable and easy-to-work-with folks at Burk and Associates. We have undergone a name change to better reflect our role in the new century, and our journal, also with a new name, is changing and going electronic. Our meetings have been reorganized to better present an integrated program, and we continue to reach out to other like-minded organizations, both here and abroad. Being part of the selection process for both a publisher of our journal and a new editor has been particularly rewarding .

Clearly, it is comforting for me to look forward to following Sally as President in 2007 knowing how well she is managing the Society and preparing the way for further progress. It is time to enact our strategic plan so ably initiated by Martin Feder 5 years ago, then initially drafted by Marvalee Wake, and after further tweaking, finally approved at last year's meeting (see http://www.sicb.org/handbook/plan.php3).

Of the many formidable objectives in the strategic plan, I hope to focus on four, in particular, during my term, and will begin addressing them next year, my second year as President-Elect. Three have to do with our membership:

1) Increasing ethnic diversity. The dominance of European-Americans at our meetings is conspicuous and increasingly unacceptable in our multi-ethnic culture. Various attempts to diversify our membership for a number of years have had some success, but hardly enough. Our own monotony is in contrast to the broadening ethnic diversity in academia, especially of Asian-Americans and Latinos, as well as African-Americans. I welcome any and all assistance in bringing this trend to our Society.

2) Expanding our scope, especially to include more plant scientists. We have a legacy of being a zoological society, but clearly we gain much by extending the power of comparative biology beyond animals to integrate our work with biology in general. The past half century, focusing on molecular approaches with model organisms, has gone beyond compartmentalization of biology into microbiology, botany and zoology, or for that matter into things like molecular and cell versus ecology and evolution. We can do more to live up to our new name.

3) Increasing the international character of our Society. Marvalee Wake, in particular, took major steps in this direction, and I hope we continue to find ways to participate with like-minded societies in other countries and regions.

4) Finally, as the primary society integrating research and teaching in biology, we need to join others to address the re-emergence of faith-based thinking as it encroaches into science and an enlightened worldview. Currently, the charade of "intelligent design" as science needs to be countered. Although painfully distracting from productive activity, it is now threatening to interfere with how we teach and do research. This was recognized in our "Resolution on the Teaching of Evolution," approved on 6 January 2001, but that appears dated and weak today. However, it is not obvious how to approach this anachronism. Debating seems counterproductive, as does any attempt at educating those who have closed minds. But ignoring them makes us look elitist. Ridicule is hard to resist, but almost certainly misguided as well. My feeling is that for beginners we should insist that those who claim to be doing science do so. Indeed, such insistance could be an unusual opening to teach what science is, and what it is not. Any advice or assistance would be most welcome.

And truly finally---
is anyone reading these officers' messages in our newsletters?! I know I rarely did so in the past, except when I was program officer and wondered whether other officers mentioned me. But I did read through a lot of them before writing this, just to get a flavor of what people write. There are lots of thoughtful and informative messages. But does anyone read them? I'm not sure I want to engage in a major dialog about this now, but I am curious about how effective these messages are for reaching our membership. Drop me a note: pearse@biology.ucsc.edu. Just "I read it" would be enough for now; if I don't hear from many of you, it might be worthwhile to think of more productive ways for your officers to spend their time.