I have decided to continue Randy's tradition of a President's Blog.
First, some thanks: Randy for steering the Society so successfully for two years and the Tampa conference team (Vicki Cornish, Laura Engelby and Tara Cox) for making our last biennial meeting such an enjoyable, stimulating and financially successful event. This gives us a very nice nest egg for Dunedin.
The Society faces several challenges. The first is the challenge of geography mixed with tough financial times. When I wrote about what I wanted to achieve during my presidency for the voting paper, I mentioned I wanted to try to make the Society more international with more representation from low income countries. This is still one of my aims and I'm hoping that the new chair of the International Committee, Guiseppe Notobartolo di Sciara, and the soon to be chosen new Membership Chair will enable this to happen. However, I also realise that as a society we must remain loyal to our constituency, most of which live in high income countries, particularly the United States. As a result, we have made a decision to have our 2015 meeting in the US and I think we will be endeavouring to have every second meeting in North America for the foreseeable future to enable us to look after both our international and North American constituencies. This is quite a challenge given the travel restrictions that many of us are under in these tough financial times.
I hope you are all saving up for the 2013 meeting in Dunedin. By having the meeting at the University of Otago rather than at a conference centre, we hope to keep registration costs down and to maximise the options for inexpensive accommodation at student dormitories. I have checked out that option and the rooms (all single occupancy) are fine. I will probably stay there myself. There will be lots of hotel options as well, so I think we will be able to cater for all pockets.
Our second challenge concerns the role of the Society. I recently read an interesting research book, The Honest Broker by Roger Pielke Jr (readily available as an e-book as well as in print), which outlines four possible roles for scientists at the science-policy interface: pure scientists, who have no interest in the policy implications of their research but merely wish to share information with decision makers; science arbiters, who serve as resources for decision makers by answering factual questions that the decision maker thinks are relevant; issues advocates, who advocate specific policy options with a view to limiting the decision maker's scope of choice; and honest brokers, who try to expand and clarify the policy options available to decision makers by suggesting a range of solutions, allowing the decision maker to reduce choice based on his or her own preferences and values.
The book makes the point that all these roles are legitimate and that individual scientists can make up their mind about their role, which may change depending on the situation. However, I think we have to think about our role as a society. For example, what role should we play when we send President's letters? Should our role depend on the situation? In an article in the New Scientist in 1999 entitled 'Beware Flying Mud', I outlined the advantages of the 'honest broker' role (I did not call it that), because this role enabled the scientist to outline a menu of options (including the do-nothing option), each with its costs and benefits.
I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this as I'm sure would the Chair of our Conservation Committee, Barb Taylor.
Most of the Committee Chairs have agreed to continue their roles. Now that the Taxonomy Committee has been elevated to full committee status, Bill Perrin will chair that group and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara will chair the International Committee. Doug Nowacek has decided to step down as membership chair after a long period of distinguished service (thanks Doug). We are looking for a new membership chair and call for an expression of interest in that position by August 31 (see description of the role). The role of Membership Chair is very important. I look forward to a strong field.
With best wishes