Society officers assemble in College Park

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14 April 2016

Last month AIP hosted a large delegation of Member and Affiliated Society representatives at its annual AIP Assembly of Society Officers on Thursday, March 24. More than 100 attendees came together to learn about issues that professional societies strive to address areas of common concern, to share information, and to connect with the community of Member and Affiliated Societies in the AIP family.

Session I chair and speakers -- Robert G.W. Brown, Howard Garrison, and Robert Conn.AIP CEO Robert G.W. Brown started the day’s discussions with opening thoughts about the future direction of the physical sciences and the future of scientific societies. He noted that the more we learn, the more specialized science becomes.

New fields are developing every day . . . many at the crossroads of disciplines. Atomic-, molecular-, nano-, photonics-driven are all descriptors of some of today’s most frontier science. As a result, the scope of a scientific society's mission needs constant attention. Other forces also challenge us to evolve, such as globalization, which drives the need to be more broadly oriented; changing demographics, which force us to rethink membership offerings/communications; and publishing trends, which underscore the need to develop new revenue streams. To remain competitive, we have to be focused on all of these issues, Brown said.

"Critical Activity" for Scientific Societies

Robert Conn, President and CEO of the Kavli Foundation, gave an effective argument for the importance of explaining science to the public—a major component of Kavli’s mission—and, he asserted, a critical activity for scientific societies. Kavli seeks to catalyze emerging fields and to support cross-disciplinary discussion—to find gaps and opportunities. Conn noted that new disciplines arise all the time and are often advanced by universities and centers of excellence. Kavli has funded more than $100 million in neuro research in the last several years, and one of the cornerstones of its investment is a portfolio of brain research centers based at several of the world's top universities -- Columbia, UC San Diego, UC San Francisco, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Johns Hopkins, Rockefeller and Yale.

Societies may not put up the same investments for research, but they can still support cross-disciplinary discussions by the very nature of what they do -- something the AIP federation could help, for instance, by convening Member Society scientific councils to ask/consider collective questions. The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (BRAIN Initiative), which President Obama announced in 2013, grew out of one such scientific meeting, Conn said. Only by bringing disciplines together could they really understand the probabilities and see where we were headed. They hedged their bets on building the initiative on science that didn’t yet exist, but they could see it on the horizon. To make it happen, many disciplines had to come together to accelerate development.

Conn also discussed the Science Philanthropy Alliance, of which Kavli is a partner. Philanthropic funding of science is significant. Across the United States and around the world, individuals are amassing wealth at a rate not seen in a century. The Alliance targets this extraordinary new wealth and fosters new philanthropic partnerships to increase funding for basic science.

Next, Howard Garrison, FASEB’s director of public affairs, presented attendees with an outlook for federal science funding within the context of the broader federal budget and discretionary spending levels. He noted that the United States has not had a consistent, long-term policy to guide decisions on research funding. Obstacles to growth vary over time and must be followed closely. Fiscal climate has an impact on the public’s perspective on paying for tax-funded research. In this regard, societies can play the critical function of engaging Congress -- directly and often, Garrison advised.

He cited an example of a congressman who entered office knowing little of science’s impact on society, but over his career he grew more aware and became a major champion for science funding. Garrison credits direct engagement and advocacy for this result. Familiarity breeds support. Garrison noted that the most effective arguments for science include economic benefits, foreign competition, threats to security, and a genuine desire to push the frontiers of knowledge. His message was to keep up the pressure and lead with our strength: the well-recognized fact that science brings progress.

Engaging Congress and Social Media

From the left, Session II chair and speakers -- Ellen Weiss, Rick Fienberg, Jill Straniero, Chris Faesi, and Sara ConnersEllen Weiss of the Biophysical Society chaired the second session on engaging digital communities. Jill Straniero, digital collaboration manager of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), helped build a dedicated online community for ASHA members. She noted that staff-driven social media efforts are rarely effective. For vibrant, active engagement, an online community must be member driven—and never used as a marketing vehicle for society information. Straniero also advocated for the inclusion of young people in society governance, noting that if societies want to go after a certain category of member, a representative must be involved to advance the interests of that group at the highest level of the organization.

Rick Fienberg, press officer of AAS, spoke about his society’s efforts around advancing social media and the challenges they have encountered with messaging and content when communications are taken to the social level. It is absolutely necessary for a society to engage in social media, but the distribution of content via multiple contributors brings loss of central control, risk, ethics questions and concerns over questions spanning respect, inclusiveness and intellectual property. To mitigate potential ill effects, AAS has developed a detailed social media handbook and guide to meeting etiquette. AAS revises its policies with each successive meeting to address new issues and technologies. He advised societies to adopt similar policies. In doing so, we elevate the importance of paying close attention to social communication behaviors and their effects on others.

Harvard graduate student Chris Faesi spoke about his involvement in developing Astrobites, an extensible, reproducible, student-led initiative for science communication. Contributing graduate students from institutions around the world summarize scholarly journal articles to the undergraduate audience. Astrobites has 600,000 users, principally built through many social media channels. Societies could tap in to existing online communities by offering them resources, advertising, and legitimacy. Societies stand to gain by extending their reach and increasing membership.

Sara Conners, head of communications at APS, wrapped up the session describing some inventive means by which APS connects with its members on social media. One easy way to get started is to enhance “real-life” events, like doing live video streaming of sanctioned talks, interviews, press conferences, etc. Societies can engage in global conversations to call attention to major developments in science and encourage activism. At meetings, it’s important to engage self-appointed communicators face-to-face and share with them your objectives for social media at that conference. “Tweetups” with guest speakers are becoming more and more popular. Lastly, social media enables you to have fun with communications—APS’ memes, caption contests, and flat physicist campaigns have been well received. From Conners’ perspective, initiatives do not have to be novel; societies can easily borrow from others’ successful efforts, tweaking them for their particular audience. Humor is often most effective.

Trends in Publishing

From the left, Session III chair and speakers -- Jason Wilde, Bryan Heidorn, and Kent Anderson.Chief publishing officer of AIP Publishing, Jason Wilde, opened the final session by addressing the trends affecting scholarly publishing today. He noted that the landscape of publishing is changing with the growth of the mega-publisher. The power now centers on four commercial publishers who control 53 percent of today’s published content. Due to the growth in the commercial publishing sector Wilde suggested that nonprofit society publishers should find ways to work together for the benefit of the community. Furthermore, shrinking library budgets and new open access policies are changing publishing business models. Wilde also stressed that expectations for publishers have changed and grown. In addition to traditional functions, they must also develop and deliver robust online tools to enable search and discovery, and creatively format information for easier consumption.

Kent Anderson, founder of Caldera Publishing Solutions, addressed nine technology and social trends society leaders are facing today in the 21st century. Anderson’s talk was data rich, so I recommend viewing his presentation online to get a better understanding of his message. Briefly, Anderson noted that science and education are taken for granted in the United States, and this fact has a very negative impact on the public’s perception of the importance of science and the need for continued support/financing of science. He explains how academia and scholarly publishing are squeezed financially and viewed critically. Technology is complex and expensive, and the Internet is making the world smaller and companies bigger, feeding income and social inequities. Media is fragmented with politicized ideas; big data is a big headache; and publishers have an identity crisis. Massive university and publisher financial reserves are not serving science as they should. Anderson wrapped up by stating that, to best serve their mission and to interact in a rapidly evolving environment (dealing with many of these diverse and prevalent trends), society governance needs a huge jolt. Anderson offers concrete ways to improve governance for stronger, more effective science societies.

Finally, Bryan Heidorn, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Information, addressed publishing data associated with scholarly research. Heidorn discussed the barriers to long-term preservation of data and the role of publishers and knowledge institutions in the preservation and dissemination of information. Data has been historically hidden in the scholarly publishing enterprise, and today’s challenge is to bring dark data to light and to make new data accessible and usable so that research can be verified, reproduced, and extended. Dark data is especially challenging because it is not properly curated in long-term repositories and will eventually become permanently inaccessible. We must do what is needed to save and curate what we can, he said.

 Society staff and volunteer leaders interact at AIP's 2016 Assembly of Society Officers.