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SICB 1999 Spring Newsletter

Messages from:

Message from the President

Martin E. Feder

The Annual Meeting in Denver concluded a year of good news for SICB. We have stemmed the attrition in our membership, continue on a sound financial footing, launched a new journal, appointed a stellar editorial group for American Zoologist, initiated a new long-range planning process, and followed the Boston Meeting with an equally large and diverse meeting in Denver. You'll read more about many of these topics elsewhere in this newsletter.

These developments have come about through the hard work of many members who have volunteered their efforts on behalf of SICB. In this regard, we owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Alan Kohn and Willy Bemis, who have just completed terms as president and program officer, respectively. Coincidentally, Alan has also retired as professor at the University of Washington; we wish him well and look forward to enjoying his counsel as past president and as a member of the American Zoologist editorial group. I also thank the innumerable members who have now rotated out of divisional officerships and SICB committees. It is also time to elect our next set of officers. I urge you to submit the ballot sent to you in the mail.

Our present health positions us ideally to plan for the future. As I promised in my nomination statement: "The 21st century will present major challenges for SICB and its members and require change to meet these challenges. If elected, I would be proactive in engaging the membership of SICB in exploring such change and, where consensus emerges, implementing it." One such challenge is in expanding SICB's membership and scientific scope by identifying emerging areas of integrative and comparative biology and incorporating them. In this regard, I'm pleased to announce that the Executive Committee has approved the formation of a new Division of Evolutionary Developmental Biology, for which Scott Gilbert and Billie Swalla will act as officers until an election is held. "Evo Devo," as this new field has come to be known, is attracting growing attention from the life sciences community, academic institutions, funding agencies and major journals; This new division gives SICB a chance to grow with it. Moreover, the combination of disciplines already present in SICB makes us an ideal host for this area.

SICB and the new division are presently negotiating formal sponsorship arrangements with several journals, which I hope will enable us to provide editorial input and provide us with discounted subscription rates. Also, we're planning to jump-start the Evo Devo division with a major inaugural symposium at the 2000 SICB Annual Meeting, Jan. 4-8 in Atlanta. Representatives of the pre-existing Divisions of Systematics and Evolutionary Biology, Developmental and Cell Biology, and Integrative and Comparative Issues are jointly organizing this symposium on major concepts in Evo Devo. Please join in helping to launch Evo Devo!

Evo Devo is just the start. As a society, we need to think more broadly about our goals and how to achieve them. To this end, SICB has initiated a strategic planning process. The first step has been the appointment of three task forces: Science and Science Policy (chaired by Bob Full), Education and Educational Policy (chaired by John Pilger), and SICB Organization and Governance (chaired by Kathy Packard). The full membership of these task forces and their complete charges is available at: The specific intent of these task forces is to give all members an opportunity to contribute to our strategic planning. I strongly encourage all SICB members who have opinions, advice, suggestions or complaints to communicate with any member of the relevant task force. You will hear from one or more of these task forces in the near future. The next step is that these task forces will present their reports to a subset of the Society and divisional officers at a strategic planning meeting to be held in July. Finally, the recommendations of this meeting will be considered by the full Executive Committee at its meeting in Atlanta. More news on each of these stages will be forthcoming as they occur.

We do not need a strategic planning process, however, to tell us that electronic communications will be an important part of the future. This first all-electronic newsletter, which you are presently reading, speaks for itself. Increasingly, SICB will rely on this mode of communication for abstract submittal, elections, meeting registration and annual dues payments. Not only does this moderate our operating costs (and hence dues and registration fee increases), it enables more timely communication with members. SICB's reliance on electronic communications places a special obligation on you: that of notifying the Business Office of your current and correct e-mail address. Earlier this year, we have attempted to notify all members of this necessity, but may have failed to reach some. Thus, if you know of any SICB member who is not receiving electronic communications, please urge them to contact the SICB Business Office at 800/955-1236.

A final item concerns our Business Office. As Alan Kohn wrote in the last newsletter, Peter Studney is now our executive director; I hope you managed to meet him in Denver. Janice Nason has now joined the Business Office staff; if you phone the Business Office, you'll probably speak with her. Everyone involved with SICB operations is committed to achieving the highest degree of professionalism and responsiveness. Nonetheless, in any society as large, complex, and diverse as SICB, unanticipated problems and glitches are certain to arise. To improve the Business Office's responsiveness to such eventualities, Peter has implemented a new process. Henceforth the "Business Office Feedback" button at the bottom of the SICB home page will point to a form for submitting member complaints, problems, issues or inquiries. Each such submission will be acknowledged electronically, with a case number assigned. A response will be sent within three business days. The cases and their resolution will be monitored regularly by Peter and the SICB officers. In this way we hope to assure that isolated glitches are dealt with promptly and that systemic problems are recognized and receive appropriate solutions. If this system fails to function adequately, please contact me personally.

I look forward to working with all of you during the next two years as we move into the next millennium. Please plan now to be in Atlanta for the next Annual Meeting and launch of Evo Devo.

Message from the Program Officer

John Pearse

I took over as program officer at the end of the very successful 1999 SICB Annual Meeting in Denver. Much of the credit for that success goes to outgoing program officer, Willy Bemis. Indeed, he has contributed immensely to our Society over the past three years, beginning with the December 1995 meeting in Washington, D.C. Since that time we have switched from December meetings to January meetings, started the meetings with a late breaking symposium, and moved toward topic-based contributed paper sessions. Willy also has been instrumental in putting our Society on the web and helping streamline our operations. We owe him a great deal of gratitude for staying the course in what looks like a largely thankless responsibility. I feel indebted to him for first easing me into the position with humor and insight, then allowing me to take over on my own. Thanks, Willy!!

We went into the Denver meeting with proposals for five exciting symposia at the Atlanta meeting, Jan. 4-8, 2000. These are:

  • "Antarctic Marine Biology," organized by Jim McClintock, Charles Amsler and Bill Baker for DIZ and DEE;
  • "Intermittent Locomotion," organized by Randi Weinstein and Bob Full for DCPB and DAB/DIZ/DVM;
  • "Nitric Oxide in Invertebrates," organized by Esther Leise and Hank Trapido-Rosenthal for DNB and DCPB/DIZ;
  • "Osmoregulation," organized by Dave Towle and Joan Ferraris for DCPB and DCE/DIZ and The Crustacean Society; and
  • "Swimming in Opisthobranch Mollusks" organized by Rich Satterlie for DNB.

I was heartened to see such a diverse list with so many divisions involved.

I was further pleased with additional symposia for Atlanta that were discussed at the Denver meeting. Some of these are now materializing. As president Feder mentioned elsewhere in this issue, one will be the "EvoDevo Inaugural Symposium," organized by Scott Gilbert, Billie Swalla, Paula Mabee and Dick Burian. Another will be on Hox genes organized by Billie Swalla and Jeff Ram in collaboration with the International Society of Invertebrate Reproduction and Development, who will meet with us for the first time. Other symposia, tributes and workshops are also developing for Atlanta, including one on plant-animal interactions and another on paleontological-neontological phylogenetics, co-sponsored by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Indeed, a full and productive meeting is taking shape nicely.

The meeting will begin with a "Millennial Symposium" talk by John C. Avise of the Genetics Department of the University of Georgia. Avise has led in the use of molecular markers for looking at phylogenetic patterns of animal distribution, particularly in the southeastern US, and in conservation biology. He is the author of Molecular Markers, Natural History and Evolution (1994) and co-editor of Conservation Genetics: Case Histories from Nature (1996). His talk, however, will focus on one of the great challenges for the next millennium, societal acceptance of the profound discoveries of biology, touching on the very meaning of life -- something many people are uncomfortable dealing with. His most recent book The Genetic Gods - Evolution and Belief in Human Affairs (1998) confronts this problem in a provocative manner. I encourage you to look it over.

The Atlanta meeting will be ground breaking in that it will be our first to organize the contributed papers by topic rather than divisional affiliation. The Program Advisory Committee, chaired by Joan Ferraris, has worked hard with the divisional program officers to come up with an extensive list of topics around which papers can be grouped. When you submit your abstract (electronically) you will be asked to choose a number of topics in rank order that best characterize it. I will use that information to group the papers by topics for sessions, then send the whole program to the divisional program officers for their input. Another round between us, and we should have a program that makes sense so that you can enjoy the meeting without excessive room hopping. Of course, many sessions will be essentially divisional, and all papers will be identified by division so you can choose papers by divisional affiliation if you are so inclined. Of course, the divisional program officers and I expect nothing but praise for our efforts to arrange a new sort of program for you.

Finally, it is not too early to think about symposia for the Chicago 2001 Annual Meeting. Indeed, we already have some timely proposals in the works. If you have ideas about symposia at Chicago, please contact me and we can work together…

Message From the Secretary

Thomas G. Wolcott

How do you like the web-newsletter? Do you find it accessible and easy to read, as appealing and informative as in days of yore, or would you prefer to still get a paper copy plopped into your mailbox even though it costs a bunch more? Please give us ( or feedback. We are trying to save your money, but not at the cost of losing the effectiveness of the newsletter as glue for our Society!

SICB's move toward more electronic communications has prompted your secretary to request a memory upgrade from his institution. Alas, the needed fleshware augmentation is not yet commercially available, but even without it the secretarial circuitry it still retains records of the Denver meetings! They were indeed memorable; many of you probably have noticed the nice series of vignettes in Science magazine pointing out some of the highlights. The exposure for SICB has been very complimentary, showing the diversity of our members' interests and the exciting directions in which those "comparative and integrative" interests take them. Just one example: the write-up of Harvey Lillywhite's snakes. SICB is a hotbed of the sort of wide-ranging thinking that starts, "Golly! I fed this guy months ago and the students still haven't seen a need to clean the cage. What's that mean about his digestion? He's like a kid in potty training -- he just won't give it up! What's with all that ballast on the poop deck?" and leads to hypotheses about biochemistry, locomotion, biomechanics, predator-prey interactions...

That sort of discipline-transcending synthesis is one of our unique strengths and perhaps our greatest draw. Lots of other societies focus on pieces of the puzzle, and a frequent argument for attending only their specialty meetings is "I have to go because that's where all the latest pieces are dumped onto the table!" There's validity to that, but in SICB we demonstrate exceptionally well the art of assembling pieces of many colors and shapes into a coherent part of the big picture. This is an art that is vital not only in making science interesting to the next generation of potential scientists, but also in fostering understanding of science among the general public and the support of science among their elected representatives. Scientists who associate exclusively with their co-specialists all too often find that their relevance is unappreciated by the culture that we serve and upon which we all depend. Popular culture has disturbing preconceptions about scientists--see virtually any portrayal of one in mass entertainment. We're all mad or evil, or at least completely out of touch with reality, and adrift on a sea of unlimited funds without a moral anchor!

Getting the "Big Picture"--the fascination and the enormous usefulness of science--into the minds of our students, and our fellow citizens, and our legislators, is a noble challenge. This is one of the primary reasons for participating in SICB's educational programs, media workshops, meetings and symposia. It's also a potent argument for extending our reach by involving a larger and larger proportion of biological scientists, of all flavors, in SICB. The Science articles have put out plenty of "ticklers." Follow up! Recruit colleagues to join us!

Editorial Changes at American Zoologist

John Edwards, American Zoologist Editor

American Zoologist has moved to Seattle. On January 1, the editorship has been assumed by a consortium at the University of Washington. Jim Hanken, his assistant editor in Boulder, Kristin Lopez and his team of associate editors, Elizabeth Brainerd, Louis Burnett, Douglas Erwin, Todd Gleeson, Kirk Miller, David Norris, Gary Packard, Paul Verrell and Gregory Wray produced a series of well edited and useful issues. They all deserve our gratitude.

The new team operates on a novel basis: an editorial consortium based at the University of Washington, comprising John Edwards, Tom Daniel, Scott Edwards, Susan Herring, Peter Jumars, Joel Kingsolver, Alan Kohn, Trish Morse, Lynn Riddiford and Jim Truman, with Ruth Nordlander as assistant editor. Claudia DuGruy at Tulane will continue to serve as assistant editor, preparing the manuscripts for the printer.

Our procedures will be much as before: The organizer of a symposium will collect draft manuscripts at the January meeting or shortly thereafter and send them to Seattle. From our office they will go to two reviewers. Critiqued manuscripts will be returned to authors for revision, and on receipt of all the papers for a particular symposium they will go to Claudia for copy editing and thence to the printer. Clearly the process goes well only if the dwell times for review and revision are kept short. Prompt reviews and revisions will allow timely publication. As in the past we propose to supplement symposia with occasional invited reviews or commentary, and we will continue to review books as space permits.

We welcome suggestions or queries to


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