SfAA President’s Column

By Allan F. Burns
University of Florida

Allan Burns

Dear Colleagues: This is the last column I will write as President of the Society. I will hand over the Presidency to Merrill Eisenberg during the Friday business meeting in Seattle April 1st. The business meeting also includes the recognition of student awards and the presentation of the Sol Tax award with comments by this year’s winner of that award, Michael Angrosino. The Sol Tax award honors a member of the society who has given extraordinary efforts to SfAA. I hope to see you at the business meeting for this and other awards and discussion. When Merrill takes over as President, the Society will be well poised to be of better service to all members. Merrill brings enthusiasm, skills as a leader, and the kind of inspiration that I know will keep the Society moving forward in good directions. One thing I didn’t know until I became president is that there is an official (and very large) hand-hewn gavel that the President is given to safeguard for the time of their presidency. I don’t believe it symbolizes power as, first of all, this was the first I had even laid eyes on it, and so previous SfAA presidents have evidently wielded power without resorting to the gavel. One of the elders of the society, and I can’t recall who, said that they thought the gavel was created by Margaret Mead. In that case, perhaps the gavel symbolizes that saying, “walk softly and carry a big stick,” since many of us can recall Dr. Mead strolling through meetings with her staff. Could it be that the gavel was cut from the same tree? I prefer to think of the gavel as a gift that helped the Society stay together under difficult conditions, a legacy of an applied social scientist that ensured that this voluntary association could flourish in the intersection of applied anthropology and allied disciplines.

One of the most enjoyable things I have done as president is to write notes and letters of appreciation for members who have donated to SfAA. We have a development committee, headed up by Doug Feldman with the help of several other members. Gifts to the society have been growing in the past several years, and we are now seeing the results of the new activities these gifts have created. Some of our members have been able to endow funds for SfAA use, so that the awards and activities are now guaranteed for the future. Among them are the Peter K. New Student Award, the Valene Smith Tourism Poster awards, the Michael Kearney Memorial Lecture, the Robert Hackenberg Memorial Lecture, and most recently the Human Rights Defender Award. I would like to thank our many members who have developed these awards with the endowments to back them up. There is not room to list everyone here, but the generosity that the endowments illustrate is quite spectacular. The Society is slowly emerging as one of the most effective professional associations for achieving development support. It has been especially rewarding to see how many of you have added ten or twenty dollars to dues renewals, a few hundred dollars for particular awards, or even more to the “Friends of SfAA.” In the past, donating to a professional association like SfAA would seem an odd thing to do, because even though our dues are remarkably low, the Society has generated income through journal subscriptions and other activities to be the nimble and rewarding association that we enjoy. But giving an extra gift, whether small or large, is a more activist position to take. A bequest of part of an estate, for example, ensures that the applied perspective of someone continues to be a source of inspiration and activity long into the future. The Peter K. New Award is certainly in this category: Peter’s legacy and inspiration have now influenced dozens of young scholars, many of whom have gone on to influence the fields of health, education, and other applied arenas. A gift is also a way of giving back. All of us realize that the quality of our lives is better through belonging to SfAA, either in our instrumental activities such as grants, employment, or projects, but also through the inspiration we count on as members of SfAA.

SfAA Fellow, Michael Cavendish, creator of the “Human Rights Defender”

Gift giving will be increasingly important as other revenue streams become restricted in the future. The “open access” movement and digital availability in publishing and journal distribution is already having an effect on the number of subscriptions that we receive each year. Our dues remain very low, but even when they are increased they are designated to cover the everyday operations of the Society. The annual meetings have been successful, but we all recognize that growing the size of the annual meetings quickly begins to dramatically change the society. The voluntary contributions and gifts, whether small or large, are an appropriate and practical way that all of us who are members can help SfAA to flourish in the future. The 75th Annual meetings of the Society will be held in 2015, and part of that meeting will celebrate and honor our founders. Margaret Mead was one of them, and who knows, maybe we can find out if the SfAA gavel fell from the same tree as her staff. That will be a good year for the past presidents to pledge continuing support for SfAA.

Scientific Integrity
The Department of Interior is the first federal agency to comply with President Obama’s March, 2009 directive to all executive departments and federal agencies to develop policies and procedures on scientific integrity. The Department of Interior was quick enough to recognize that integrity is not only necessary in scientific discovery or documentation, but also in the scholarship of analyzing, advocating, or making public what scientists do. I have been in contact with Dr. Alan Thornhill, one of the Scientific Advisors at DOI regarding the new policies, especially as they might affect our members who work at DOI or who work in other federal agencies who are developing their own policies themselves. I include his message here and invite you to look into the policy manual:

I am pleased to announce that today the new Policy on Integrity of Scientific and Scholarly Activities of the Department of the Interior (DOI) was officially announced. To review the policy, please visit the DOI Departmental Manual here: http://elips.doi.gov/app_dm/ and look for Part 305: Chapter 3, or try this: http://elips.doi.gov/app_dm/act_getfiles.cfm?relnum=3889

This policy reaffirms Interior’s commitment maintaining integrity in DOI scientific and scholarly activities because scientific and scholarly information considered in DOI decision making must be robust, of the highest quality, and the result of as rigorous scientific and scholarly processes as can be achieved. Of particular interest to professional associations, the policy provides clear guidance for federal employees who wish to engage with the communities of practice represented by professional societies.

This new policy covers all Department employees, including political appointees, when they engage in, supervise, manage, or influence scientific and scholarly activities, or communicate information about the Department’s scientific and scholarly activities, or utilize scientific and scholarly information in making agency policy, management, or regulatory decisions. The policy also covers all volunteers, contractors, cooperators, partners, permittees, leasees, and grantees who assist with developing or applying the results of scientific and scholarly activities.

Northwest Coast Salmon: Lower Elwah chefs at work, Port Angeles, Washington


Roll out of this policy will begin immediately and training for employees and others who are covered by this policy is under development.
Best wishes -
Alan Thornhill

This is the letter that went forward from the SfAA and other Scientific Associations.

15 February 2010
The Honorable Ken Salazar
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington DC 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:
The undersigned scientific and professional societies, representing thousands of scientists and resource professionals, many of whom are employed by your Department, thank you for your support of scientific integrity through the recent adoption of the Department of Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy as part of the Department Manual. We especially appreciate the acknowledgement of the benefits of full participation in professional and scholarly societies.

We welcome your commitment to scientific integrity through this policy and we stand ready to work with the Department’s agencies to ensure that our nation’s resources are managed openly and scientifically. The Department’s scientists and managers deserve to work in an environment where scientific findings are appreciated and valued, when concerns about misuse of science are openly expressed, they are not met with retribution, and where decision-makers apply them properly.

Policy is about making decisions that consider different values while obeying and implementing the mandates of the law. If a strong scientific foundation exists that indicates that a certain policy alternative will result in undesirable consequences to some resources if implemented, it is not an abuse of science if that policy alternative is selected as long as the decision makers acknowledge the science but choose the alternative based on the importance of other values. We cannot expect that good science will always result in a minimization of impacts to resources in policy decisions. However, far too frequently, policy makers have abused science and masked the true reasons behind recent policy decisions. We expect the new policy will help to make the process of weighing science, values, and the requirements of the law more transparent, more true to the best available science, and thus more effective at fulfilling the mission of the Department. We are especially grateful to see participation in professional societies encouraged in this new policy. Scientific and professional organizations play many important roles, including sharing information through scientific and popular publications, facilitating expert networks, providing an independent and science-based perspective on relevant government policies, and offering professional development and certification programs. Such organizations also allow agencies to maintain a diverse and highly qualified professional workforce, help to develop a higher degree of public confidence and trust in professional abilities, and provide greater agency visibility and enhanced professional reputation. Full participation in professional societies is an important part of a scientist or resource manager’s career and professional development.

Leadership in professional societies is crucial to many resource professionals’ careers and should be encouraged, rather than hindered by the federal government. Thank you for recommending the removal of barriers to your employees serving as officers or on governing boards of such societies. In recent years, some federal agencies have chosen to enforce a policy that prohibits employees from serving on the boards of outside organizations under any circumstance, or have created conditions that make it virtually impossible for their employees to serve. We look forward to changes in these policies in light of your announcement.

While the Scientific Integrity Policy makes important strides in protecting the integrity of science within the Department of Interior, there is still work to be done. The policy does not address key issues, such as peer review or whistleblower protections, identified in President Obama’s March 2009 memorandum regarding scientific integrity in all federal agencies. Our organizations stand ready to work with you to incorporate these, and other important topics, into future iterations of the policy or into other Department documents and procedures as appropriate.

Thank you for your strong public support for scientific integrity in the federal government. The undersigned organizations look forward to seeing the general principles elucidated in your policy translated into action at the agency level.

American Fisheries Society
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Society of Agronomy
Coalition of Natural Resource Societies
Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America
The Ornithological Council
River Management Society
Society for Applied Anthropology
Society for Conservation Biology
Society for Range Management
Society of American Foresters
Soil Science Society of America
The Wildlife Society

Annual meetings: Seattle and beyond
The annual meetings in Seattle are quickly approaching, and Program Chair Darby Stapp has put together a compelling and insightful program for all of us. The program promises to put us in touch with the edgy world of Seattle and the many NGO’s and businesses that are part of that scene. For anyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to eat NW Coast salmon, you are in for a real treat. You will probably never be able to eat farm raised salmon again after the meetings are over! And we are already looking forward to getting back to the East coast in 2012 in Baltimore, Md. The 2012 meetings promise to be especially interesting with the great participation of University of Maryland applied anthropologists, the many applied social scientists working in the greater Baltimore area (including Washington, D.C., New York City, and more), and the enjoyable venue of Baltimore itself. Finally, the SfAA Executive Board has reviewed venues for the 2013 meeting and has chosen Denver, Colorado as the site for those meetings. If you are interested in developing something for either Baltimore or Denver, let me or any board member know and we will work to use your suggestions.

One Response to SfAA President’s Column

  1. Allan Burns says:

    “Addendum and Erratum: On March 2nd, I learned that I had called on the name of Margaret Mead in error. The SfAA Gavel became part of the society when Dr. Sue Ellen Jacobs was president. Her father, proud of the accomplishments of having a President in the family, fashioned the gavel and presented it to her. –Allan Burns”

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