The following is a guest post from Namaste. Ish. Previously known as the bluebird of happiness, My T. Chondria. Stuff happened. The kitten walked away. Deal with it.
WANTED: Outspoken advocates for neuroscience research who is not afraid to ruffle a few feathers, call Congress Critters out on the current implosion of science funding and opportunities for trainees.
QUALIFICATIONS: Membership in the Society for Neuroscience.
JOB DESCRIPTION: The Society seeks “Leaders who best represent the interests and needs of the membership.”
With over 40,000 members, I look at the presidents of the SfN and wonder; do these people represent my interests and needs? I mean, do I have common struggles with folks in the National Academy, with HHMI status who have unfettered access to top tier journal editors and members of NIH Council? The answer is no, as I imagine it is for most of you.
Admittedly all of the people have made extraordinary contributions to neuroscience research, and have mentored countless outstanding scientists but this is not the job. The job is advocacy and I’m unimpressed.
I did a little experiment and searched Google News for 10 of the last presidents and came up with a rather unimpressive 40 events in which the lot of them had touted science (other than their own work) in any mainstream media outlet. These folks are putting out their semi annual newsletters and gaining ZERO traction in the real world. We can’t afford to preach to the choir any longer. We need people who will use a broad array of social media, PR and outreach tools to get the message across immediately.
I don’t know a single event around the SfN meeting in which the President or Counselors talk openly with the public, invite lawmakers to the meeting and chaperone them thru the day highlighting our biggest and most exciting stories as well as our most personal struggles as a community. We need these things to survive. We do not live in a culture that embraces science and education and where rational thought is valued. I know for sure we won’t get there by sending newsletters to ourselves. I would go so far as to argue that some of the past presidents are part of the problem we currently have in science. There are past SfN presidents in their late 70’s and beyond who still hold faculty appointments, are getting grants, holding onto research space, dollars and trainees when the market has a glut of young talent and few job vacancies.
NIH cannot petition Congress for money. So your society presidents and counselors need to be doing this and facilitating ways for us to do it as a group. We can no longer afford to be handing out these jobs as yet another feather in the caps of BSDs. Anyone who thinks we should need look no further than the ASBMB who ended up with Steve McKnight as a president who promptly used his column to tell the wee folks of science they are not worthy of performing NIH reviews or judging his work.
Nominate someone who will do better and represent you here. By Friday.