June 2010

Muchas Gracias, Amigos

 

Pres-MesFirst off, let me apologize for not mentioning everybody. It’s just that there have been so many. When I took the job as president-elect of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, three years ago, I never imagined how much help I was going to need and how much I was going to get. But, before I start thanking people, there are a few things I want to say in this, my last President’s Message, about the state of the society, and the state of biochemistry, in mid-2010. I will start by congratulating Suzanne Pfeffer, the president-elect, on being chosen to lead the society starting in July of this year. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her since her election, and I can tell you that ASBMB is going to be in superb hands.

Right now, our society is in very good shape. I claim no credit for that; it was in very good shape when it was handed to me by Heidi Hamm. Of course, we took a hit in our investments just like everyone else when the financial crisis hit in late 2008, but I’m delighted to report that, thanks to the conservative nature of our investments and an outstanding job of managing them by Treasurer Merle S. Olson, the Finance Committee and ASBMB Director of Finance Steve Miller, our losses have been more than recouped. I only wish my 401K was doing as well.

But, the health of the society extends well beyond the financial. We just concluded a spectacularly successful annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., (the one place in the world where it’s actually a compliment to be called a “Mickey Mouse operation”). Every session I went to was extremely well attended, and the plenary lectures were outstanding. The Program Committee, headed by Laurie S. Kaguni, deserves rousing congratulations from all of us.

Our journals also are in fine shape, and we are fortunate to have, in Nancy Rodnan, a wonderful director of publications. Our flagship publication, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which continues under the able leadership of Herbert Tabor, has just had both its mission statement and its website overhauled. I urge you to check both out, and please consider it for your next hot paper. The Journal of Lipid Research is the leading publication in its field, as is Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, which has, as of this year, become an entirely online journal, presaging what I think is an unstoppable trend that will sweep across all of scientific publishing. And speaking of new websites, I hope you’ve had a chance to look at the new online site for ASBMB Today. When I became president, one of my goals was to make ASBMB Today must reading for our members. I think we’ve gone a long way toward achieving that goal, and it’s due largely to the tireless and creative efforts of its editor, Nicole Kresge. She’s been kind enough to allow me free reign to be as provocative and, I hope, entertaining as possible in my president’s messages, and thanks to her, it’s been a lot of fun writing them.

I particularly am proud of the public affairs work the society has done over the past two years. Under the leadership first of Ralph Bradshaw and now William Merrick, our Public Affairs Advisory Committee (more-than-ably assisted by Peter Farnham, our public affairs director, and a series of superb science policy fellows, including the current holder of that title, Kyle Brown) has raised the profile of the society in Washington enormously. The ASBMB is a major player in the public affairs work of FASEB and the Coalition for Life Sciences and has had a leadership role in matters ranging from the stimulus package, to National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation funding levels, to the battle between creationism and evolution in our public schools.

Not everything is perfect, of course. We face some major challenges in the coming years, ranging from the winds of change that are sweeping over all scientific journals to the task of keeping a large and diverse scientific meeting interesting. The challenge I remain most concerned about, however, is our membership: it is still too densely populated with middle-aged, white male academics. We need more minority members, more female members, more foreign members, more members from industry and, especially, more young members. I am encouraged that Suzanne plans to make this issue one of the focuses of her presidency, and I wish her all the best in tackling it.

Many of our challenges, of course, are a reflection of the challenges facing science itself. Some of the biggest of these are monetary. Unless the NIH budget is increased substantially in 2011, we face a “cliff” the size of the Grand Canyon, in the form of far too many proposals and not nearly enough money to fund even the very best. In addition, increasingly, we are seeing the direction of science dictated from the top down, by a small number of powerful scientists, funding agency bureaucrats and patient advocacy-driven congressional mandates, rather than from the bottom up by the ideas of individual investigators. My predecessor, Heidi Hamm, first sounded the alarm about this trend, and ASBMB has mobilized our fellow societies, through the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, in an attempt to turn the tide. The fight is far from won, and the battle will continue on Suzanne’s watch, but everyone needs to be mindful of this problem and agitate to restore investigator-driven science to its rightful place as the driver of our priorities.

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COMMENTS:

Thank you for your service as ASBMB president. I have enjoyed reading your messages in ASBMB Today, which I found inspirational and entertaining. They made us feel proud of being a biochemist and members of ASBMB. All the best, Pat Becerra, NIH

 

Greg: Thanks for your dedicated stewardship of the ASBMB. Your editorials in ASBMB Today alone were worth the price of membership and, as you point out in your parting piece, one gets so much more out of being part of such an important organization, one that represents the very best of our chosen profession. Best wishes, Jeremy Thorner, UC Berkeley

 

 

 

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