SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  21 June 2012
Volume 13 Issue 6

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Global Science Committee Update

Katherine von Stackelberg

The recent 6th SETAC World Congress in Berlin marked the end of Erik Smolders' successful three-year term as chair of the SETAC Global Science Committee, and the beginning of incoming chair Katherine von Stackelberg's term. Broadly, the Global SC is responsible for staying ahead of emerging scientific issues of interest to the larger SETAC membership. More focused activities include providing comments and technical reviews of all Pellston and other global workshops sponsored in part or entirely by SETAC. The Global SC provides input to the planning committees of annual meetings and world congresses to make sure that the proposed sessions address the depth and breadth of important scientific issues facing the membership, and maintains contact with SCs from other geographic units. Recently the SETAC North America Science Committee (formerly the Technical Committee) established a process for regular interaction with advisory groups, and the Global Science Committee will look to that model for enhancing communication across the diverse set of Global SETAC committees and groups.

An example of a recent issue for which the Global Science Committee was asked to provide input concerns the use and reporting of no- and lowest observed effect levels (e.g., NOAEL, NOEC, LOAEL), and whether the SETAC journals should recommend that other journals not publish NOECs and LOECs. This follows on the heels of Landis and Chapman (2011) who advocate that the SETAC journals "ban statistical hypothesis tests" outright, while the Science Committee agreed on the limitations of statistically derived effect levels not actually associated with biological effect levels, and voiced a preference for, at a minimum, ECx values relative to NOECs and LOECs. There was also agreement that prescriptive action was not warranted and would ultimately be counter-productive. Authors, regardless of the journal they are submitting to, should be encouraged to provide the entire dose-response curve and that should be the preferred presentation format. Perhaps it should even be incumbent upon authors who choose to present NOECs and LOECs to also demonstrate why they are presenting those, and the relationship of those values within the context of the full dose- or concentration-response curve. In the end, the SC agreed with Fox (2011), who found himself in "disagreement with calls for outright ban(s) on some modes of statistical analysis."

As noted by Landis and Chapman (2011), any researcher, analyst, or decision maker who claims a commitment to "best available science" cannot then rely on that as justification for the development or use of NOECs and LOECs. But to unilaterally deny the use of NOECs and LOECs doesn’t lead to any insight on the part of the user. That is why the SC advocated that authors should provide justification for the use and presentation of these statistics and, in so doing, might come to realize the limitations of the approach.

The 6th SETAC World Congress saw significant discussions around the theme of sustainability, and although this topic was not directly addressed by the Global Science Committee, it is clearly becoming a significant issue. Sustainability means different things to different people, and the Berlin meeting featured several sessions focused on putting sustainability into practice and interpretations of sustainability from different perspectives (e.g., NGO, industry). There were fewer sessions on the science of sustainability as distinct from sustainability implementation itself, and this represents another area that will involve the Global Science Committee.

Sustainability science, as described by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) website is "an emerging field of research dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems, and with how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability: meeting the needs of present and future generations while substantially reducing poverty and conserving the planet's life support systems." SETAC, as a scientific organization, is uniquely positioned to contribute to the advancement of sustainability science, which explores coupled human-environment systems through such concepts as ecosystem services. Hooper et al. (2012) in the most recent edition of Nature reported on an analysis that showed the ecosystem consequences of local species loss are as quantitatively significant as the direct effect of several global change stressors. In that same edition, Cardinale et al. (2012) called for sets of models and statistical tools that help us move from experiments that detail local biological processes to landscape-scale patterns where management and policy take place. Finally, the potential impacts of failing to act on sustainability in a significant way were highlighted by Baronosky et al. (2012), who showed that we are approaching a planetary-scale critical "tipping point" as a result of human influence, the consequences of which are not to be underestimated. As the authors stated, if the goal of science and society is to steer the biosphere towards conditions we desire, rather than those that are thrust upon us unwittingly, the time to act is now.

The Global Science Committee is undergoing a transition phase as several current members have completed their terms and new members are being established. Many thanks go out to the members who are transitioning off! In addition to reviewing proposed workshops and global meetings, the committee will also be revising the SOP to emphasize a more proactive role in working with advisory groups to provide SETAC with the resources to assume a leadership role with respect to key scientific issues and how science can best inform policy development. Please contact Katherine von Stackelberg at with comments and suggestions, which are welcome at any time.


Baronsky AD, Hadly EA, Bascompte J, Berlow EL, Brown JH, Fortelius M, Getz WM, Harte J, Hastings A, Marquet PA, Martinez ND, Mooers A, Roopnarine P, Vermeij G, Williams JW, Gillespie R, Kitzes J, Marshall C, Matzke N, Mindell DP, Revilla E and Smith AB. 2012. Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere. Nature 486:52–58, doi:10.1038/nature11018.

Cardinale BJ, Duffy JE, Gonzalez A, Hooper DU, Perrings C, Venail P, Narwani A, Mace GM, Tilman D, Wardle DA, Kinzig AP, Daily GC, Loreau M, Grace JB, Larigauderie A, Srivastava DS and Naeem S. 2012. Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486:59–67, doi:10.1038/nature11148.

Fox DR. 2012. Response to Landis and Chapman (2011). Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 8(1):4. DOI 10.1002/ieam.1264.

Hooper DU, Adair EC, Cardinale BJ, Byrnes JEK, Hungate BA, Matulich KL, Gonzalez A, Duffy JE, Gamfeldt L and O’Connor MI. 2012. A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature 486:105–108, doi:10.1038/nature11118.

Landis WG and Chapman PM. 2011. Well past time to stop using NOELs and LOELs. Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management 7:vi-vii DOI 10.1002/ieam.249.

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