SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
  10 October 2013
Volume 14 Issue 10

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What Type of Science and Assessment Do You Want to Discuss at SETAC Meetings?

Emma Lavoie, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Alan Samel, DuPont Crop Protection, Cynthia Stahl, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Trina von Stackelberg, E Risk Sciences

Have you ever attended a SETAC annual meeting that didn’t meet your expectations, that did not have sessions focused on topics or studies you were hoping to hear about?  Do you feel that the “session tracks” for national meetings don’t quite provide a clear place for the work you want to present?  These questions have been asked by a number of SETAC members during planning meetings for the Nashville and Vancouver events.  The session tracks for Nashville, which follow those used for the last several North America annual meetings, are these: 

  • Aquatic Toxicology and Ecology
  • Ecological Risk Assessment
  • Environmental or Analytical Chemistry
  • Local/Regional Issues
  • Risk Management, Remediation or Science Policy
  • Special Symposium
  • Terrestrial or Wildlife Toxicology and Ecology

These set the tone for, and might limit, the types of science submitted for presentation at the SNA annual meetings.  SETAC’s mission is “to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity.” The Society “provides a forum where scientists, managers, and other professionals exchange information and ideas for the development and use of multidisciplinary scientific principles and practices leading to sustainable environmental quality.” 

Our questions to you, the SETAC membership, are as follows:

  • Do these SETAC meeting session topics promote the submission and presentation of work that supports the overarching SETAC mission statement?
  • Do these session tracks attract and maintain a diverse membership that the society needs? 
  • Can SETAC better meet its mission and increase membership with different session track topics at annual meetings? 

Our informal discussions over the past several years have revealed a desire within a segment of the membership to revisit the way in which annual meetings are organized, specifically regarding the session tracks that are used to solicit and categorize abstract submissions.  Consequently, members from the Global and North America Science Committees and the Advisory Group on Sustainability (AGS), among others, have evaluated session track titles for the North America annual meetings. As a result of these discussions, there is a proposal for a new set of session tracks for the Vancouver meeting in 2014. Adoption of any proposed changes to tracks coming from our advisory groups will reside with the Vancouver program committee.  

The question of whether we should rename session tracks at annual meetings is, to some, an unnecessary activity, yet to many a timely and necessary task.  Others agree that the session tracks could be refined to be more inclusive and shift a little to growing interests in both detailed bench science such as high throughput toxicity screening and big picture, values-based thinking in socio-ecological impacts of chemical and ecosystem management decisions, including sustainability.  Because these two examples have vastly different topics and experts, picking representative names for session tracks is no small or easy task.  Some examples of ideas for improving the session names include  “Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry – Laboratory Studies” (one track) and Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry – Field Studies” (a second track), “Integrative Environmental Science and Assessmen,” “Linking Science and Social Issues,” “Regulatory Directions” and “Emerging Topics.”  

These ideas identify session tracks aimed at data-rich presentations, and separate session tracks from those presentations that are principally about applying science to environmental decision-making.  New track names capture new aspects of policy analysis with “regulatory directions” and novel or special topics with “emerging topics.”  One example of an emerging topic would be the increased focus on pollinating insects. 

The overall goal of reconsidering session track names is to provide tracks that reflect the focus of SETAC in a way that allows abstract submitters to first, feel we offer a welcome place for their type of science, and then to best identify the session track for their work, ensuring that the appropriate audience will hear the presentation and provide the most relevant feedback to the presenter.  Moreover, revised session tracks may attract new members, both in traditional environmental toxicology and chemistry and to foster more interdisciplinary thinking by attracting more sociologists, economists and ecologists who might not think of SETAC as a forum for their ideas and work.

Addressing the question of whether session tracks adequately represent the subject matter at the SNA meeting raises the larger question about SETAC’s mission and the growing dialog at the AGS on sustainability in SETAC.  Sustainability could be proposed as a new session track but what would the presentation submittals look like?   Would risk management fall into this track?  Or ecosystem services?  Or integrated multidisciplinary environmental assessments?  There is some concern that session track names representing broad topics could create confusion among SETAC members trying to decide where to submit their work.    We are interested in your views.  Please contact any of the four authors or log onto the SETAC North America Science Committee group website if you are interested in participating in the conversation.

The four authors have been discussing whether the session tracks represent the subject matter that people wish to present and wish to learn about.  The four of us represent government, academia and industry and have been working together in our roles in the North America (SNA SC) and Global Science Committee (SWC-SC) and Advisory Group on Sustainability (AGS).  Additional members of the SNA SC and AGS have contributed to this discussion.  This article is part one of two articles addressing a specific question but enhancing an ongoing dialog about SETAC meeting content in relation to the SETAC mission and to the discussion on sustainability-related topics in SETAC.  This topic and article highlight the value of discussions that bridge committees and Advisory Groups.   The discussion grew from a request to provide a proposal for revised session tracks to be ready in time for the Vancouver Program Committee to consider for the 2014 meeting.  SETAC will start to solicit session proposals for the Vancouver meeting at the close of the Nashville meeting, so the time to act is now.  Any SETAC members interested in participating in this process or providing comments are welcome to contact the authors.

Authors’ contact information:;;;

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