SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
3 November 2016
Volume 17 Issue 11

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A Message from the SETAC President

Patrick Guiney, SETAC World Council President

I have been a charter member of SETAC for 37 years. During that time I have personally experienced unprecedented positive change in our society, from the steady growth of our membership to the evolving influence of our science. Since 2002, there have been 14 presidents of the SETAC World Council (SWC), which is made up of a governing board of 15 scientific thought leaders.

Their common goal is to promote global communication of environmental issues through research and education on behalf of SETAC. The SWC facilitates worldwide outreach to environmental scientists, engineers and managers and encourages the development of additional SETAC member groups. All of the five SETAC geographic units (GUs) are represented on the council, with delegates commensurate to their relative shares of membership.

The position of president, which is a one-year term but a three-year commitment including vice president and past-president duties, has evolved in importance and complexity since the establishment of the SWC. As early as 1992, the SETAC North America Board of Directors understood the importance of globalizing SETAC focus and scientific influence (see Kendall editorial ET&C Vol. 11, pp. 1511–1512, 1992), but it took a few years to formalize this idea. A major job of the first several SETAC presidents was to firmly establish the society as a separate and distinct global professional environmental organization.

Subsequent presidents were charged with pursuing the expansion of the GUs and scientific reach of SETAC. As the size and influence of SETAC continued to evolve globally, so did the responsibilities of the president, as well as the vice president and past-president. Today, each president develops his or her own set of goals with corresponding tasks and events as part of their term when they become SETAC Vice President through long range planning. As SETAC President, they serve as a primary spokesperson and representative of the society. In addition to providing day-to-day executive direction and guidance to the SWC, the president establishes agendas for monthly SWC calls and meetings, appoints and interacts with global committee and interest group chairs, upholds the SETAC Constitution, and generally maintains order and continuity as described in the by-laws.

It has been my distinct honor to serve as your SETAC president and to work with an extremely talented group of global environmental scientists on the SWC. Over this past year, we have worked diligently to focus on numerous administrative and scientific activities that will continue to strengthen SETAC. During my tenure as vice president, I led our Long Range Planning Committee and developed a new initiative around improving SETAC’s role in improving scientific integrity. SETAC has a Code of Ethics, which states that members should exhibit the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. We expect that behavior of our members, and in return, we strive to likewise be an organization that adheres to the same values of honesty and equity. Outstanding science is one of SETAC’s core strengths. The mission of SETAC is to support the development of principles and practices for protection, enhancement and management of sustainable environmental quality and ecosystem integrity. The ability of SETAC to pursue this mission depends upon the integrity of our science on which it relies. SETAC strives to promote scientific and ethical standards and to create a proactive culture to support them.

This past year, I commissioned a new ad hoc subcommittee under the auspices of the Global Communication Committee to facilitate high standards of ethical behavior in scientific conduct and discourse (written and verbal). The subcommittee is charged with reviewing current practices and developing new approaches by which SETAC can:

  1. Ensure scientific objectivity in reviewing and editing text of all SETAC publications
  2. Encourage objectivity and impartiality in presentations at SETAC events
  3. Provide continuing education to SETAC members about scientific integrity
  4. Contribute to the global conversation about scientific bias, ethics and transparency

SETAC members and authors are engaged in fascinating, cutting-edge research, sometimes in politically charged or emotionally fraught arenas. SETAC promotes award-winning research, meeting presentations, journal articles and other noteworthy activities on social media and traditional news outlets. Accurate use of published data and references is a cornerstone of the peer-review process and also how SETAC wishes to communicate to the public in general. Statements, inferences and conclusions based upon these references should logically follow from the data they contain. When journal articles, textbook chapters or news media releases use references inaccurately or “spin the message” with apparent intent to mislead, the integrity of scientific reporting is fundamentally compromised. Examples of this type of inaccurate scientific reporting include misuse of references, misleading statements, highly selective use of certain published papers, failure to refer to relevant literature, inaccurate reporting of the contents of published work, and errors in interpretation.

Thus, in our world of sensationalized media reporting, once a scientific press release has been issued, a reporter tells a story. Often, the reporter presents a balanced, thoroughly researched article, but sometimes, spin or bias is evident. We have all seen sensational headlines, skewed or overblown findings, and misinformation. It exists out there, and it is disconcerting to read, but it also presents an opportunity. If you see an article that rankles or misrepresents what you know to be truth, get involved and try to clear it up. Add comments to the comment section, write a letter to the editor, and go on record with a correction.

SETAC North America also aggregates news through an email service called MultiBrief, which spotlights articles in the popular press reporting on topics we think are of interest to the membership. Though we try to vet for outrageously one-sided articles, some of the selections may reflect subpar reporting. We feel it is a valuable service to show our members what is being said “out there.” We are an organization that prioritizes science-based objectivity, and we also provide a forum for information exchange. The days of straight peer-to-peer communication are over, and I encourage you to step up your science communication game by engaging the public with clarity, honesty and professionalism.

We had great expectations for 2016 and those opportunities were realized in part through a number of milestone meetings in our various GUs, including:

Another area of continuing emphasis during 2016 was the SETAC Global Horizon Scanning Project, which aims to collect and prioritize the most important future research questions as recognized by scientists from around the globe working in government, academia and business. The results of this project contribute to the mission of SETAC to achieve Environmental Quality Through Science®. You will hear more about the results of this important project at the World Congress in Orlando.

In closing, it is hard to believe that my tenure as SETAC President is almost over. It has been an exciting and memorable year. I want to especially thank the members of the SWC who work tirelessly to make SETAC so successful. I also want to thank our outstanding SETAC Executive Directors and staff in Pensacola and Brussels, leadership of the five GUs, and all of our global committees and interests groups for helping to make SETAC such an amazing and admired professional society.

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