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About Sigma Xi » News » President's Letter, July-August 2014

June 16, 2014

A New President, A New Partnership

Editor's Note: This is the first president's letter of George H. Atkinson, who will serve as president of Sigma Xi from July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015. This letter was also published in the July-August issue of American Scientist.

George Atkinson As I prepare to assume my duties as president of Sigma Xi on July 1, I want to open an ongoing dialogue with the chapters and membership of Sigma Xi. First, I would like to share a perspective on the historical importance of Sigma Xi and then reflect on its current status and potential future. The year I spent as president-elect has provided me with numerous opportunities to learn about many aspects of Sigma Xi history and to develop a perspective on its future.

While much has been done to maintain Sigma Xi as a respected honorary scientific society devoted to supporting research, it must be acknowledged in candor that the relevance of Sigma Xi in the professional lives of its membership, both established and newly inducted, has diminished significantly. The decreasing number of members financially supporting Sigma Xi seriously challenges the viability of its programs, and even its future existence. While the causes for decreasing interest remain under discussion, it is evident that interest and commitments have declined. It is essential that Sigma Xi pursue new approaches to ensure its mission remains relevant to today's community of research scholars.

The Sigma Xi Board of Directors recently revisited the effectiveness of the Sigma Xi mission and decided to establish a new relationship with the Institute on Science for Global Policy (ISGP), a not-for-profit organization committed to improving communication between scientists and policy makers. The ISGP was launched in recognition that many of the most significant issues facing increasingly global 21st-century societies are connected to the rapid and profound scientific and technological advances of our time. Unfortunately, many decisions, both in the public and private sectors, are made without an accurate understanding of the credible scientific and technological options available or their potential long-term consequences. Informed communities such as Sigma Xi are increasingly responsible for helping to accurately identify credible options for policy makers and for the public writ large. The prosperity and security of societies depend on not only their access to scientific and technological options, but as importantly, their capability to rationally decide which options to embrace and which to reject.

The ISGP has successfully pioneered programs using debates and caucuses to help policy makers and the public identify the areas of consensus and practical next steps needed to reach actionable decisions based on scientifically credible information. The current 18-month ISGP–Sigma Xi relationship is designed to explore how the ISGP programs might be of value to Sigma Xi and may help reformulate Sigma Xi's mission to promote the public's understanding of science.

It is, of course, critical that we engage the Sigma Xi community in these efforts. I encourage all those engaged in Sigma Xi to directly communicate with me regarding how they view these programs. A demonstration of ISGP debates is planned for the November Assembly of Delegates in Arizona. I certainly look forward to helping lead this exciting and potentially transformational time for Sigma Xi.

A biography for Dr. Atkinson was published on page 157 in the March-April 2014 issue of American Scientist. This article was published in the Sigma Xi Today section of the July-August 2014 issue of American Scientist.

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society is the international honor society of science and engineering. One of the oldest and largest scientific organizations in the world, Sigma Xi has a distinguished history of service to science and society for more than a century. Scientists and engineers, whose research spans the disciplines of science and technology, comprise the membership of the Society. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Noble Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. www.sigmaxi.org.

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