see below comments from past-Presidents of BEMS
I become a member of the Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) in 2001 and attended for the first time the Annual Meeting of BEMS in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Since then, I attended all annual meetings of BEMS.
As seen from my CV, I was the two-term (six years) member of the Board of Directors, and I was Co-Chair of TPC for the BioEM 2009 in Switzerland and BEMS 2010 in South Korea. I was also Associate Editor of BEM Journal. Finally, I served in different capacities in a variety of BEMS committees. I cared, and I care of what will happen with this Society. I, as under 20% of BEMS members (47 out of 275), responded to the recent 5-questions inquiry. I am in a minority of BEMS members who are genuinely interested in the fate of BioEM, BEMS and even EBEA.
Already before 2009 was noticed that the Society is shrinking in parallel to shrinking of research funding. Since then numerous reforms were implemented by BEMS in order to survive. These reforms, introduction of which begun with Niels Kuster’s presidency and continued diligently afterwards, rescued BEMS. However, in my opinion, the crisis is still not over. Membership numbers are low (as of today, Aug.3, 2014 – 275 members). These are not dwindling anymore, and a slow increase seems to be happening. It might mean that BEMS already hit the bottom, survived and the only way now is up. There is always a hard core of bioelectromagnetics researchers who, no matter how hard times are of this research, will remain members of BEMS and will come to BEMS meetings. Great. However, to say that the Society is already “thriving” as one person wrote to me, is an overstatement. It is recuperating – yes, but it is far from thriving (dictionary: prosperous and growing; flourishing.), if I understand this word correctly…
Participating and observing the Society and its annual meetings over the last 13 years gave me some perspective, I think. That is why I wrote a few brief comments about the annual meetings in my recent report from the BioEM2014. However, comments concerning BioEM were not about BioEM2014 in particular. These comments were about BioEM meetings in general, since there are no longer separate annual meetings of BEMS.
These comments were as follows:
BioEM meetings attempt to be the primary event for the scientists in this area of research. Unfortunately, in spite of the efforts from BEMS, EBEA and meeting organizers, the preeminence is not here. The efforts to make the meeting known and appreciated are insufficient and amateurish, in my mind. The number of participants of BioEM2014 was very low, only ca 200.
Generally, the interest in this meeting is – low. Many prominent scientists do not come. Many important research projects are not presented at BioEM but taken elsewhere. This leads to decline in interest from the scientists, the general public and the news media.
BioEM does not publish any press releases before, during and after the meeting. General public does not know that BioEM exists and that science pertinent to everyday life is debated.
As a consequence, and no wonder, scientists prefer to go elsewhere, where the audience is larger and prominence visible. Students are not tempted either.”
These might be harsh words, at least to some people, but this is the reality we live in.
Bioelectromagnetics as the area of science and the Bioelectromagnetics Society are obscure to the general public. This should be changed instead of accepting it. Known research area and known society act as a magnet – brings scientists to the meetings, brings new members, helps to get funding for research and for the meetings.
Memberships of BEMS and EBEA are very much overlapping and, in general, can be divided into researchers from academia, researchers from government and researchers from industry. Each subgroup has different interests that not always agree with others, and that can pose obstacles to reforming BioEM as well as BEMS and EBEA. In my opinion, the strongest obstacle to making societies, meeting and research results known to the news media and to the general public comes from the industry. Much of the research presented at the meetings relates to radiation safety issues, and the industry does not like to make it very publicly known. Because the organization of the meeting depends much on industry sponsorship – some pro-industry bias might be involved in the existing opposition to organizing press conferences and press releases. This should be changed.
Here are few suggestions how to improve things with BioEM, BEMS and EBEA. I am certain that others will have more of good ideas but these few are to start the debate.
- Making BioEM, BEMS and EBEA known to public at large
- Interpreting EMF science for non-experts
- Connecting with other societies
- To be or not to be a member
1. Making BioEM, BEMS and EBEA known to public at large
Spreading the word about BioEM and BEMS and EBEA by press releases and press conferences.
- Each BioEM meeting is an event that the news media, and the general public should be informed about. Best way would be a press conference where the program would be presented and some more interesting research highlighted.
- At each meeting is presented research that will be of interest for the news media and for the general public. This research should be presented in short but informative press releases.
The advantages of press conferences and press releases would be many-fold:
- The news media would spread the word around the world making the issues known and making the research area and societies known and recognized household names
- The general public will get to know that BioEM and BEMS and EBEA exist and do something interesting and useful
- The scientists, some involved and some not involved in bioelectromagnetics or bioelectromagnetics-like research, will get to know that BioEM happens and that BEMS and EBEA exist – this might trigger an interest to come and see…
- The scientists already interested in practical applications of EMF (clinicians) will get to know that quality basic research is presented at BioEM and that some of it might be directly useful in their applications
2. Interpreting EMF science for non-experts
- The functions of the scientific society are to provide a forum for presenting and discussing science and to provide interpretation of science for the non-experts – public at large.
- This is not being done by BEMS or EBEA. It is a strange situation that these two expert society’s refrain from speaking up of their expertise area. Other societies, like dealing with cancer or children, present statements concerning EMF safety and usability. These other societies interpret and present science done by BEMS and EBEA members. BEMS and EBEA do not do it. Why experts do not dare to speak about their own science?
- It is not easy, but it is doable. Why BEMS and EBEA are afraid to do it?
Advantages of making public statement about meaning of science
- There would be a great advantage of making statements about EMF science by BEMS and EBEA – science would be presented by experts who made it and both societies would become known as sources of scientific opinions.
- Another advantage would be – known societies easier can secure funding for the meeting from other than current industry sources. Foundations might become interested in sponsoring BioEM when this sponsorship brings them also good publicity.
3. Connecting with other scientific societies
- Organizing bioelectromagnetics sessions (review presentations) at the meetings of other societies, like FASAB or FASEB member societies.
Advantages of connecting with other societies
- Many scientists are unaware about bioelectromagnetics or their “knowledge” comes from gossip-headlines in newspapers. They would have an opportunity to find out what bioelectromagnetics is as a serious science and get crash-course in some aspects of bioelectromagnetics research. Some might get interested in coming to BioEM or joining societies.
4. To be or not to be a member
- Gaining new members from underrepresented geographically areas is a constant talk at BEMS, and I guess also in EBEA.
- How to bring new members from e.g. China or South America, which are underrepresented as BioEM participants and society members. As it appears, it is not an easy task. One reason is financial – for many persons the membership fee is high, and it is a fee they need to pay from own pocket. It is “cheaper” to get a travel grant that will pay registration. However, then it may happen that the membership, acquired in such way, will be very transient – no grant no membership fee for the next year.
- The other question, on mind of many is why to belong to the society? Participation in BioEM is not limited to members. Publication in BEM Journal is not limited to members. Website of the society is not very exciting, and seldom it provided new and interesting information – there I hear is coming a reform to improve it but, for now; it is not yet seen…
- So, many scientists who are not yet “hard-core” bioelectromagnetics researchers may think why bother? Just for belonging? It is nice idea, but one can get it without paying membership fee by coming to BioEM.
- The one way to get new members interested in activities and membership of society is to have a really good and interesting website with news and discussions. This is not yet the case, especially in the scientific debate aspect.
I believe that by implementing these four suggestions BioEM, BEMS and EBEA would profit immensely.
This blog post is open for comments – preferably not anonymous to make discussion more relevant and meaningful.