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ISB President's Message

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  • ISB President's Message

    >From the ISB President: Scientists helping Scientists

    Another year has come and gone! As you reflect on the last twelve
    months, I hope your conclusion will be that it has been a year of progress,
    insight, and development in your own scientific and personal life. Many of
    you will be able to celebrate a year in which new ideas have emerged, new
    colleagues and bright new graduate students have appeared, the latest
    software and hardware has become available, and new research grants have
    been awarded. But it is well to remember that there are also those in our
    field for whom this has been a year of struggle, a year in which they have
    wondered many times whether the benefits of continuing to engage in science
    are worth the personal hardships that are the inevitable consequences.

    I was personally confronted with such a situation earlier this year
    on a trip to a major capital city in Eastern Europe where I visited two
    famous laboratories which have long records of distinguished contributions
    to our field. I found a level of austerity that would daunt even the most
    enthusiastic proponent of science. Salaries had not been paid for several
    months. The latest available Journal of Biomechanics was over 18 months
    old. There was NO Internet access. There were NO graduate students.
    There were NO textbooks that had been published in the last five years.

    In one case, half the laboratory space had been appropriated and
    simply given to a new start up business that was completely unrelated to
    science. The computers (where present) were over 20 years old. The salary
    of an Assistant Professor was barely sufficient to pay the rent on a small
    apartment. In order to make ends meet, a young researcher was doing two
    other jobs, including trying to run a food sales business. Several faculty
    members had left the university to find any job (including manual labor)
    which would at least pay a salary. I was shown the results of a research
    project by its proud author who was completely unaware that he had
    duplicated work already published in the West. It was very clear to me
    that University Science as Patient could be said to be gravely ill, and
    that life support was simply not available.

    It is sobering to realize that many of the things we take
    completely for granted are beyond the wildest dreams of some of our less
    fortunate colleagues. We expect access to the latest journals, sometimes
    even before the publication date (with features such as Contents Direct on
    the Internet.) On-line literature searches are routinely available to us.
    We become annoyed when we are kept waiting on a Software help line for more
    than five minutes. If our Internet access is interrupted for more than an
    hour we feel isolated. If a vendor takes more than 24 hours to deliver a
    replacement part we feel badly served. And we regularly attend several
    major scientific meetings each year. If we compare these advantages with
    the situations of colleagues for whom registration fees for meetings might
    require more than three months salary (with the possibility of no pay at
    the end of the month), and for whom there are no journals, no MEDLINE, no
    software help, no Internet access, and no hardware, the stark contrast of
    the scientific "Haves" and "Have Nots" becomes apparent.

    Over the last several years, the International Society of
    Biomechanics has taken on the mission of helping colleagues in economically
    developing countries (EDC). Through the pioneering efforts of ISB Council
    members Dr. Micheline Gagnon and, more recently, Dr. Sandra Olney, the ISB
    has committed resources to try and mitigate some of the negative
    consequences on the pursuit of science of political reorganization. Our
    programs have included travel grants to students, the sponsorship of
    lecture tours by prominent ISB members, the provision of reduced rate ISB
    memberships, and gifts of several journal subscriptions. Other societies
    (such as the American Society of Biomechanics) have joined our efforts and
    have contributed funds to help us continue our efforts. Conference
    organizers (such as the Organizing Committee of the XIV ISB Congress in
    Jyvaskyla, Finland in 1995) have also been generous in providing some
    grants to assist in the payment of Conference Registration fees.

    The main purpose of my message is to point out that there are
    things that individual ISB members can do to facilitate the efforts of
    their EDC colleagues. In particular, the task of distributing our primary
    scientific currency - knowledge - is one that can benefit from the help of
    every member of our Society. The situation I described earlier, in which
    a bright mind spent 12 months "reinventing the wheel" is really
    unpardonable in the information age. I would like to suggest that you do
    three things as you begin the new year in your laboratories. First, find
    out if you have any duplicate copies of journals and textbooks that you do
    not need. Second, gather together a set of reprints of your own scientific
    output over the last year. Third, package them up and mail them to the
    following address:

    Dr. Sandra J. Olney
    School of Rehabilitation Therapy
    Queen's University
    Kingston, ON
    CANADA K7L 3N6

    Sandra will take the responsibility of distributing these materials to
    national societies of biomechanics in countries where your scientific
    cast-offs will serve a truly noble purpose. A few minutes spent now
    answering my call to action will ensure that the year will be dramatically
    better for some of our less fortunate colleagues.

    Suggestions for other initiatives will also be gratefully received.
    One such example is the disposition of a 16 mm projector that has been
    sitting on ISB Treasurer Mark Grabiner's shelves for some years. We hope
    to find a productive use for this in a lab where it is needed.

    I would like to wish all of our members and friends a very happy
    and productive New Year.

    Peter R. Cavanagh
    ISB President

    Center for Locomotion Studies
    Penn State University
    University Park
    PA 16802 USA
    Voice +1 814 865 1972
    FAX +1 814 863 4755
    Email PRC@PSU.EDU