ASBS Newsletter 91, June 1997
Funding for systematics
With continuing cuts to Environment Australia's budget, and in particular to the Australian Biological Resources Study, it is a sobering time for Australia systematists. Will any of the money from the sale of Telstra go to research? At this stage it seems unlikely we will get more than a few crumbs. I wrote recently on behalf of ASBS to Senator Hill, registering our concerns about cuts to ABRS. Such letters are necessary and sometimes lead to change, but they are not enough.
It is equally important that we lobby on behalf of systematics in our own institutions, whether they be universities or herbaria/botanic gardens. Is it enough to say that you study a particular genus because it is poorly known, or because you suspect there are half a dozen undescribed species? There are hundreds of vascular plant genera like that. Why are you working on a particular genus? Is it because the genus has important implications in biodiversity conservation? Will your research lead to sustainable use of natural resources? Will your studies provide fundamental advances in our knowledge of evolution and the origins of life on earth? I'm sure other reasons spring to mind...
We have a duty to sell systematics to the government, to the general public and to our colleagues. Talks and seminars must be exciting and persuasive. Our research results must be explained and interpreted in ways that everyone can understand. It is quite reasonable to be asked why systematics is important, why it should be supported by government funds and our institution, and why we study one plant group and not another. Lobbying and spruiking certainly take time away from our core business, but it is our responsibility to convince the widest possible audience of the value of our science. If systematics continues to decline it is not solely the fault of government or voters, systematists must share the blame.
I recently sent out an urgent call to all chapter conveners and councillors, seeking a new editor (or brood of editors). The Darwin team, now ably led by Philip Short, have announced that after the December issue they want out. There has been one nibble from the opposite extremity of Australia, but if there is an enthusiastic editor somewhere in between, the job is theirs.
As newsletter editor you keep in regular contact with ASBS members from all over the place. You keep up with what is happening in ASBS, plant systematics and (through the FASTS bulletins) Australian science. Even better, you get to inflict your wit and wisdom on a witty and wise audience. If you have any aspirations towards science journalism, or just plain enjoy writing or editing, give it a try.
While waxing on this subject, I should also lobby for contributions to the newsletter. Apparently everyone in the society agreed with Chris Quinn's recent letter. No one has concerns about cuts to the ABRS budget. Nothing interesting, touching or funny happens in plant systematics in Australia. And was there really an ASBS conference in Melbourne last year?
Hansjorg Eichler Scientific Research Fund
With too little fanfare, the application forms for the inaugural Eichler Fund grants were included in the last newsletter. Applications were due in by 12 June and the successful candidates will be announced at the Adelaide conference. The full Council will act as selection panel (except on applications where there may be a conflict of interest). We propose to favour honours and post-graduate students, or newly established botanists, to keep with the spirit of the proposals discussed at various council meetings over the years. Inevitably we will learn from this first selection process. The lack of background information in the newsletter is certainly one aspect which will be have to be improved next time.
It is opportune to thank again Marlies Eichler for her establishment of, and substantial contributions to, this fund. If anyone would like to join Marlies in fostering the research of young and new systematic botanists, please send donations to the Treasurer. Tax deductibility for the fund is currently under investigation.
National Biodiversity Council
I neglected to mention in the last newsletter that Peter Weston is another ASBS member in the NBC assembly. He was chosen as an independent member. Although he does not represent the society, I am sure he will happily relay the concerns of society members. Our society representatives are Bob Hill and Darren Crayn.
ASBS has been invited to participate in the next International Botanical Congress, to be held in St Louis, USA, in August 1999. In particular, the organisers have called for topics for symposia. A MSCOM-based session has already been suggested. If you are interested in finding out more about the Congress or in contributing to the program for the Congress, look at the website http://www.ibc99.org.
You might also consider where ASBS might meet in 1999, and how or if that meeting should relate to the IBC. There are a few options. The Society of Australian Systematic Biologists (SASB, rather than the unfortunate acronym ASS I inadvertently chose last time) is at present organising its future conference program and we could plan another meeting with them (but where?). Bob Hill has floated the idea of a pair of symposia focusing on systematics to be jointly hosted by the Korean Botanical Society and ASBS. The proposal involves a meeting in South Korea next year, with a follow-up in Australia in 1999. This may have an impact on any meeting of ASBS associated with Monocots 11 in Sydney next year.
Historical proposals abound. We could commemorate Dampier's landing in Western Australia with a conference in Perth (or maybe Dirk Hartog Island to tie in even more history) in 1999. Reenactments of the Flinders voyage are proposed for the year 2002, and ASBS clearly has a role in these. It has been noted that Australian cities in need of an ASBS conference include Alice Springs, Darwin, Armidale and Townsville. Plenty to think about before the ASBS meeting in Adelaide. If you have ideas or suggestions contact your chapter convener or an ASBS councillor.