Proposed changes to SCB’s bylaws

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) is changing its bylaws. Some of the changes are minor, to clarify current practices, and to comply with laws in California where SCB is incorporated.

Previous Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is important to get the bylaws right (photo by Bob Doran, via Flickr)

But some changes are more substantive, so it is important that SCB members are aware of them and take the opportunity to make comments. The document that details the changes is available here.

If you are like me, you might find bylaws of scientific societies a little dull. But they are important, and it is also important that the members engage in discussions about the proposed changes. Effective functioning of SCB for us (its members and the discipline) and for the good of the planet requires that the bylaws are well considered by members.

I suspect many members will have limited time to read the document to find the substantive changes. Perhaps you didn’t even look at them? To assist you, in this post I have highlighted what I regard as the more substantive changes to help promote discussion.

The substantive proposed changes relate to:

  • the primary duty of regional representatives;
  • the role of the Governance Committee;
  • a new Ecological Footprint Committee;
  • removing the role of Editor in Chief in reviewing commissioned papers and policy statements; and
  • removing committee reports, etc from the Annual Meeting.

I couldn’t help myself from making my own initial comments – see below. I will provide more considered input to the Governance Committee, with comments due by 9 May. Information on how to make comments and how they will be considered are in the review document.

I encourage others to think about these changes and send comments to the Governance Committee – get involved in your Society and how it operates. You can also add comments to this post.

Page 12. ARTICLE 8. DUTIES OF OFFICERS – Section 6. Representatives of Regional Sections

The change notes that representatives of regional sections have a primary duty to the Society as a whole rather than to regional affiliation. How should this be balanced with representing the interests of the regional sections? That is unclear to me.

Page 15. ARTICLE 12. STANDING COMMITTEES – SECTION 4. Charges of the Governance Committee

The role of the Governance Committee will be expanded to include a role in reviewing the Society’s governance structure and evaluate the functioning of the Society’s Board of Governors and committees.

The document does not indicate the reason for this change, but keeping an eye on how to improve the administration of the Society seems wise. But hands up who likes being reviewed? The answer is usually “It can be helpful – so long as it is not too often.” But “too often” for some can be “not often enough” for others.

Page 20. ARTICLE 12. STANDING COMMITTEES – SECTION 13. Charges of the Ecological Footprint Committee

This is an addition to the bylaws, establishing the ecological footprint committee. The proposed addition is:

”The Ecological Footprint Committee shall:

(a) work with Society staff to estimate the Society’s ecological footprint and produce an Annual Report with recommendations to reduce or improve such impacts,

(b) identify suitable projects that generate carbon dioxide reductions and make recommendations to purchase carbon offset rights through formal agreements to offset the greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental effects of the Society that cannot practicably be reduced.

(c) disseminate information on these efforts through a variety of outlets.”

This seems like a good idea. I’m not 100% sure about the wording. For example, (b) has a large focus on carbon dioxide, but it would seem better focused on all anthropogenic greenhouse gases. And “Ecological Footprint” seems like unnecessary jargon to me. Why not name it the Environmental Management Committee? Regardless of the semantics, this seems like a good initiative. Do any other scientific societies have similar committees? How do they operate?

Page 23. ARTICLE 15. COMMISSIONED PAPERS AND POLICY STATEMENTS – SECTION 2. Formal Commissioned Statements.

It is proposed that papers and policy statements commissioned by the Board of Governors will be considered by the Society’s policy committee and Board of Governors and then published in Conservation Biology, specifically removing any role of the Editor in Chief in determining suitability.

The extent of the change seems more than “Clarification”, which is the only reason given in the review document.

Is anyone aware of similar cases where the editor of a journal has no role in determining the publication of some content in that journal? This change seems inconsistent with ARTICLE 14 that states “The Board of Editors is responsible for the selection and editing of papers for publication in Conservation Biology”.

Edit: The proposed change to the bylaw states that policy statements would be sent to the journal for “expedited review”, and then publication. The role of the Editor in Chief or Board of Editors in this review process is unclear. Who runs the review process and how does it operate?

Declaration: I am an Associate Editor for Conservation Biology, so I might have a tendency to be more sensitive about this change than other members.

Page 30. ARTICLE 21. ORDER OF BUSINESS

Reports from the journal Editors, standing committees, Regional Sections, and ad hoc committees will no longer be considered at General Members’ Meetings. The reason for this is not provided. Sure, such reports can be a bit dull. They can contribute to long, and perhaps tedious, annual meetings, but reporting activities to members seems important to me. Perhaps written reports of activities could be circulated to members prior to the meeting, and members could ask questions at the meeting. I’d guess that has been considered, perhaps even attempted. How many members would read the reports? How to engage members in this?

Finally, I saw a couple of typos:

There should be no apostrophe in “Representatives of Regional Sections will be the Presidents of the sections” within ARTICLE 8. DUTIES OF OFFICERS – Section 6. Representatives of Regional Sections.

In ARTICLE 19. MEETINGS – Section 1. General Members’ Meetings, “may” is deleted, but something needs to replace it: “Shall”? “Will”?

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About Michael McCarthy

I conduct research on environmental decision making and quantitative ecology. My teaching is mainly at post-grad level at The University of Melbourne.
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4 Responses to Proposed changes to SCB’s bylaws

  1. Here is a comment from Paul Beier (SCB President), sent to me via email. He asked that I post it as a comment for him as he was unable to login while travelling…

    Mick correctly states that the proposed text for Article 15 has been revised to authorize SCB to publish Policy Statements in a section of the journal that is not reviewed by the Editorial staff. (My previous comment reflected my opinion that we could do so without a bylaws change.) The Governance Committee will wordsmith in light of comments received and the revised change will be voted on by SCB members in June.
    I support this amendment to Article 15. The SCB Policy Statements will be in a clearly labeled section that makes it clear the statement was not subject to the same type of peer review as regular journal articles. In repeated polls over the last 15 years, over 80% of SCB have favored increased SCB actions advocating for the use of science in policy decisions related to conservation. For 5 years SCB has had a strong North America policy office, and for 2 years SCB has participated in all meetings related to IPBES. The SCB Board wants to archive our important policy statements, share them with members, and provide them in a citable format. These publications will do just that.
    Mick and others fear publishing Policy Statements in the journal will make others perceive the journal as less than scientific. But there are several reasons I don’t think this will happen. First, the 3-8 policy papers we publish each year will be clearly labeled as SCB Policy Statements. Second, each paper will have undergone thorough review by the SCB Policy Committee and others. Third, every policy statement will simply advocate for the USE OF SCIENCE in policy decisions. The particular policy context will change from one statement to the next, but the basic message will always be “science should help inform this policy decision.” Fourth, the SCB Board will oversee each Policy Statement to make sure the Statement sticks to science advocacy and scrupulously shuns the sorts of content (partisan politics, threats of environmental lawsuits, signing on to position letters) that would lead others to confuse SCB with non-science advocacy groups.
    I respect the opinions of Mick and others who disagree with me. The discussion is good for SCB.

    Paul Beier
    SCB President

  2. paulbeier says:

    As President of SCB, I offer a huge THANK YOU to Mick for encouraging SCB members to think about these proposed changes.

    I have two sets of comments:

    1. Ecological Footprint Committee (Article 12)
    In fact (as stated in clause (a)) the Ecological Footprint Committee does address ALL of SCB’s environmental impacts, not just carbon. Clause (b) mentions only carbon because tonnes CO2e is the only type of offset that can be purchased on today’s markets. The EFC’s most recent annual “report card” is available on our website http://www.conbio.org/Activities/Committees/EcologicalFootprint/CarbonOffset/2010_SCB_assessment.pdf Please read it and see how comprehensive our activities are. SCB is THE leader among professional societies in this realm, and we are proud of it.

    The term “ecological footprint” may be offputting, but it is the current ‘term of art’ for such activities.

    2. Regarding page 23, Article 15. The proposed change eliminates two words (“and consideration”). Mick incorrectly blogs that dropping these 2 words will “specifically remove the Editor in Chief from any role in determining suitability.” The requirement for “review” by the Editor remains in Article 15. Because “review” includes the concept of “considering” a manuscript, removing these two words will not change the way commissioned papers are handled; it simply trims 2 unneeded words.

    Mick’s comment suggests he (quite understandably) confuses this amendment with other recent events and discussions regarding the journal – indeed most Board members (including me) find it hard to keep these events distinct. In December 2011 the Board decided to publish official SCB policy statements in the journal in non-peer-reviewed pages that the publisher allows for Society announcements. The Editor strongly opposed the Board’s decision to have these policy statements printed on numbered pages, but this decision has no relationship to this bylaws change. The situation is even more confusing because for a couple years some Board members have been advocating (and continue to advocate) for more formal lines of reporting between the Editor and Board. Philosophically, I prefer a collaborative approach (“We are all in this together, so let’s look for opportunities to support each other to keep this journal great and make it better.”) to an accountability approach (“Let’s define everybody’s role, have every entity make a formal report to the Board, and have the Board issue directives.”). But this discussion is not over yet, and there are good people with diverse opinions.

    Because this minor edit understandably creates confusion (especially among editors and other good people involved in these discussions), I will ask the Governance Committee to strike this change from the proposed bylaws change. We’ve lived with these 2 extra words in our bylaws for years, and I’d rather leave them in than provoke bad feelings. (By the way, I am not on the Governance Committee, and my suggestion might be ignored.)

    Paul Beier
    President of SCB
    SCB President

    • Thanks for the comments Paul.

      Edit: Paul contacted me to say that his comment above might be modified. An update will be posted when it is received.

      • Subsequent to my post and the comments from Paul Beier, it seems that the bylaw review document has been edited. Those edits make it clear that the proposal is to remove the role of the Editor-in-Chief from considering the scientific merit of these policy documents. I do not support such a change. The Editor-in-Chief should have oversight of all substantive content of a scientific journal. Anything else risks perceptions of rigour. Further, such material might be more widely read, and more effective, if published through other mechanisms.

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