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Society for Social Studies of Science

Minutes: Council Meeting 2008

Rotterdam, 20 August 2008

Meeting was called to order by President Michael Lynch at 2:15pm. 

Present were: Roland Bal, Gareth Edel, Gabrielle Hecht, Daniel Kleinman, Andrew Lakoff, Miwao Matsumoto, Maureen McNeil, Michelle Murphy, Nina Wakeford, Judy Wajcman, Catherine Waldby, Paul Wouters, Teun Zuiderent-Jerak, Lynch & Wes Shrum. 

Council approved the minutes of the 2007 meeting in Montreal, as published on the 4S website.

Michelle Murphy submitted the report of the nominations committee for the 2008 elections.  Approximately 253 members voted in the election (not all voters elected to vote in every category). Judy Wajcman has been elected President for the 2010-2011 term, and will serve as President Elect during the next year.  Elected to Council for the 2009-2011 term are Rebecca Herzig, Miwao Matsumoto, and Nina Wakeford.  Council was concerned with the low number of votes and the nominations committee next year will consider ways of improving it.  Shrum discussed the problem that has occured in some past years (although not this year), that several members of council were unable to attend the annual meeting and some individuals have not elected to run for the position because of the requirement to attend council meetings.  He proposed an annual stipend of $500 for travel annually for each council member to attend the meetings.  Lynch agreed to present the proposal to the business meeting for approval.

Roland Bal welcomed Council and the Society to Rotterdam and announced that there would be a welcome reception at the Mayor’s Office this afternoon (Wednesday 20 August) after the Council meeting for 450 participants. Teun Zuiderent-Jerak gave the overall conference statistics.  Rotterdam is one of the largest STS conferences to date with over 1200 abstracts submitted.  There are 960 presentations in 238 sessions.  Approximately 1052 participants have registered at this time.  There are 22 parallel sessions (maximum) with rooms holding from 24 to 200.  The Presidential Plenary room holds 927 seats.  The size of the banquet has been increased this year.  It is costly but there are 400 people participating. 

In terms of attendance there are relatively fewer student participants.  Last year we had 280 out of 800 (35%) while this year we had only 157 out of 1052 (15%).  However, there is some mislabeling, since many European PhD students are researchers who are reimbursed by their institutes and are registered as full members.  Another issue is the low number of US participants at the meeting.  In Rotterdam , 16% of participants were North American (13% of participants were from the U.S.), while in Montreal 50% of participants were US, 70% of participants were from North America (high because of the meeting in Canada).  Differently put, 26% Europeans, when the meeting was in North America, but only 16% NA, when the meeting was in Europe.  For the Paris meeting in 2004, 22% of participants were from the U.S.

The local organization committee did all the organization but the 4S systems were used for registration and abstract handling.  The program committee was used primarily to review abstracts and put individual sessions into abstracts.  There is a generous time allowed this year for presentations and discussions.  Normally there are 2-hour sessions with 5 presentations, or 1.5-hour sessions with 4 presentations; there are 4 sessions each day, with time for breaks.  The rule of one first-authored paper was followed rigorously.

Advice from this year’s organizers is for future organizers to seek good secretarial support and prepare to spend full time for the last six weeks.

Problems with the abstract handling: 180 missing abstracts were found at the last minute.  The abstract system is cumbersome to use.  The problem is to turn the abstracts into a conference program from the Excel file.  The local organizers recommend purchase of new conference management software.  Special Needs were not a major issue this year.  Child Care was organized but there were not enough applicants (only three), so they were taken care of on an individual basis.  There was one deaf studies panel but no deaf scholars.

The financial picture for the conference is excellent, owing to higher participation than expected (800 participants predicted, but 1052 actually registered), fewer students than expected (predicted 350; actual 157, at the lower rate).  The risk of a falling dollar (against the Euro) was also incorporated into the registration fee.  There were discounts negotiated with all suppliers, negotiated discounts on room rates, and elimination of unnecessary costs (such as the printed book of abstracts, conference bags).

Lynch discussed the differences in 4S and EASST policies on the distribution of the surplus for both stand-alone and joint conferences.  EASST policy has been: if there is a surplus after conference expenses are met, it is divided evenly between local organizers & EASST.  EASST is always located at a university & in the summer & the local university does both program & local arrangements.  Surplus is treated as an overhead and EASST uses it as an incentive when soliciting local organizing groups to host conferences.  This was policy at York & Lausanne in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

However, when the 4S holds stand-alone conferences at hotels, its policy is simply to pay for all reasonable meeting costs.  The program chair receives a discretionary fund of $5000, and the 4S pays the hotel for all facility and related charges.  After last year’s meeting, the 4S decided not to hire an independent meetings planner to handle money and pay the bills; instead, this is done by the 4S itself.  The surplus (if there is one) goes to 4S, which also bears the risk of any deficit from the conference.

In the past, the 4S has not had a problem with EASST joint conferences, because there was no substantial surplus.  This year there is likely to be a surplus.  There are more registrants, more late registrants, and fewer student registrants at the reduced rate.  Since the registration was in dollars we planned for the worst-case scenario against the Euro. A preliminary estimate by the Treasurer shows that had the number of registrants been close to the estimated 800 (rather than actual number of more than 1000) and had the dollar dropped as it had during the previous four months, the conference would have broken even.

For the current meeting, we propose the following resolution of the difference between 4S and EASST policy: 4S/EASST pays the actual expenses for the conference (as budgeted) and adds a budget line for compensating extra staff (Conference Secretariat).  All payments to the local organizers are thus made for expenses listed in the budget, and not through a proportion of any surplus remaining after expenses are paid.  It also was recognized that the 4S underwrote substantial costs in developing the abstract and registration systems, and these expenses will be included in the final budget for the conference, before any surplus is calculated to be divided equally with EASST. 

The question was proposed for council to consider whether conferences should seek a fixed amount of revenue or break even.  Lynch proposed the policy that meetings should not be seen as a regular source of revenue.  Instead, we should use a kind of precautionary principle: to try not to lose money, to plan for contingencies.  The alternative is to raise membership dues.  Hecht mentioned that it is easier for people to get reimbursed for conference attendance than membership in 4S.  However, there is nothing that can be done about that, because 4S does have to charge some membership fee.  Council agreed with the proposed policy, in principle, of not seeking revenue from the annual conference, but to plan to break even, with all due precautions.  Lynch proposed the setup of a 4S/EASST committee to determine policy for future joint meetings. 

The officers and council members of thanked Roland, Teun, Antoinette de Bont and Anne Jonkers for their outstanding work on the Rotterdam conference, which looks to be one of the best ever.

Mike Lynch presented the issue concerning the quantification of quality, or the “audit culture”.  The editorial “Journals under Threat” will be published by both ST&HV and SSS early in 2009.  The particular issue is the procedure by which an unknown group of four persons is developing a categorization system that is nontransparent and mysterious.  The President will recommend that the Ethics and Public Policy committee examine the issue to develop a 4S position to debate and publish, if a consensus is reached.  Council members agree that a 4S position could be useful on this issue.

Mike Lynch presented the report on the new organization of Technoscience.  Thus far new initiatives have not been prominent and the performance of standard duties has been below that of the previous system. There has been an overall drop in the number of events posted.  The new publication committee is asked to review the performance of the two managing editors regularly and make a recommendation.

The editorship of Science, Technology & Human Values (ST&HV) transitioned from the University of Vienna (Ulrike Felt) to Susan Leigh Star and Geoffrey Bowker (Santa Clara University).  The editors did not attend this year’s 4S meeting, but sent the managing editor (Katie Vann), who attended the meeting after the break. A brief report was submitted immediately before the meeting by the editors that stressed their main priority, to eliminate a sizeable backlog of papers that had accumulated during the transition, and needed editorial decisions.  Detailed information was not available on submissions, acceptance rates, average duration between submissions and editorial decisions, and other relevant matters.  The editors were urged to provide more detailed information to the new publications committee (which would be formed immediately after this year’s meeting), and to present a more complete report to the Council at the Washington meeting. 

Break.  Council was joined by Wiebe Bijker, Sergio Sismondo, Katie Vann, Martina Merz, Marguerite Avery, and Daniel Breslau.

Because Vann was now present (Lynch was unsure that she would be attending the meeting) the previous discussion of the ST&HV situation was summarized for her, and the discussion of the journal’s editorship was continued. Vann discussed new procedures the editors planned to use in order to streamline the review process and speed it up the decision-making process at ST&HV.  Content has already been finalized through the end of 2009.

The travel grants report from Martina Merz was received and discussed.  This year meeting costs were high and there were fewer student applicants.  The National Science Foundation provided an increase from $9000 to $14,000 in the 4S award portion of the Four Society grant.   After negotiations with presidents of the other societies the 4S amount is now more in line with what the others have been getting from the NSF pool.  
Student feedback, according to Edel, has been very positive (with fewer students applying and more funds available).  Merz mentioned that the additional funds were offset by the fact that the European meeting entailed substantially higher airfare for North American participants.  EASST also has travel money but there were few applicants.

Bernal Prize  

The Bernal Prize committee deliberated this year to select the 2009 winner.  This year’s Bernal Prize winner is Steve Woolgar, to be announced at the Friday banquet. 

Council discussed the possibility of taking over the financial responsibility for the Bernal prize.  The ISI had sponsored the prize amount ($1000 per year).  Because of the changes in ownership – the ISI had been owned by Thomson Scientific, which was recently taken over by Reuters – it has been difficult to maintain connection with the sponsoring organization.  We will send a letter to Eugene Garfield (founder of ISI), who had started the prize, to explain that 4S is happy to bear the cost of the award from now on if that is desirable.

Ludwik Fleck and Rachel Carson Prize.  Nominations come from members, the committee, and publishers themselves.  The committees will deliberate tonight to select a winner.

Council discussed the question of eligibility of books authored by council members and past winners.  In the event of books of equal quality, committees may give preference to authors who have not previously won, owing to the need to spread prizes to those who have not won.  However, books would not be excluded for that reason alone. 

Discussion centered on whether council members should receive a two year extension on eligibility of their books given that their books are not eligible for a prize during the time they are prize committee members. 

Nicholas Mullins Award.  The committee received a very healthy number of papers this year (23) and the quality was extremely high.  The decision will be made tonight. Kleinman was very active in soliciting papers on listservs and other forums. 

The Ethics & Public Policy Committee report was presented by Wiebe Bijker.  The primary event this year was the acceptance of the ICSU Associate Membership application by the ICSU Executive Board.  This has not yet been voted on by the membership of ICSU, which must be done at the General Assembly in Maputo this fall.  Council approved travel to Maputo for the Secretary and past-President Bijker for this purpose. 

Lynch solicited volunteers to achieve more active participation in AAAS Section X (Societal Impacts of S&E).  These volunteers do not have to come from Council.

Daniel Breslau presented the planning progress for the 2009 Washington DC (Crystal City) meeting.  There will be fewer rooms for sessions in the Crystal City hotel than in Rotterdam.  The meeting will be held Oct 28-Nov 1, under the guidelines of program chairs from Virginia Tech (Barbara Allen & Daniel Breslau). 

Sergio Sismondo presented the report of the Future Meetings Committee.  The 2010 meeting will be held in Tokyo, Japan (26-28 August), under the guidance of Yuko Fujigaki.  We need to have a site for the 2011 meeting.  One proposal is to hold this jointly with HSS and PSA but they have not yet selected the site. 

Sergio presented the results of the poll (n=350 responses) that was conducted in July regarding issues of selectivity, timing, and meeting locations.  There was strongest support for meeting with SHOT, and also strong support for meeting with HSS.  The majority of respondents (71%) expressed support for more peer review to limit the number of sessions and papers per session, and were opposed (78%) to arbitrary mechanisms for doing so (e.g., allowing individuals to present only in alternate years). Responses were divided about using arbitrary mechanisms to shunt submissions (single submissions or otherwise) to poster sessions or the like. If forced to make the choice, they preferred to meet at universities in August over hotels in October or November, and they preferred that option to limiting the number of presentations.

Much of the discussion centered on the idea of ASA-style roundtables in which several presenters (as many as 8) make brief presentations.  This would be held in a ballroom, in which many tables could be positioned.  Well-known individuals would chair each table. 
This possibility might be announced in the Call for Papers.

Treasurer’s Report

The Treasury has never been in better shape.  The reason for this is the income generated in the past three meetings (each of which had higher-than-expected attendance).   Likewise the membership today is at approximately the same (high) level of last year, hovering around 1500.  However, this is partly due to the fact that the meeting was held early in 2008 and there may be as many as 300 expirations in the next two months.

There have been problems the past two years with the two different firms that were hired to submit the 4S taxes to the Internal Revenue Services.  The tax preparer uses the year-end report submitted by the treasurer, which contains accurate accounts in various budget lines for the entire year.  However, in each of the past two years, the transfer of the 4S information onto the forms has not been done properly, leading to substantial extra work and also letters from the IRS.  It is not known how to address this problem, since both of these were reputable firms.  The Treasurer also attempted to have an audit conducted (actually, a ‘consolidation’ which is slightly less rigorous than a full audit).  However, the firm that was supposed to prepare it did not follow through in spite of repeated requests and significant expenditure of time.

Council, in the spirit of the motion last year to set an equivalent Secretarial and Editorial stipend, raised the Secretariat to the level of ST&HV (currently $18,000).

New Business

David Edge Prize.  After considering the recommendation of the New Initiatives Committee, as submitted by Martina Merz, Council established a new prize.  This will be called the David Edge Prize and it will be given for the best paper in the field of STS.  The prize, ideally, will be awarded for the first time in Washington, DC at the 2009 meeting.  It is hoped that Barbara Edge will be able to be present for this event and inaugurate the first award.  Funds will be made available for this purpose.  Detailed guidelines for the prize will be posted on the web site after they are determined by the committee.  The first prize committee will consist of the outgoing members of council (i.e., those that were on the Fleck Prize committee this year).

Special Needs Policy.  Stefan Timmermans (chair of the special needs committee) submitted a written report outlining the proposed policy.  The amount of $5000 annually is allocated.  Given the size of our society, it is a generous policy (compared to $15,000 by AAA with a massively larger society).  We may put a "Special Needs" comment box on the abstract submission form.  However, this may not be necessary if the information is available through the web site.  Individuals will be asked to describe their special needs, and whether this involves any financial commitment by the society.  A 4S volunteer should be in charge of email communications in order to determine precisely what they require. This should be a Council Member unless the arrangements to be made require a local person.  Criteria for selection: if financial resources are involved, as in the case of travel grants, individuals should not receive funds two years in a row.  We would hope to fund every applicant, but when the requests exceed available funds, support should be distributed proportionally based on submitted budgets (e.g., if the total of submitted budgets amount to $10,000 and the allocation is for $5,000, we will fund every proposal for 50%).  In terms of reimbursements, the travel fund for graduate students offers a good model.

Workshop & Meeting Initiatives

Council considered the concept by Ed Hackett outlined in “A Step Towards Synthesis for 4S.”  This brief document discusses “a series of workshops to take stock of accomplishments and challenges in areas within STS and to build synthetic explanations that rest upon the STS equivalent of place-based research but reach for deeper principles.”  The concept is based on an ecological unit at Santa Barbara called NCEAS that requires only brief proposals for one or two day workshops for invited participants around innovative ideas.  Council accepted this idea in principle and requests the new committee on initiatives to develop a detailed proposal.  Margy Avery expressed the interest of MIT Press in discussing new, electronic forms of publication as the outcome of these meetings.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:15pm.