2012 Assembly of Delegates:
Nominees for President
Fiscal Year 2015: July 1, 2014 - June 30, 2015
George H. Atkinson
Chapter Affiliation: Indiana University
Sigma Xi has long established itself as one of the most effective and distinguished
organizations devoted to fostering excellence in scientific research. Such efforts by many
professional organizations to encourage and support the highest quality of scientific
research throughout academic, private sector, and governmental communities worldwide
remain core issues associated with economic prosperity and political stability, both
nationally and internationally.
The role of scientific research in 21'' century societies, however, is rapidly changing.
Societies are increasingly expecting scientific researchers to focus on well-recognized
challenges that often require immediate attention (e.g., climate change, environmentally
compatible energy sources, infectious diseases, food safety and security, nuclear safety,
biodefense, etc.). Although it is evident that realistic options that can address such
challenges require both an understanding of and confidence in credible scientific
information, far too many current societal debates and disagreements appear to be
unencumbered by either.
Since these challenges often transcend physical, political, and even cultural borders,
societies are being forced to adopt policies that are coordinated regionally, and even
globally. Simultaneously, frontier research is being conducted within increasingly broad
international communities often driven by completely different priorities. Certainly the
technologies derived from these research advances are being developed internationally.
While these dramatically rapid and often profound research advances routinely offer
numerous opportunities that can potentially transform almost any 21'' century society,
the political and public processes used by societies to decide which options to embrace
and which ones to reject have routinely been slow, ineffective, haphazard, and
counterproductive. Frequently, they have also been inconsistent with sound scientific
Although the flaws in decision-making processes can be attributed to a variety of factors,
the decreasing understanding of and respect for the basic egalitarian nature of the
scientific methods defining essentially all research is of critical importance. Improving
the communication between those who are scientifically knowledgeable and those
political and public individuals responsible for making andjor influencing policies
requires renewed attention by the scientific community - and especially the
organizations representing them. If societies are to systematically reach effective
decisions reflecting credible scientific understanding, researchers need to appropriately
participate proactively in these societal debates that lead to "actionable decisions."
Many societies separately, and the global community in general, would greatly benefit
from a more active engagement of organizations such as Sigma Xi in the debates
concerning which options to accept and which to reject. Such engagement must, of course,
be conducted without straying into advocacy andjor lobbying for narrowly defined
Sigma Xi, however, might consider helping to ensure that scientifically credible
information representing broad international perspectives be presented and debated
throughout policy discussions in government and the private sector. Such leadership,
conducted in an egalitarian, non-partisan manner, builds on Sigma Xi's commitment to
advance scientific research and its effective applications to societal needs. While political
and public support for scientifically based viewpoints has often wavered, it is increasingly
urgent that credible options be identified that can be realistically implemented within the
current politically oriented environment. Of course, efforts to address short-term aspects
of climate change, environmentally compatible energy sources, food safety and security,
nuclear safety, biosecurity, etc. all must be balanced with their longer-term consequences.
No less important is the education of new generations of scientists concerning how to
effectively integrate scientific understanding into the public support required for
politically acceptable policy decisions.
It would, of course, be a privilege to help lead Sigma Xi in reaffirming and strengthening its
historic commitment to ensuring that excellence in scientific research continues to be
given the highest priority. It would also be personally rewarding to help Sigma Xi define
an increasingly important leadership role in processes by which governments and the
private sector ensure that the remarkable achievements emerging from scientific research
are effectively used to promote the type of economic prosperity and societal security we
hope will define the 21'' century.
Interview with George H. Atkinson: