Behind the Scenes with President Joel Primack

June 24, 2019

Joel Primack's one-year term as Sigma Xi's president ends on June 30, 2019. He describes below the highlights from his year at the helm of the Society. 


Joel PrimackDuring my term as Sigma Xi president from July 2018 through June 2019, I have been especially pleased with the success of Sigma Xi’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference. It was held in the heart of Silicon Valley on the topic Big Data and the Future of Research. This brought back the practice of having an organizing theme for our Annual Meetings, which will continue with the 2019 Annual Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, on the theme of Our Changing Global Environment. The 2018 meeting was coordinated with the September–October special issue of American Scientist on Big Data in Astronomy, for which I was a guest editor and I contributed an article about how galaxies start as “cosmic pickles” based on my group’s recent research. 

Sigma Xi CEO Jamie Vernon and the Board of Directors have been developing a new strategic plan for the society. A preliminary version was made available for comments at the 2018 Annual Meeting. We expect to finalize the strategic plan soon, with improved organization and new initiatives for Sigma Xi. 

Fundraising efforts are strengthening to allow Sigma Xi to undertake new programs—for example, expanding the Distinguished Lectureships program with a greater diversity of speakers including junior scientists, training programs for speakers, and a speakers’ bureau to expand the venues for Sigma Xi speakers including social media. I believe that Sigma Xi should strengthen its advocacy both of science and technology research and of more effective use of reliable information in public policy decisions at all levels of government, from local to national and international. These important activities will also bring more attention to Sigma Xi and help increase membership.

I was heartened by the “Science Communications Lessons from ‘Kofta-Gate’” article in the July–August 2019 American Scientist, in which the author, virologist Islam Hussein, tells how his efforts helped to prevent the Egyptian government from adopting a scientifically unsupported and harmful treatment for hepatitis C. Hussein started with a video—watched by more than 100,000 people—that explained in simple Arabic what was wrong with claims by the Egyptian government regarding this novel treatment. That video, plus his additional videos, articles, interviews and blog posts, helped to undermine the proposed treatment program, which has been indefinitely postponed. Hussein has now produced 32 video blogs about viruses in Arabic in his home studio in Boston, with about 25,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 42,000 followers on Facebook. He says: “We are unfortunate to have politicians at the highest levels of office who reject science and counteract evidence about the life-saving effects of vaccinations and the looming threats of climate change. It is easy for authorities to promote misinformation when it fits into the popular narrative and when there is no alternate source of credible information … We American scientists are privileged that the U.S. Constitution protects our freedom of speech, and we should never stand by and watch quietly as misinformation about our work spreads.” I couldn’t agree more.  

Joel Primack
Sigma Xi Fiscal Year 2019 President

More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety