News Archive

The New President's Plan

July 09, 2018

Joel R. PrimackI am excited to serve as president of Sigma Xi. Our highest priorities are promoting the value of research, science education and outreach, and the importance of fact-based decision making. Education in science and technology at all levels needs to be improved to produce the next generation of knowledgeable citizens as well as future scientists and engineers.

I want Sigma Xi to pursue two new initiatives, which I have been developing as president-elect with help from Sigma Xi Chief Executive Officer Jamie Vernon and others. Both initiatives will require new funding sources, and both could involve collaborations with like-minded organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

First, we propose to host dialogues about important policy questions for which scientific information is crucial. Each dialogue will start by identifying the key areas of agreement and disagreement—and for each disagreement the participants will be challenged to explain why they disagree. This may be not only because the underlying science is partly uncertain, but also because the participants have different assumptions about nonscientific aspects of the policy issue. By making this transparent, these dialogues can model how to inform policy decisions despite scientific uncertainty and other disagreements. We aim to make these dialogues educational and attractive to a large audience by sometimes using celebrity scientists and engineers as participants or by inviting celebrities as moderators. An ideal example might be a dialogue between Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson on the priority of sending many people to Mars, moderated by Matt Damon (star of The Martian movie). Other possible topics include human germline modifications, biosafety, robotics vs. jobs, universal preschool, coastal responses to sea-level rise, and the future of nuclear power.

Secondly, we propose to expand the Distinguished Lectureships Program to include younger and more diverse scientists, who are chosen for being especially effective at reaching broad public audiences. Sigma Xi could create a speakers bureau to help find audiences and media opportunities for these lecturers and curate high-quality science videos for a broad audience.

We welcome volunteers to help design both programs and assist with developing sustainable business models. We would also like to see a robust and active network of local chapters facilitate these initiatives, and we will continue our efforts to rejuvenate those chapters that have become inactive.

The 2018 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting near San Francisco on October 25–28 will bring together researchers from many fields to collaborate, provide mentorship, share best practices, and discuss the societal benefits of their work. This year’s theme is Big Data and the Future of Research, featuring outstanding keynote speakers and Sigma Xi award winners. I encourage you to submit an abstract and attend this informative event.

Joel Primack signature
Joel Primack

Joel Primack will serve as Sigma Xi president from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019.