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Stan Fields is President of the Genetics Society of America. The views expressed in his posts are his and are not necessarily endorsed by the Society.

Frameshifts LogoTo paraphrase the Car Talk guys, “Well, it’s happened again—you’ve wasted another perfectly good year reading frameshifts.” Although not as much as I have in writing it. And perhaps this hasn’t been “perfectly good” as years go. But as far as the GSA goes, we’ve dealt with some major events this year.

 

final timepoint

 

First, we organized a successful TAGC meeting in July of more than 3000 participants, bringing together seven of our core constituencies. TAGC has caused us to think more about what type of conference best serves our interests as geneticists. If we held another TAGC, would we do better with most of the sessions organized around biological themes rather than have them centered on the experimental organisms? Or would this framework lose too much of the organism-specific focus that has been a popular feature of our traditional meetings?

Second, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of GENETICS with a host of special articles and commentaries, all on a revamped website with a new look of the journal. And G3 continues to gain in reputation and submissions.

Third, we hired a new executive director—Tracey DePellegrin—who is reshaping the staff and procedures for GSA in Bethesda and Pittsburgh. Tracey brings an energy and intensity to our activities that have me excited about what our society can accomplish in the future. Look for upcoming changes to the GSA website, expanding topics on our communications platforms, and a new look for G3. And while largely invisible to members, our infrastructure—including finance, IT and space—is undergoing numerous improvements that will allow us to better work for you.

Fourth, our board of directors and staff have engaged in discussions throughout the year about what should be our essential mission as a society, especially in this time when the usual reasons for joining a scientific society carry less weight, and with our journals, communications, conferences, web content and the like widely available whether or not you’re a member. As a result of these discussions, we came to appreciate that we need to address better what we do for our graduate student and postdoc members. We hired Sonia Hall to head up this effort, and we need to hear from you about what you’d like the society to take on in this area.

The GSA, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and of course we look with concern to the role of science in the future of the US and the rest of the world. Are we in for an extended period of time when scientific expertise is ignored—or worse—disbelieved? Is each person entitled to a unique version of the basic facts about nature? Does a concern, maybe a misguided one, for jobs and corporate profits mean that we turn a blind eye to planetary disaster under the disingenuous guise that “the science is still unsettled”?

It was dispiriting to see the fragmentation of America exposed by the recent vote, the uneven patchwork of red and blue districts. What can we do as geneticists and scientists to heal the rifts between us? What can we do to prevent each of us from adopting a worldview colored almost exclusively through the messaging that comes to us from like-minded individuals? How do we get the idea across that—genetically speaking—human beings are more alike than different, and that the great bulk of the genetic variation in us is found in all population groups? Tough questions, with no easy answers.

It seems to me it is especially important right now that scientific societies like the GSA are supported, so that we can act as united communities. For this reason, I urge you to renew your GSA membership for 2017, or to join us for the first time. We need geneticists to have a strong voice communicating with the world outside our labs. Even more, we need your involvement and your passion, because we have only a small staff and the limited time of our volunteer leadership. But our challenges—in enlisting support for basic research, in providing authoritative information on genetic subjects, in boosting our trainee activities—while continuing to publish two well-respected journals and to organize conferences at which many young scientists make their first presentations, are enormous.

Finally, on a personal note, with this last post I need to point out that frameshifts could not have happened without a lot of help. I am particularly appreciative of Retrosleep, my cartoonist, who turned vague images and scrawls into drawings, and Mark, my chief editor, who smoothed out a lot of prose. On many posts, I benefitted from comments or edits from Tracey, Cristy, Lynn, Jasper, Doug, Christine, and Eric, and cartoon ideas from my lab (especially Matt, Stephanie and Ben) and from my son Paul. Thanks to Vijay, Ian, and the two Janes for their work on the G&S spoof. Please keep GSA-art coming—we’d love to see examples of writing and crafts along with artwork. Like any author, I was delighted when a post elicited comments from you, my readers.

Though my term as president soon comes to an end, and Lynn Cooley—who has been a wholehearted partner with me on all of this year’s GSA initiatives—takes over the society and frameshifts, I reserve the right to write new posts from time to time, if the muse strikes. To reprise the theme of my first post from January 1, it’s a wonderful time to be a geneticist, and I thank you for allowing me to serve as head of this remarkable and venerable society. And don’t drive like my brother.

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