November 18, 2011 IN RRF

RRF Response to the Society for Ornithology

In response to the recent email about the proposed Society for Ornithology, the Raptor Research Foundation wrote a formal response and shared its perspectives with the rest of the OSNA community. RRF has rejected the concept of the SFO outright. Background information on the SFO can be found in the October 2011 Ornithological Newsletter and in an online article in Birdwatching.

Download a pdf copy of the letter here: RRF Response to the Society for Ornithology

Messages received from RRF members in response to RRF’s position statement on the proposed Society for Ornithology.

November 2011.

1. I just want to say…Well done!! I’m renewing my RRF membership straight away! Keep up the good work.

2. Yeah to RRF !!!!!!!

3. I am generally content to observe RRF business from the sidelines but after reading your letter to Susan I felt compelled to write. I very much agree that dissolving RRF and joining a new Western Hemisphere affiliate would not be a good idea for all the reasons that you stated. I think that the umbrella of OSNA is appropriate and sufficient. It helps keep the various Societies together yet allows each the flexibility to focus on their strengths and maintain their own traditions. If the new Society for Ornithology does take wing I will consider joining, but it will be a cold day in hell before I give up my membership in the RRF.

4. Nicely worded response! I hope this is going to all OSNA members, not just those in RRF.

5. Congratulations to you and all involved in this response. I totally agree with the RRF’s board’s position.

6. Well done on your response to the SFO proposal!

7. Excellent job with the letter on the Society for Ornithology! Hopefully that whole idea will go away!

8. Nice letter. You make excellent points with which I agree wholeheartedly.

9. I’m sure your e-mail box is flooded, but just wanted to say thanks for clearly outlining why this joint society is not a good idea for RRF and give some of the other societies pause. You and the board made some very cogent points that I was worried about, and a number of others I hadn’t even considered and I appreciate that you took the time to outline them for everyone to consider.

10. Great job!

11. I just received the letter to Susan Haig, well done! I’m sure if you let the members vote for or against this, you would have a 99% confirmation of your letter.

12. Ruth Tingay and executive of RRF:
Your executive has studied the SFO proposal appropriately, and have come to the correct conclusion for obvious and supportable reasons. Bravo!

13. Furthermore, the SFO, if implemented, would destroy our ties to the past, totally disregarding history. And drive librarians crazy.

14. I agree wholeheartedly with the position of the RRF board of directors.

15. I agree with your thoughtful and detailed response to Sue Haig’s letter. While I don’t disagree with the concept of a Society for Ornithology, I think its proponents have done an exceptionally poor job at making the case for it. As a member of RRF, I would need a great deal of assurance that SFO proponents have a deep and abiding interest in RRF’s mission and respect for RRF’s track record to date. I don’t see any of that. Thanks for framing some important concerns in your letter.

16. I just wanted to express how much I agreed with the letter that RRF sent to the Ornithological Mafia about joining the Bird Collective. I have talked with several folks about it and what the RRF board thought of the proposal. I still don’t understand the rationale behind abolishing the established journals for one big bureaucratic editing office…perhaps too many government employees in these organizations. Anyway, I thought your letter was great and expressed what I thought of the proposal very well. Thanks and good work!

17. Well put Ruth (and all who worked on this response)! Bigger is not better.

18. The concept of SFO may have some merit but not the way this one was laid out. When I was asked about it last year I supported the thought of getting all the ornithological groups together and forming an umbrella that each would be under but not disbanding the organizations or forming another that we would need to pay into. The stuff you pointed out in your letter was not the same presentation I got and I support declining their offer totally. As a life member of several of these organizations I am somewhat aghast at what they have proposed. Keep up the good work.

19. RRF Boardmembers, Thank you for sending out this letter. I was unaware of the proposal to create a single entity for ornithology and strongly concur with the Boards delineated concerns. It is imperative that each individual organization retains its own unique identity. The field of ornithology would greatly suffer without the variation associated with the breadth of studies, approaches, and species variation, resulting from each organization and their own specialized missions. It would be a tragic loss of diversity that would negatively alter the face of the ornithological field. Thank you for looking out for our interests!

20. Great letter to osna. Did they ever submit a rationale for this thing?

21. As a member of AFO, AOU, COU, RRF, and WOS, I read your excellent response to the proposed SFO with great interest. I’m on the fence as to whether the reorganization is a good idea overall, but I have no question that it would not be good for a smallish, taxon-centered organization such as RRF. Great job!

22. Good for the board. It was a great letter. If the idea is driven by concern about falling participation, maybe the AOU should return to its roots as a conservation oriented organization. Right now they are quite snooty about conservation type research.

23. I thought your letter to Sue Haig was extremely well done. Already, the Pacific Seabird Group is using it as a starting template for their own letter, which will also represent a rejection of the AOU’s “offer.”

24. Well done. Be proud, this may be your legacy.

25. Thank you for the well worded response to the proposed concept of a unified Society for Ornithology. I am very pleased that the RRF Board of Directors has declined the request. I am a member of RRF and the American Ornithological Union.

26. I want to applaud the RRF Board of Directors for its decision to reject the SFO proposal to consolidate all North American ornithology groups under one banner.
Given the short shrift that research on raptors was afforded in this country before RRF was established, and considering the type of hierarchy now being envisioned by SFO promoters, this decision was both warranted and necessary.

27. Well done, very succinctly put.

28. Could it be that your presidency came at this critical time in history to save RRF from phagcytitic assimilation into the Borg (SFO)? Thank you.

29. I just wanted to commend you on your response to the SFO proposal. Not only have you made a good case for RRF’s independence, but you’ve pointed out some key concerns that I think others haven’t given due attention (e.g. the tiered system of journals). As a council member of one of the other societies (SCO) potentially affected by this proposal, I was very glad to see your message shared with all OSNA members.

30. Thank you for not allowing RRF to disappear into SFO.

31. The RRF response to the bizarre AOU proposal was right on the mark, and the sentiments therein are shared by every other North American ornithologist who has discussed this with me. This same arrogant proposal has come and gone like sunspots since at least the early 1980s, and one can only assume that the folks who concocted this version have neither a sense of ornithological history nor much street sense.

32. As a longtime member of RRF I am greatly encouraged by the stance that the Board has taken on this proposal and agree with each point that you elaborated on in your letter. Thank you for keeping RRF as RRF!!!
33. I just read this important message. I have been away for a while so I have not seen the info on the proposed SFO before reading your answer. Just want to say that I agree fully with your arguments. Long live the RRF.

34. Good decision.

35. I thought the letter was excellent. I have presented my research at both the combined meetings and the RRF. The value received at the RRF conference was more than 10 times that at the combined larger conferences. The smaller forum and more intimate setting made all of the difference! In fact, I am somewhat disappointed that the 2012 conference will be a combined conference. Great job and keep up the good work!

Responses from non-RRF members:
1. Good points, seems to me.

2. Thank you for sharing your recent letter to AOU President Haig regarding the SFO proposal. Something like this has been in the works in various guises for years and many of the suggestions are valuable. But what is most important, at least to me, is the clear way you state the position of the RRF and the thinking that went into your statement. At this state who agrees with what is not essential. What is important is that the various societies evaluate the proposal, it’s purpose, and consider the consequences. You have done this well, providing a service to all concerned. Thank you.

3. I agree with your position. Thank you.

4. Thanks for your message, shared by OSNA. While you offer many valuable points of perspective, it seems that the RRF has misconstrued Susan’s message in one very important respect: The proposal does not, as I see it, include the disbanding of any currently-existing OSNA society. Rather, it seems to be a proposal to create a new, separate, society that is specialized for certain functions that the others can not presently do especially well. [RRF response: Thanks for taking the time to write. I don’t think that RRF has misconstrued the SFO concept at all. Although the working plan that we read may not have explicitly stated that extant societies would have to disband (instead, the word ‘merger’ was used), we read between the lines and concluded that in effect, RRF would have to disband as our council and by laws would effectively become redundant under the proposed SFO governance. There were of course, many other concerns about the proposed SFO, all of which are detailed in our letter. We hope that by sharing it with the wider OSNA community that discussions on these and other issues will be encouraged].

5. I just read the letter RRF sent out through OSNA. You guys did a very thoughtful and thorough review of the proposal for the SFO. And I think it was an excellent idea to send it out to all of us through OSNA. It appears that this new Society will be sort of forced down the throats of anyone who signs on. So far, in addition to the AOU board, the Cooper board is seemingly favorable. Your boards’ comments make it quite obvious that this proposal is not good for ornithology in N. Am. I have talked with the Pres and Pres elect of Waterbirds hoping they will have their board respond, also. Thank you all for taking the time to do this review.

6. Bravo for the RRF! I agree with them wholeheartedly. I find no merit at all the concept of the SFO.

7. The RRF has made a compelling case for not joining a mega society. If membership is a concern, the AOU might want to take a look at how it structures its stated meetings. As a semi-retired ornithologist/professor, I enjoy the academic atmosphere of the meetings, but socially it is divided into the student camp and the good old boys. There is not much of an in between group for those of us of a “pedestrian” nature and there’s no effort from the AOU to foster collegiality as such.

8. I am writing to endorse the points made in the recent letter by Dr. Ruth Tingay about the proposed “Society for Ornithology.” In my view, it would be a mistake of epic proportions to dissolve the OSNA member societies and reformulate them into one “uber” professional organization. I agree with all, and disagree with none, of the points made by Dr. Tingay in her recent letter to you on behalf of RRF. Since I can’t say it any better than Dr. Tingay, I’ll leave it at that. I have been a member of AOU, COS, WOS and AFO since 1982. Each of these four societies, along with others in the OSNA group, play important roles in North American Ornithology. Merging the OSNA member societies into the proposed SFO would dilute the roles that OSNA members currently play, rather than enhance them. Since declining membership seems to be a central problem, the answer is quite simple. The key to reversing declining membership is to provide services that attract members. Strong, peer-reviewed journals run by the OSNA member societies are clearly an important service for members. However, none of the four OSNA societies to which I belong seem to be doing much of anything to provide other services that are attractive to students and young professionals, who are afterall, the future of these organizations.

9. Good for you, RRF.

10. The drive to uniformity within the journals is already too pervasive. I am with RRF. My vote would be for diversity. Considering this proposal is perhaps something that might be worth considering once in a great while, but seems more a deflection of focus from more pressing concerns.

11. Let me introduce myself as a long-time Fellow of the AOU and Life Member of both the Wilson and the Cooper ornithological societies, but not a member of RRF. Nevertheless, I was very interested in your letter to Susan Haig about your society’s response to the proposal for a Society for Ornithology. More than that, I was impressed with your Board’s careful analysis of the scheme, its conclusions, and your cogent, well-written explanation of RRF’s position. I agree completely with you and your Board.

I must admit that my knowledge of the proposed SFO is limited to the sketch in the October Ornithological Newsletter. Significantly, it speaks of a “merger” of the existing North American societies that wish to join, not a “federation.” Hence, those societies would lose their identities and self-management as well as their journals. I have long been proud of my memberships in the above-named societies, so I would be sorry to have them brought to an end. Belonging to the larger SFO has no appeal for me.

Declining membership is a serious problem for ornithological as well as many other scientific and scholarly societies, yet the SFO proposal does not appear to have a solution for it. Unless the new organization offers some products and services not provided by the existing societies, I would agree with your prediction that membership will continue to decrease. That will lead to an increase in fees, which, in turn, will magnify the membership problem.

I am also disturbed by the notion of terminating the journals of the societies that choose to join the SFO and replacing them with four new ones. Owing to a lack of information, I don’t understand whether the new journals are to be characterized by the importance of their papers, the nature of their studies, or some other criterion. If the former, it seems evident that every author will want his/her paper published in the top one or two journals; no one will accept classification in a lower ranked journal. Furthermore, what appears to be a routine piece of work may turn out to be a sleeper with huge implications. No one could have imagined that Gregor Mendel’s experiments with peas would give rise to the field of genetics. As for separating descriptive and theoretical studies, it is a common practice that descriptions, whether of structure, habitat, or behavior give rise to hypotheses as to why that has happened. In short, they can’t be separated.

I like the present practice of having a variety of papers in my journals. Certainly, I don’t read every one, but at least I’m exposed to them and aware of what’s being learned in other branches of ornithology. I might even pick up a new idea! Journals that are narrowly confined are boring.

Having edited an OSNA journal for many years, I am also uneasy about the plan to produce all the new journals from a single editorial office. While that may achieve some economies in operation, it is also likely produce some uniformity in editorial judgement and style. If a manuscript is rejected by one journal, I am skeptical that it will receive an open-minded consideration by one of the other journals. I am also afraid that with emphasis on efficiency and speed in publication, there will be lack of attention to the character of each journal and the quality of writing.

The SFO proposal is bold, yet its geographic scope seems surprisingly – and embarrassingly – limited. Although the new society is intended to represent the Western Hemisphere, only North American societies are mentioned. Nothing is said about inviting Canadian and Latin American societies. If they join, what about their journals? Will there be new journals in French, Spanish, and Portuguese? Will all the new journals be limited to bird studies in the Western Hemisphere? Are papers from the rest of the world to be excluded? In sum, I don’t see how the proposed reorganization of our journals is going to benefit either our science or its practitioners.

The RRF Board has made a thoughtful and reasoned critique of the SFO proposal. I thank you for laying out its position clearly and disseminating it.

12. Thank you for not supporting the new ornithological society. I do not like the concept being proposed, but do not feel that I have a voice in the matter. In my opinion the AOU is too elitist already and I prefer the smaller societies where scientists interact and more often support each other. The idea of a tiered society or series of journals underscores the problem and is revolting. (Member AOU and Wilson).