HOW SOCIETIES GET THE WORD ABROAD
by Kristina Bartlett
The information service
The cost of membership
Strength in numbers
The other way around
In 1926, the Seismological Society of America (SSA) established its Eastern Section. Members on the West Coast of the United States could gather every year in California and share their research and insights; but logistics left seismologists on the East Coast isolated. The section was established to bring East Coast seismologists together to do what scientists must do: share their discoveries with each other.
Now, SSA has a similar problem, but on a larger scale. With one-third of its membership working outside of the United States, the society must get information to people spread across the globe, and a good portion of its members must travel long distances to attend scientific or planning meetings.
Things are getting easier as travel becomes cheaper and journals and
information are easier to deliver electronically, says Susan Newman, executive
director of SSA. “But we’re in a transition,” she says.
|Of the 37 earth science societies that belong to the American
Geological Institute, at least eight serve memberships that are at least
30 percent international. And while scientists have always worked with
each other across the globe, these societies are still facing challenges
in providing a growing number of non-U.S. members with the same services
as their U.S. members.
The American Association of Petroleum Geologists, for example, spends almost five times as much on postage to deliver AAPG Explorer to its international subscribers than to its U.S. subscribers. In April, says AAPG Communications Director Larry Nation, the association spent about $8,500 to send 5,700 copies of the journal overseas, while it only spent about $6,000 to send 21,200 copies in the United States.
“These international costs are extremely difficult to get our arms around — and still provide the services that all the members deserve,” Nation says. “We are constantly looking at ways to cut costs and improve services.”
Earth science is inherently international, and geologists are naturally world travelers. “SEG has always been international. It’s just becoming a larger component,” says Walter Lynn, president of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. About 45 percent of his society’s membership is international, and the number is growing. As with AAPG and the Society of Economic Geologists, this growth is following trends in the oil and gas industry. Their domestic memberships are declining while their international memberships are increasing.
“The growing international membership has countered the decrease in U.S. membership and accounted for the entire increase in overall membership,” Lynn says. “The international membership is expected to increase and probably exceed 50 percent in the period 2005 to 2010.”
For the American Geophysical Union (AGU), SSA and other societies serving researchers and academics, international scientists have always been part of the membership rolls. But as the numbers have steadily increased over the last few decades, those members are now getting more attention.
“We have stopped using American Geophysical Union everywhere we can,” says Fred Spilhaus, executive director of AGU. “We try to use AGU as our identity.” He adds that, at the request of some of its Australian members, AGU shrunk the phrase “American Geophysical Union” where it appears on the masthead of its weekly science newspaper, EOS: Transactions of the American Geophysical Union.
Does serving international members take away from U.S. members? No, Spilhaus says. “It adds to the U.S. members … because we’re an international community, you’ve got to do both. Everyone benefits by us serving an international membership.”
“It would appear that the increase of non-US address members is leveling off, but it would not surprise me someday if there are more non-US members than US members. There are many more mineralogists outside the US than within it. MSA’s purpose is to promote mineralogy and provide benefit to any mineralogist who joins.”
Alexander Speer, executive director of the Mineralogical Society of America
[The Society of Exploration
Geophysicists] membership is changing faster than the raw numbers indicate.
Overall SEG membership has increased approximately 10 percent per year
in recent years. However, during that same period, U.S. membership has
decreased. Thus, the growing international membership has countered the
decrease in U.S. membership and accounted for the entire increase in overall
membership. In response to this dramatic trend, the current SEG Executive
Committee has devoted considerable effort to find ways to service international
members. Possibilities currently under investigation are Web-based continuing
education courses and electronic subscription to journals. … The international
membership is expected to increase and probably exceed 50 percent in the
In 1981, AAPG had about 25,000 members in the United States and almost 4,000 outside of the United States. Since then, its domestic membership has dropped to about 20,500. But its overall membership remained almost the same because it gained almost 5,000 non-U.S. members. “Some of these are U.S. ex-pats who found they could maintain a job only by going overseas,” says AAPG President Robbie Gries. “Our domestic membership has decreased because our domestic industry has decreased.”
The Society of Economic Geologists serves a membership that is 55 percent
international, says Executive Director Brian Hoal. “It’s grown progressively
as the industry has declined in the United States in particular. What we
lose in North America, specifically in the United States, is replaced outside
of the countries. … The main challenge is how you can fund that growth.”
“We have stopped using American Geophysical Union everywhere we can. We try to use AGU as our identity. … We don’t have a monopoly on geophysicists in the United States.”
Fred Spilhaus, executive director of the
American Geophysical Union
worldwide. We need to find a way to facilitate the practical aspect and
the licensure of members who are doing geology around the world.”
Serving a large international membership isn’t easy. “Communication and currency challenges are two of our main problems,” Gries says. Spilhaus agrees. AGU has established regional advisory committees as a way to communicate with overseas members “to get to know them and find out what their needs are,” he says. AAPG has set up “team leaders” to communicate between members in each country and AAPG’s main office in Tulsa, Okla.
Societies serve their members by supplying information, usually through journals, and getting this information overseas can be costly. “It’s costing us virtually the value of the publication just to ship the darn thing to them,” Hoal says. Every SEG member receives the journal Economic Geology.
Putting journals online is a common solution, and many societies have already offered online subscriptions or plan to. But making people aware of those subscriptions is also a challenge. AAPG doesn’t need to change its services to serve international members as much as it needs to tell new members what those services are, Gries says.
Changes can bring new costs, too. Offering online subscriptions to American Mineralogist has brought archiving costs with it, says Alex Speer, executive director of the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA). MSA’s membership is 40 percent international.
AGU transfers the international postage cost directly to each subscriber. Even with this additional cost, Spilhaus says, since 1930 half the society’s income from journal subscriptions has come from non-U.S. subscribers. “We’ve always been dependent upon and serving a membership worldwide,” he adds.
cost of membership
The strength of the U.S. dollar can make membership dues impossible for some overseas scientists to pay. Often, a U.S. member will sponsor the membership of a scientist working in a country that has a weak economy.
“It’s expensive for people from developing countries to join the society,” Hoal says. He suspects that many economic geologists in South America, where mining is an increasingly important industry, have not joined SEG.
But, Hoal adds, despite this obstacle and despite the challenges the mining industry faces, two-thirds of the society’s applications for new membership are from outside the United States. One possible reason for this trend, Hoal says, is that mining is viewed more favorably in developing countries than it is in the United States. The society’s $85 annual dues are tough for scientists in those countries, but many of them see it as worth it for their professional development.
“It’s a double-barrel problem to supply the things that someone in South America needs, but they can’t pay for it,” says Speer of MSA. He adds that MSA would have an even harder time serving overseas mineralogists without the volunteer work of its members.
Why does MSA bear the expense? “Societies are not profit motivated.
… What becomes more important is disseminating the information more widely.
You say: How can we re-do the finances and information to reach that goal?”
The International Directory of Geoscience Organizations, published in 1994 by the American Geological Institute and U.S. Geological Survey, lists about 1,000 geoscience organizations for almost 200 countries in the world.
In June, the Geological Society of America (GSA) partnered with the Geological Society of London to host a science meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland. The meeting seved to strengthen GSA's partnership with the Geological Society, says Nancy Williams, director of GSA's member services. With 12 percent of its almost 16,000 members working internationally, GSA is not on a campaign to increase international membership, she says. "We have a plan to increase globalization. To do that we're partnering with geoscience organizations around the world."
AGU has been working with the European Geophysical Society and the European Union of Geosciences to host its spring meeting in France.
AAPG, which has hosted an international conference every year since 1991, also relies on partnerships to coordinate meetings. The strategy is to hold meetings where the clusters of AAPG members reside, says Donna Riggs, director of AAPG’s member services. The association held its international meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last year, and received significant help from geology groups based in Jakarta. “It was one of the easiest meetings we’ve ever done,” Riggs says.
Partnerships can also help in gaining international members. For potential AGU members in China, for example, the cost of exchanging the Chinese yuan into the U.S. dollar and then sending a membership payment to the United States can almost equal the membership cost itself, Spilhaus says. Instead, a potential member can send the dues to the Chinese Geophysical Society, which collects several payments together and sends them to AGU. In return, AGU distributes the Chinese society’s journal electronically.
The American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG), on the other
hand, pursues partnerships for a different goal. The 38-year-old society
was founded to certify the credentials of practicing geologists. Its non-U.S.
membership is about 10 percent, and the society has no plans to try and
increase that representation. The strength of AIPG is its U.S. sections,
says Executive Director Bill Siok, The sections work as policy advisors
to local governments. AIPG seeks to partner with international societies
who can similarly serve as overseas resources. “Someone in England is going
to be better equipped with the regulatory issues there than if we came
in from the United States,” Siok says.
“It’s just a reflection of the growing need to internationally communicate among paleontologists. Many Americans work overseas. There are good collegial partnerships. The international flavor is growing because more people are motivated to form partnerships for international communication and research.”
Richard Stucky, president of the
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology
“The big supporters
of science related to mineral exploration and mineral deposits have all
cut back dramatically. Who’s left to see that the science goes on? … The
real opportunity is in offering members some way of keeping the scientists
in contact with the information they need.”
“In the scientific
community it’s dangerous to be too narrowly focused on what’s going on
just in the United States. … There are lessons to be learned from overseas
that can be applied here — and the othe way around."
Taking the partnership tool a step further, AIPG is working with geoscience
organizations in other countries to establish what Siok calls reciprocity
agreements: “It’s quid pro quo,” he says. The societies agree that the
certification standards of one are equal to the standards of the other.
Under an agreement AIPG has with the Institute of Geologists of Ireland,
a geologist trained in Ireland can work in the United States under AIPG
certification. And a U.S.-trained geologist can work in Ireland with the
Irish institute’s approval. “Geologists work worldwide. We need to find
a way to facilitate the practical aspect and the licensure of members who
are doing geology around the world,” Siok says.
"Our domestic membership has decreased because our domestic industry has decreased. We lost 700,000 jobs in the '80s in our industry, including many excellent geologists who could not find employment in this country. Though we have a healthier working environment now, our industry is a commodity-based industry and subject to the ups and downs of prices. This is a difficult career for people to adjust to ... and it take a special passion both for geology, for exploration and a tolerance for risk to endure this career. … Also, our membership has changed in demographics. We have a bimodal age distribution, with older members who will be retiring in the next 10 years, then a large gap and a younger set that has been coming in since the ‘80s downturn. There could be an acute shortage of geologists in the next 5 to 10 years.”
Robbie Gries, president of the
American Association of Petroleum Geologists
One of the first missions Richard Stucky pursued when he became president of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP) last year was to encourage the society’s 25 committees to select international scientists. He counts 17 non-U.S. scientists on the society’s committees, along with a committee chair from England and a chair from New Zealand. Next year’s SVP president, Hans-Dieter Sues, works at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. SVP is not the only society seeking international leaders.
The current president of SSA, Gail M. Atkinson, teaches at Carleton University in Canada. “It shows that our membership is focused more internationally,” Newman says of the change. “There’s been a sense that this has primarily been a U.S. organization. But that is changing. The world is shrinking.”
other way around
The U.S. chapter of IAH has about 300 members and is much smaller than IAH chapters in other countries, says Lenny Konikow, president of the U.S. chapter. “In other countries, this is one of the few organizations professionals can join, so proportionally the number is much higher in other countries.
“I think the population of hydrogeologists in the United States is large enough that we should have more members,” Konikow adds. Competition with larger, U.S.-based hydrogeology societies, such as the National Ground Water Association, could be one obstacle to increasing the chapter’s membership. But Konikow, who has spent much of his career working overseas, says the membership should be larger, because IAH offers a connection with the international hydrogeology community. “In the scientific community, it’s dangerous to be narrowly focused on what’s going on just in the United States,” he says. “There are lessons to be learned from overseas that can be applied here, and the other way around.”