The Growing Importance of Scholarly Societies

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

(Or, the need of scholarly societies to become more important)

The main purpose of scholarly societies is to encourage the creation and dissemination of new knowledge within their discipline by publishing scholarly books and journals. These societies has been a major facilitator in scholarly communication, and this promotion and production of information has been the primary work of the over 4,100 societies in existence.

Steven Wiley, lead biologist for the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, argued that scholarly societies are losing their relevance to younger scientists in a time when memberships are either stagnant or on the decline:

Currently, many different fields in biology are undergoing a revolution in approach, driven by genomics, computationally intensive data analysis, and mathematical modeling. Once again, these new trends are being driven mostly by young scientists, who likely see the potential to make new discoveries and avoid competing with their elders… If scientific societies truly want to promote their field of research and the careers of their members, then they should embrace new perspectives and approaches. If a society were helping me deal with the rapidly increasing rate of innovation and discovery in biology, then it would give me a great reason to bother remaining a member.

Although Wiley’s example primarily focuses on biological societies, like the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the need for scholarly societies to diversify their approaches to researching their respective fields and to incorporate inter-disciplinary expertise is applicable to all scholarly societies. If societies want to recruit the best scientists and publish the best work, outreach to junior scientists has to be relevant to their research and how its being conducted.

Scholarly Communication is More than the Journals

Looking for a way to liven up scholarly meetings to encourage a higher variety of communication and presentation methods? Though not specific to the sciences and engineering, Dan Cohen of the Digital Humanities Blog and his readers offer several great suggestions!

Another page for great suggestions is George Williams’ column, If I Had My Own Scholarly Society, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Williams highlights the online presence of scholarly societies, how this presence can be more user-friendly and more in-sync with its membership.

John Dupuis also piggybacks off of Wiley’s arguments in this post, and posits several questions that scholarly societies and scientists can ask. Dupuis expresses that societies still serve a valid purpose, i.e the journals and the conferences. But that societies also need massive improvement in membership outreach and in keeping scholarly publishing up to date with the Internet and online communities. Dupuis also further demonstrates where scholarly societies are now and where they need to be in a question and answer session with Kevin Marvel, the Executive Director of the American Astronomical Society.

Looking for a scholarly society? Try some of these sites!


Scholarly Societies Project

Directory of Hi-Tech Organizations in the Engineering and Medical/Life Sciences


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