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ESA’s Sixth Decade (1966–1975): Start of ESA’s Second Half-Century

By Kiyoko Miyanishi
Reprinted from the ESA Bulletin, Vol 96(4), October 2015, pp 513-518.
A caveat on this series of Bulletin articles on ESA by decade: this is not any kind of official history of ESA but simply one person’s selective summary of interesting information gleaned from reading past ESA Bulletins.
During the sixth decade, ESA membership rose from ~3000 to >5000; the 1974 Directory listed 5148 members. Each issue of the Bulletin continued to list the names of new members with an average 585 new members listed each year (this number does not indicate rate of growth in membership since the annual numbers of lapsed members are unavailable). Eight living Past Presidents joined during this decade: James Brown (1966), Alan Covich (1970), David Inouye and Steward Pickett (1972), Simon Levin and Norm Christensen (1973), Terry Chapin (1974), and Stephen Carpenter (1975). Women accounted for approximately only 12% of these new members, no noticeable progress from the 11% representation in ESA’s 1923 membership directory. However, the first use of the prefix “Ms” for female members appeared in 1973, a change from the early directories in which a number of female members used their husbands’ names (e.g. Mrs. John Smith). Annual dues doubled from $12 to $25 over this decade. Mid-decade, student membership was introduced at a slightly reduced rate. From ESA’s beginning, institutions/organizations had been allowed individual memberships, which included a subscription to Ecology. A change to the constitution in 1967 made this no longer possible and institutional memberships were transferred to institutional journal subscriptions.
Mercer Award winners this decade included C. S. Holling (1966), Robert Whittaker and William Niering (1968), Dan Simberloff and E. O. Wilson (1971), among others. Eminent Ecologists recognized during this decade included Victor Shelford (1968; ESA’s first president who passed away in December 1968), Stanley Cain (1969), Murray Buell (1970), Thomas Park (1971), Ruth Patrick (1972), Robert MacArthur (1973), Eugene Odum (1974), and Cornelius Muller (1975). The first Distinguished Service Citation was awarded in 1975 to Jack Major who had contributed 89 reviews of 117 books.
ESA had hoped that the section mechanism would help stem the loss of members in the face of increasing formation of separate societies and journals. By 1966, there were three sections: Western, Animal Behavior, and Aquatic Ecology; two new sections, Physiological Ecology and Applied Ecology, were added in 1970 and 1971, respectively. The Western Section was an historical anomaly in being regionally rather than discipline based; it had been holding annual June meetings with the Pacific and Southwestern divisions of AAAS as well as other societies since at least 1919. However, in 1974 the chair of the Western Section asked for it to be disbanded due to lack of interest. During this decade, with ESA’s encouragement, sections actively contributed to annual meetings by organizing symposia and contributed oral sessions in their fields. In fact, sessions organized by one section (Animal Behavior) dominated ESA’s programs at both AIBS and AAAS meetings, and the Bulletin directed that abstracts in animal behavior be sent to the section and not to the Program Chair for allocation into sessions. The Animal Behavior Section was also instrumental in the formation of the new Animal Behavior Society, whose constitution and by-laws were approved by ESA Council and whose officers were the same as those for the section. The ESA constitution was also changed to allow establishment of chapters on a regional basis; the first chapter, Oregon State, was approved in 1968 and the Minnesota chapter in 1971. One rationale for chapters appeared to be to allow/encourage small regional meetings by ESA members.
ESA continued to grow and mature as a professional society and it focused some of its concerns on trying to find ways of dealing with this growth. In 1966, ESA Council authorized the Executive “to explore means and possibilities for providing the society some form of professional management.” As a result, they approached Q Corporation (who was managing the American Society of Animal Science) about their services and costs but nothing more was reported on this matter. There were also increasing calls in the Bulletin for ESA to do more than just publish journals and organize meetings. For example, President Eugene Odum noted in 1966 that the society should be able to do more to provide “a useful synthesis of its field that could provide at least advisory guidelines to the intelligent application of science” to deal with environmental problems. The following year, the standing Study Committee repeated that “ecology must develop as an organized profession which can provide advice to members of the government who are in policy-making positions in order to insure that the ecological viewpoint be adequately considered.” A motion was put forward at the 1967 annual business meeting that ESA explore ways to maintain a full-time executive officer and staff. However, members were then informed that an executive office with staff in Washington would cost at least $50,000 per year, an amount that seemed unsupportable by ESA. Also, at the time, AIBS was developing plans to establish a headquarters and ESA indicated its interest in acquiring space in their building.
By 1969 it was recognized that the society had grown too large to continue to handle its affairs and functions as in the past with its volunteer management structure and that what was required was an overhaul of ESA’s constitution, its publishing agreements, and its management structure. The minutes of an Executive meeting that year proposed a step-wise move to a national office and more efficient use of volunteers by providing the Business Manager with a full-time paid administrative assistant, negotiating a new contract with Duke University Press to manage its journal publications, and shifting most routine activities for the journals to either the administrative assistant or the staff of the journals’ publisher. A subsequent Council meeting directed the Finance Committee to prepare a realistic 5-year budget to include funding for establishment of a permanent ESA headquarters with professional staff and operated on an entirely Society-sustained basis. In 1972, outgoing President Stanley Auerbach discussed the possibility of a future ESA headquarters but indicated that the society was only a third of the way toward fiscal requirements to support such an office. In the June 1973 Bulletin, the Treasurer’s report presented the budgets from two societies of similar size for rent and operation of a central headquarters in Washington with an Executive Secretary, secretary, clerks, etc. The report stated that ESA would need a budget of $75,000-$100,000 to do likewise. Towards the end of the decade, ESA Council was seriously considering the possibility of establishing a national office in the general vicinity of Washington and appointing/hiring an Executive Secretary, but by the end of 1975, the headquarters office remained unrealized.
The Publications Committee noted in 1966 that a third of Ecology‘s contents were from nonmembers and that ESA was losing money by not imposing page charges. ESA Council proposed a system of page charges whereby members lacking funds could apply to ESA for a grant to cover such costs. The Publications Committee subsequently reported mixed opinions on this matter, and felt that page charges should not be a general practice. However, finally in 1972, a publication charge of $20/page was instituted (less than half the actual cost and included 100 free reprints); older members of ESA can recall the days of mailing reprint request cards and even thank you cards upon receipt of reprints from authors. The Editors of Ecology and Ecological Monographs recommended in 1969 that the Society move toward centralization of management of its publications and that they hire a full-time Managing Editor to operate both journals. The following year the Editors urged immediate action on this and it was approved by Council in 1971. Alton Lindsey was hired as ESA’s first Managing Editor in 1972 and was replaced by Crawford Jackson in 1974. Minutes of the 1972 Council meeting noted that the Board of Editors needed Associate Editors and that Bulletin Editor William Niering was in serious need of editorial assistance.
Although the ESA Secretary proposed changing the Bulletin publication dates from Mar/Jun/Sep/Dec to our current Jan/Apr/Jul/Oct back in 1966, the dates remained unchanged by the end of the decade. Some changes within ESA seem to take a very long time to implement. However, other changes for the Bulletin were afoot. From its inception the Bulletin had been the complete responsibility of the ESA Secretary. In 1969, ESA Executive proposed: expanding the Secretary’s activities in coordinating the use of committees and sections, relieving him of much routine work with more help; expanding the Bulletin to six issues; and increasing its size to a full-size journal dealing with more general, social-related, and other aspects of ecology rather than strictly technical matters such as society business reports, meeting programs and abstracts, and various announcements. ESA Council also agreed that the Bulletin would require a separate editor to carry out its expanded functions. The last Secretary to be responsible for the Bulletin was William Niering. In 1971, a constitutional amendment separated the positions of Secretary and Editor of the Bulletin, Niering ended his term as Secretary, and became the first official Bulletin Editor, remaining as such until 1975 when he was replaced by William Hazen. While expansion to six issues never occurred, the Bulletin did expand its content, introducing a number of new features in 1970 such as “Currently in Print,” “Of Ecological Interest,” and “Eco-forum,” the latter “designed to give readers of Ecology and Ecological Monographs an opportunity to react to ideas expressed in specific articles” as well to provide views on current environmental or ecological issues. An early contribution to Eco-forum by Jerry Wilhm (51(3)) raised once again the issue of ESA’s involvement in national, state, and local environmental problems, calling for ESA “to take an active part in the preservation of our ecosystems” and to appoint a committee to construct a target list of companies and government agencies to whom members could write letters to influence them on various environmental problems. We recall this issue from the 1940’s that resulted in ESA’s by-law on limitations prohibiting such lobbying by official groups within ESA and the birth of The Nature Conservancy (see “ESA’s Fourth Decade” installment). Another early Eco-forum contribution by Joel O’Conner (52(1)) gave reasons why policy makers relied more heavily on environmental engineers rather than ecologists for advice and proposed that ESA attempt to recruit environmental engineers as members. The Bulletin also printed the classic paper “In Defense of Mud” in 1970 by then President Edward S. Deevey, Jr., which was a statement to the National Water Commission 6 November 1969 making the case for the important and key role of reducing bacteria in wetlands.
One major concern/issue that arose within ESA mid-decade involved the linked issues of professionalism and ethics. In 1971, a Bulletin article by John Price (52(3)) voiced the need for a code of ethics and a means of certification/licensing standards. In the same issue, the Secretary reported a recommendation arising from the 1971 annual meeting for establishment of an ad hoc committee to explore the issue of certification. The next issue (52(4)) included an invitation by the Committee on Ethics in Ecology for comments by members on the need for a code of ethics and advantages of a certification program for consulting ecologists. The following year, Frank Egler wrote in the 53(2) Bulletin that the term ecologist was being used by environmentalists, engineers, and others and he argued that what was needed was “an impartial, not profit-oriented, not growth-oriented, fount of unprejudiced knowledge, teaching and research.” He thus called for ESA to establish “a Code of Ethics and a Code of Certification for those members who wish to communicate ecological knowledge to the rest of human society.” In the same issue, Edward Deevey objected to both on the grounds that unless the code was written into law in 50 states, accusations of guilt in violating it would simply be rhetoric. This view was seconded by Bruce Welsh (53(4)) who thought it was “in principle, elitist and arrogant in its implied exclusion of other professions” and ESA had “more appropriate and important things to do than to attempt to police.” This discussion on the criteria for admissibility in the profession of ecology continued in the Bulletin with Rainer Brocke’s essay on public misuse and misunderstanding of the term “ecology” (54(2)), Carl Jordan’s explanation of what distinguishes ecologists from landscape architects, environmental engineers, etc. (56(2)), and a contrarian letter by Henry Horn (56(3)) describing how he and seven other established and well-known ESA members have contravened the Code of Ethics (the implication being both the irrelevance of the Code and the inability for enforcement). In his first message as incoming ESA President in 1972 (53(3)), Robert Platt had noted general agreement on “adoption of a responsible, objective, and clearly voluntary set of ethics,” and in his retiring Presidential Address (55(4)), he continued to argue for a volunteer code of ethics and against certification.
While this controversy raged among members, ESA continued working on the issue. In 1972, the Ethics Committee presented a report, “A Code of Ethics and Identification of Ecologists and Certification of Professional Ecologists,” and Council reaffirmed its interim decision that 50 ecologists should be identified to use the title “Certified Professional Ecologist” on the premise that such usage would preempt the title for use by ESA if needed in the future (53(3)). Robert Platt’s presidential report (54(1)) on “The Issue of Professionalism” spoke of the need for ESA to make some decisions on this issue at its June 1973 annual meeting. Thus, an open seminar with a presentation by the Ethics Committee was scheduled and was to be followed by an open discussion as well as consideration at both the Council business meetings and the annual business meeting. The 54(2) Bulletin published a commissioned report by Nellie Stark on “The Profession of Ecology” in support of a code of ethics and certification. However, the 54(4) issue reported that Council had agreed the problem of certification was difficult to resolve, the development of criteria for certification should be explored further, and no further action was possible at this time. They charged the Ad Hoc Committee on Professionalism with providing a definition of ecology, standards by which professional ecologists might be judged, a concept of professionalism, and criteria for certification. Although the minutes of the June 1974 annual business meeting reported in the 55(3) Bulletin indicated that the issue of professionalism was still not resolved and it remained a topic for consideration, the membership was sent a proposed code of ethics for a vote, and the ESA’s sixth decade ended with the approval of the Code of Ethics in 1975 by a margin of 9:1 (56(3)). However, the issue of certification remained unresolved. The final Bulletin of this decade (56(4)) included “A Plan for Certifying Professional Ecologists” by John Ghiselin that argued the need for certification to indicate a certain required level of expertise among applied ecologists and recommended creation of a National Board of Examiners in Applied Ecology to be charged with establishing and administering criteria for certification to help identify competent practitioners.
Through 1968, ESA elections had consisted of the Nominating Committee presenting a slate of one candidate per position, with a unanimous vote cast at the annual business meeting to accept the slate. In 1969, the Council directed the Nominating Committee to provide a slate that included at least two candidates for each major office (President, Vice-President, Secretary, Treasurer, Business Manager, and Council Members at Large). Also, a constitutional amendment was made to allow elections by mail ballot. This change resulted in a significant increase (2% to 35%) in members voting, since usually less than 100 members attended the annual business meeting at which elections had been held previously.
At the 1967 annual meeting, the ESA secretary complained of the lack of an active Public Affairs Committee, leaving him to deal with requests and activities in this area. In response, Council reactivated the committee, electing Frank Blair as chair and allocating the committee a budget of $3000. The following year, the Public Affairs Committee reported a very successful year in establishing lines of communication with key people in the legislative and executive branches of government and others in Washington, pushing for appointment of an ecologist on the President’s Science Advisory Committee, and designating competent witnesses for ecology hearings under the House Subcommittee on Science.
In 1966, a subcommittee of the Ecology Study Standing Committee was appointed to consider the feasibility of a National Institute of Ecology. They received an NSF grant in 1968 to develop a preliminary proposal, a report was submitted in 1970 indicating the need for such an institute, and in 1971 the Inter-American Institute of Ecology (the name National Institute of Ecology was reportedly pre-empted by another organization) was incorporated and began looking to “recruit core personnel, develop research and administrative plans, and obtain funds.” Shortly afterwards, the name was again changed to The Institute of Ecology (TIE) and its first director, Arthur Hasler, was appointed.
By the end of the fifth decade, Program Chair George Woodwell had already expressed alarm at the number of abstracts submitted, reportedly rising each year at an almost exponential rate and causing severe stress to the Program Committee. The increase continued through the sixth decade: while the 1969 annual meeting had only 12 oral sessions, the 1975 meeting had 48 oral (symposia and contributed) and 3 poster sessions. Of course, the size of the meeting program varied from year to year between these extremes, with larger meetings in western sites (e.g. Fort Collins, Corvallis) and smaller meetings in the east (e.g. Burlington, Vermont and Amherst), a pattern that continues today. As currently, the meetings were in general spread over 4–5 days, not including 1 or 2 days for field trips. Woodwell had proposed that ESA hold its annual meetings separately, while continuing to contribute sessions for AIBS and AAAS meetings. Ignoring this proposal, ESA continued through the sixth decade to hold its annual meetings with AIBS during spring/summer on university campuses as well as to contribute sessions for the AAAS meetings in December and the Western Section meetings in June. It also printed in the Bulletin the programs and abstracts for all ESA-organized sessions at these three meetings. The practice of AIBS irregularly switching meeting dates between early and late summer was criticized by ESA members, who indicated they wanted a fixed date, preferably in early August, which is our current meeting date. Through most of this decade, presentations at meetings were generally all in oral sessions. By 1974, the Program Chair, describing an article in Science on the concept of posters, began pushing posters as an alternative to talks, and the call for abstracts for the 1975 annual meeting asked abstract submitters to indicate if they were interested, indifferent, or opposed to being considered for a poster presentation. The resulting program had 31 contributed oral and 3 poster sessions.
In 1968, a constitutional amendment made the Program Chair a member of ESA Council. By the end of this decade (1975), the first female Program Chair, Frieda Taub, was appointed for a three-year term. The Program Committee’s annual report in 1967 proposed changing the concept of symposia from presentation of new data to a review and summarization session. This idea has been repeated in current calls for symposium proposals to distinguish them from organized oral sessions. Some complaints/concerns about the meetings voiced during the sixth decade still resonate today among some members, such as the mediocre quality of many talks and the call for greater selectivity in abstract acceptance. In fact, at the 1968 Council meeting, the Program Chair was reported saying: “In all honesty, many of the papers given at the annual meeting are mediocre at best.” In response, Council authorized the Program Committee “to review and reject those papers not deemed worthy of presentation” and charged the committee with “establishing criteria for selection or rejection of abstracts.” The problem of no-shows was recognized by the Program Committee as quite serious and a penalty of not allowing a person guilty of this offence to present a paper within the society for at least one year was imposed. The committee also had to deal with too many abstract submissions that did not conform to instructions; it seems that in 1969 only two individuals had submitted abstracts that conformed to the instructions for one of the meetings. Previously, in 1967 the Program Chair also had expressed his view that the publication of abstracts in the Bulletin was of limited usefulness while incurring expense and additional work to both ESA Secretary and the Program Chair. A motion was made to discontinue such publication in the Bulletin, discussed, and tabled; thus, publication of abstracts in the Bulletin continued.
Some interesting signs of this decade include the following:

  • In 1966, the Bulletin posted a notice that NASA was requesting help from the National Academy of Sciences in recruiting and nominating scientists for training as astronauts to explore near space and the moon. Qualified scientists with a doctorate were encouraged to apply. The Apollo program had set a manned lunar landing by 1970 as its objective (they beat their schedule by a year).
  • The 1966 Bulletin also reported on the increasing bans against the use of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons based on accumulating scientific evidence of the impacts of these chemicals on birds, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater fish, butterflies, and other useful insects.
  • The 1967 Bulletin contained a report on an Annual Conference of Biological Editors in which concern was expressed about the impact of Xerox; photocopying was impacting journals’ sales of reprints and back numbers, a not insignificant source of income for journals and societies. However, there was considerable disagreement on the seriousness of the concern as some suggested that some photocopying actually stimulated journal circulation. There was also a suggestion that library copying services set a bad moral example for students.
  • Citing the replacement in many countries of the old English units by the more universal metric units and indicating it would serve the best interests of the American public to make this change, ESA passed a resolution in 1971, approving in principle the general adoption of the International System of Units (SI) as described in the ASTM Standard Metric Practice Guide and encouraging its use (52(2)). At the same time the National Bureau of Standards 1971 presented a report to Congress entitled “A Metric America—A Decision Whose Time Has Come.” This led to President Gerald Ford signing the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 declaring a national policy of coordinating increasing use of the metric system and establishing a U.S. Metric Board. However, outside of the scientific and manufacturing/engineering community, the United States has continued to cling to the old English (Imperial) units (somewhat ironic given that Americans had revolted against and declared their independence from the British Empire almost two centuries earlier).