Once upon a time, a handful of North American physiologists decided to create a social scientific network and called it the American Physiological Society (APS). Fast forward 125 years to the present and we find that APS has grown to ∼10,500 members, over a dozen research and review journals, a yearly budget of nearly $18 million, and an annual meeting that attracts over 10,000 scientists worldwide. “We know that,” you say. “What's your point?”
The point is that APS has become much more than the American Physiological Society. About 30% of APS members come from outside the United States. Some 20% of the Experimental Biology meeting's physiologically oriented attendees are from outside North America. Over 50% of the senior authors of all of the papers we publish each year are from outside North America. The trend is upward, and the number of non-North Americans contributing science to APS is slowly increasing. Moreover, they are doing so on their own initiative.
APS has evolved to become international. The Council (which now includes a member from Australia), as well as the APS's publications and meetings departments and related committees, have embraced this evolutionary change. We have a named “International Committee” dedicated to the interests of our non-North American contributors. We have a large number of travel awards just for our young international members wanting to come to Experimental Biology. We have strong interactions with our UK counterpart, The Physiological Society (TPS), and have recently initiated annual leadership retreat meetings with them (incidentally, with APS offering this journal to TPS members). With TPS, we plan for many joint efforts because we share many philosophies and challenges. We have developed a special affinity with our Latin American colleagues as well and are in the initial phases of planning the first Pan-American Physiological Congress to be held in Brazil in 2014. It is fair to say that, in sum, our international efforts have increased significantly, especially in recent years. Electronic communication and rapid global travel clearly have enabled much of this, and the point is that it is becoming less and less important where your feet are planted and more important on what science your research is focused so that a colleague somewhere else–wherever that may be–might interact with you.
APS does strategic planning. We do it every 5 years and just went through it in early 2011. We re-fashioned our mission statement, and it says, among other things, “promote the discipline of physiology.” It does not say in which country. We identified five strategic priorities, paraphrased succinctly as: 1) promote the discipline; 2) meet the needs of all our membership subgroups; 3) strengthen publications in a rapidly changing publishing world; 4) enhance scientific interactions; and 5) promote physiology in life/health science education. Nowhere is it said that these should be restricted to North America; every one of these five priorities has an international component or consequence.
But you will say, “Isn't IUPS supposed to do the international stuff? Why is APS stepping onto IUPS turf?” We would like to think we are not at all usurping what some might think of as IUPS roles. International efforts across learned societies come in many flavors, and no one organization can, or probably should, try to offer them all. It is not just a matter of sharing the load. Rather, some efforts are better done by IUPS, others better done by APS, TPS, and other large “national” societies, whereas many others will be done best by smaller regional and individual groups and societies. Others yet again would be optimized by IUPS-APS collaboration. Here are some concrete examples.
A recent multinational physiological congress was held in Beijing in 2008. Hosted by Chinese physiologists, it was planned, executed, and funded by all five of the contributing societies working together. IUPS has neither the staff nor the budget to do this. This effort strengthened ties to an emerging scientific superpower that until recently was hard for Westerners to interact with.
A consortium of physiological societies from Canada to Chile has started planning a Pan-American congress as mentioned above. This promotes a natural relationship arising from geographical origins but for only a part of the world. IUPS again is not the most efficient or appropriate group to get the PanAm meeting off the ground; better for the organizing societies themselves to do this.
IUPS has its major role in headlining the quadrennial IUPS international congress that specifically reaches out to all corners of the globe and works especially hard to bring scientists from developing countries to a common location for collaboration and knowledge exchange. As a truly global event, this is clearly what IUPS should be sponsoring. If APS tried to muscle in on a global scale, it may be taken as an act of invasion, no matter how altruistic the motivation, and this would likely be quite counterproductive. That said, all of the more than 50 IUPS-supporting societies can play a critical role in the IUPS meeting by proposing programming elements and providing their own travel support programs to complement those of IUPS. In addition, every IUPS congress is organized and supported by both IUPS and the physiological society of the host country. This is an example of good IUPS-national society collaboration.
APS would like to partner more with IUPS, but we are hampered by the likely perception of trying to colonize the physiologically less well developed nations. We simply cannot go into any country and say, “Here we are. We will teach you how to do physiology.” We suggest that IUPS mount a systematic, ongoing, substantial, and inspirational international program that the more developed physiological societies would support with faculty and other resources. Here, IUPS would “broker” partnerships between APS (and/or TPS, etc.) and regions or countries expressing specific physiological needs for which the more developed societies would be a good match. In that way, APS would go only where, when, and how it was needed, and the programs would be chosen by the participating countries according to their own needs, not by needs perceived by APS.
So APS is not just bound by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans any more, and we are firmly committed to international outreach. We think we have a strong and appropriate role in global science, and we stand ready to partner with IUPS, whom we hope will reciprocate.
- ©2011 Int. Union Physiol. Sci./Am. Physiol. Soc.