It’s autumn already. I personally am always rather shocked at how quickly the summer goes by, only to be followed by an absolutely manic period in September and early October as we resume our business as usual. Most of us either try to get ourselves mentally and physically prepared for the next academic semester, with the challenge and promise of many new students, or get swept up in the increased tempo in the industrial sector as the summer downtime gives way to the relentless rush towards the end of the (fiscal) year. Despite the haste, we can still take a moment to look back, and for me that means briefly revisiting the ESB annual meeting in Sevilla.
First, my compliments on behalf of the society to Javier Martinez Reina and his whole team, who did an excellent job of planning the meeting, organising the smallest details and ensuring that everything ran smoothly on-site. When it was first proposed several years ago to move from a bi-annual to an annual meeting, there were some doubts and concerns but, since the change, we have experienced only high-quality meetings. I think now we can finally lay to rest any doubts and acknowledge that our society is able to provide a scientifically stimulating annual meeting, with a strong attendance of enthusiastic members who provide an exceptional environment for open exchange. I have looked forward to each ESB meeting since my first in Toulouse; there is something very unique about the flowing transition of discussions from the lecture rooms to the cafés on the warm summer evenings. The ESB is an extremely inclusive and barrier-free society. Over two decades, from being a somewhat insecure PhD candidate giving my first talk, to someone on the brink of being called old (and perhaps – hopefully – wise), I have always felt comfortable in our society of true equals.
I was encouraged that many of you sacrificed a lunch hour, despite the beautiful summer weather, to attend the breakout session on the future of scientific publication. We heard the viewpoint of three publishing houses on open access and its potential impact on dissemination. This was followed by a lively discussion, and also some feedback afterwards at the coffee breaks or via e-mail. Many in the session reiterated the pressures that we are all facing, and which are driving the publication process down a specific path. We are constrained by employer-mandated metrics related to impact factor, citations and quantified productivity. Both the journals and our community are pushing towards “bite-sized” articles, precluding often an in-depth analysis, however with the potential benefit of being concise and digestible. It was interesting to see the discussion progress beyond any frustrations with the current system and to hear ideas for the future. In no particular order, I offer some of the thoughts expressed during the session: We need to find a better measure of impact, whether it is the number of citations, industrial or financial outcomes, patents, public outreach and societal resonance, or demonstrated application of research results. We need to ensure that biomechanics research remains curiosity-driven and that we respect and encourage ideas that take off on a tangent. Our research should be disseminated rapidly, without restriction and without bias, possibly via social media sites. Scientific dissemination should be dynamic, not static; a continuous debate, improvement and refinement of knowledge should be enabled through open source / Wiki-based communication. The efforts and activities of reviewers should be better recognised, and standards of objective and fair reviewing should be maintained. The ESB, as a society, should create a repository of research articles, results and data and push for self-archiving of research.
These are all a diverse series of opinions and challenges, and I look forward to working further with the results of this initial broad discussion. I started the discussion with the goal to solicit ESB members’ opinions on the role of our society in scientific dissemination. The challenge, as always, is to define the outcome in an ever more precise fashion. This is very much in line with the classic Delphi Method for forecasting, an interactive process with a panel of experts. You, the ESB members, are our experts. It is now my duty to deliver to you the second iteration of the discussion, in the form of a concise, specific and focused survey in the next months.
I was flipping through past ESB newsletters and came across the 2003 message from Patrick Prendergast, “Biomechanics – is the paradigm changing?”. At the time, he identified the emerging shift from (solely) classical continuum mechanics towards the inclusion of molecular biology in our ever-broadening field of biomechanics. He proposed that the transition to this new paradigm “will require advances in mechanics that allows biomechanics to be applied closer to the cellular and molecular level”. As a mechanical engineer raised on nuts and bolts, even spending the first few years of my professional life in heavy industry, I most certainly thought that my biggest challenge in biomechanics would be related to stress tensors. Patrick Prendergast’s words only hinted at the profound changes in the work of our society’s members, and the massive expansion of what is considered biomechanics, in the 14 years since that newsletter. Even more remarkable is the ability of you to all link your work together, across scales and across domains. Patrick closed with “It is a fascinating challenge”. Indeed, and we have discussed in the ESB Council that we have now reached a level of sophistication in many of these interdisciplinary research efforts where we can perhaps offer back to the society a unique challenge that will stimulate discussion, good-spirited competition and drive our knowledge forward. More to come in the spring…
Finally, you have received the call for abstracts for the upcoming 8th World Congress of Biomechanics in Dublin next July. The organisers and the track chairs are hard at work putting together session topics in which everyone can find a place for their research. Our past experience with the WCB has shown that we can enjoy the best of our own ESB meetings within the broader global focus of the world congress. I had the pleasure of recently attending a conference at the Convention Centre Dublin, and my first positive impressions from our tour as the ESB Council a year ago were verified. The venue is excellent for presenting, for meeting colleagues and for discussing. And of course, Dublin is a special place to be in the summer. Please keep the December 19th deadline for abstract submission in mind; the autumn goes by just as quickly as the summer!