In a previous blog I wrote “When you get the chance publicize the importance and contributions of biomechanics. Let us all work to raise our profile.” In the following I am going to emphasize this with respect to university curricula. Over the last year on a number of occasions I have been part of discussions about the role of biomechanics in university curricula. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, and it is likely that their curricula have evolved significantly since then. Evolution of an area of study is inevitable and therefore so is curricular reform, consequently promoting the role of biomechanics in various curricula is an important issue for all biomechanists. The role of biomechanics is an important consideration in these curricula. Not all of our membership teaches at an institution of higher learning, but we all received our training from such institutions and typically recruit new employees with training from them so we are all invested in ensuring the (prominent) role of biomechanics in curricula.
Talking to fellow biomechanists at conferences I hear a litany of observations about university life. There are increased undergraduate student numbers, less well prepared students entering programs, reduced resources, increased administrative burdens, and unwarranted curricula reforms. It is remarkable that I hear this from biomechanists from all around the world. Cynics would say that academics have always made these complaints; but when, for example, undergraduate numbers triple in a ten year period without a commensurate increase in faculty numbers, at least some of these complaints are not illusionary. Many of the (perceived) problems are beyond our control, but here I would like to encourage our membership to examine and promote biomechanics in their respective curricula.
Biomechanics research and education took a significant boost in the US from the investments of The Whitaker Foundation. That foundation was founded and funded by Uncas Whitaker (1900-1975). Unlike many foundations they planned to spend all of their funds, US$700 million, by July, 2006. The foundation helped create 30 biomedical engineering programs throughout the US, and helped finance 13 new buildings. The legacy of the foundation persists, but of course they will make no new investments. These programs help promote biomechanics, but there is still work we can all do as advocates for biomechanics.
With the explosion of knowledge there are often battles fought for what topics are covered in the curricula. Twenty years ago consideration of genetic factors was a minor part of many curricula now it competes for a significant portion of curricula time. Using the number of students enrolled in degrees of sport and exercise sciences as a metric, in many countries such programs are the most popular degrees. I have been consulted by undergraduate programs in sport and exercise science where the plan was to have no compulsory biomechanics class(es). While acquiescing to such curriculum reforms might reduce an ISB member’s class size, it does not help promote the importance of biomechanics. As biomechanists we can make a strong case that biomechanics should be a cornerstone of such curricula – in fact we should make that case.
In the US the amount of biomechanics in the curricula of trainee orthopedic surgeons has shown a significant decrease over the last two decades; I suspect the same is true elsewhere. Once again biomechanics is competing with other important areas. A good working knowledge of biomechanics seems essential for an orthopedic surgeon, but this cannot be covered in the few lectures remaining in many programs. There are many important new advances in biomechanics which relate to orthopedics which would also be valuable in such curricula.
As biomechanists once again I am asking you to be advocates for biomechanics, this time in any curricula you can influence. I would hope there is uniformity amongst the membership of the ISB of the value of biomechanics in various curricula; so let us collectively be strong advocates for biomechanics.
Penn State University
As this issue of ISB Now was in preparation one of our long-time members, Arthur Chapman, passed away. Arthur was active at ISB Congresses through to the 1990’s, including presenting a keynote at one congress. My memories of Arthur go back to a visit he made to his alma mater, Loughborough University, when I was a student there. At the time he was very enthusiastic, and seemed equally keen to talk about his research or to find suitable opponents to challenge at squash. A fixture at ISB Congresses for many years, he will be missed. More details about Arthur can be found elsewhere in this issue of ISB Now.
As I write, the soccer World Cup has just started, and it is an interesting coincidence that this year the World Cup is in Brazil, and we held our 2013 Congress in Natal, Brazil, while in 2009 we held our Congress in Cape Town, South Africa and the 2010 World Cup was in South Africa. It makes me wonder if there is some covert connection between the ISB and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). At the moment FIFA are embroiled in discussions about their selection process for the 2022 World Cup venue. I thought I would use my space to explain the selection process that the ISB uses for our congresses.
The ISB holds its congresses every two years, with the invitation to submit bids circulated approximately four years in advance of a congress year. Bids are often voluminous and cover information on venue, congress format, hotels, projected registration fees, budget, and local attractions. Once the bids are received they are shortlisted after review by the ISB Council. The shortlisted bids are invited to make a presentation of their bid to the Council. These bid presentations occur approximately three years before the planned congress. This year we will be reviewing bids before the World Congress in Boston, in 2012 we reviewed bids after the ISEK Conference in Brisbane. The bid teams make presentations to the ISB Council providing details about their bid, and answer specific questions from Council members. The meeting concludes with a vote to select the future congress host.
What are the criteria used by the council for selecting a host? In any vote we all have certain biases, but there are many issues which are considered. For example, geographical spread of the congresses is an important issue. The ISB is an international society and we want to make sure the congress locations reflect our international mission. The last congress was held in Brazil, and this was our first congress in South America. While the congress was in Brazil various committees of the ISB used this opportunity to promote biomechanics throughout the continent. There has been a lot of recent activity from various countries in South America suggesting that this was successful. I like to pay attention to the cost of the congress, as this is an important issue for many delegates. Cost of course is not just the registration fees, as these are only a portion of the total expense for delegates; so the cost of hotel accommodation, food, and transportation are important considerations. There is a traditional format to an ISB Congress and the hope is that the bids will reflect this tradition while adding some local flavor. I am always impressed by the expertise around the table when the council reviews bids; many council members have organized a conference so understand the logistics of conference preparation. At the end of our meeting the winner is selected and feedback to all of the bidders provided.
The production of a bid is a lot of work, but for future hosts the hard work is only about to begin. It is also often the case that despite the best planning there is some unforeseen circumstance which during the congress has the organizers running around fixing problems. Remember that the hosts organize the conference, including the scientific program, all for the good of the society with little reward other than a pat on the back. It is often claimed that US presidents age more rapidly during their term in office (e.g., Olshansky, S.J. JAMA 306(21), 2328-9), and I suspect the same can be said of our congress organizers. Of course, at the end of the congress there is no lucrative book contract, or lecture tour, that accrue to retiring politicians, our congress organizers simply return to their regular duties (probably with a backlog to clear due to having to neglect their normal work in the run-up and during the conference). Our team for the ISB 2015 Congress in Glasgow has already been very busy working on exhibitors and inviting speakers. To the right is a picture of Phil Rowe who heads the Glasgow team. This is a before picture; hopefully the after picture will not reflect accelerated ageing!
To all who have bid on a congress and to those who have hosted an ISB Congress the ISB and its membership are in your debt, and we continue to offer you our thanks.
Penn State University
As biomechanists we are active with some aspect of biomechanics most days, even if it is thinking about the experiment we would be conducting if the day was not too busy to find time to get into the lab. A very popular soap opera is the Australian series "Neighbours". In the area of fetal memory it has served as interesting test bed, as there is evidence that newborn infants whose mothers watched the show reacted to the theme tune, children of mothers who did not watch the show have no such reaction. For me this show is significant as it offered a glimpse of a potential higher profile for biomechanics; my students were excited to tell me that in one episode they had mentioned biomechanics as one of the characters ran across a force plate. This was in the 1990’s and I hoped that biomechanics was finally on the map of scientific disciplines in the forefront of public awareness. This did not lead to the world wide recognition I had hoped but the recent Sochi Winter Olympics reminded me that biomechanics has made, and will to continue to make, significant contributions to society even if sometimes that contribution is unheralded.
The role of biomechanics at the Winter Olympics comes in many forms, but what struck me watching some of the Games is that many of our members have made significant contributions to our understanding of the Winter Olympic sports. For example, our second President Dick Nelson did significant work on the biomechanics of cross-country skiing. Our third President, Paavo Komi, amongst other areas has performed important research on ski jumping. The fourth President, Benno Nigg, has performed extensive studies of alpine skiing. If we jump to the 19th President, Ton van den Bogert has examined speed skating, once again amongst other activities. One of the larger impacts on Winter Olympic sports was the work from the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. This group led by the late Gerrit Jan van Ingen Schenau developed a new design of skate, the clap skate or slapskate, which because of a hinge towards the toe end of the skate permits skaters to exploit a powerful ankle extension not possible in traditional skates. The introduction of these new skates, now used by all long course skaters, resulted in a significant reduction in world record speed skating times. This (incomplete) preceding list shows how biomechanics has contributed to our understanding and the practice of the Winter Olympic sports.
As the Winter Olympics ended the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games started. The ability of these athletes is remarkable, yet again considerable biomechanical research has been conducted on the disabled. Sixth ISB President, John Paul, did early fundamental work into prosthetics. Eighth President Aurelio Cappozzo has also performed research in this area, as has 14th President Sandra Olney. The current highest profile paralympian is the South African runner Oscar Pistorius. When he petitioned to compete in the 2012 Olympics and run alongside able-bodied athletes a number of biomechanists became engaged in trying to establish whether the prosthetic blades he wears confer an unfair advantage (see for example, Brüggemann et al., Sports Technology 1: 220–227, 2008. and Grabowski et al., Biology Letters 6: 201-204, 2010). Sadly Pistorius has been recently embroiled in other problems where the expertise of a biomechanist with forensic skills might be beneficial.
There is a US situation comedy, The Big Bang Theory, where some of the humor in every episode arises from aspects of physics. Biomechanics has not achieved that high level of recognition but evidence suggests that biomechanics is making contributions in many ways without perhaps the public awareness. When you get the chance publicize the importance and contributions of biomechanics. Let us all work to raise our profile.
Penn State University
As this issue of ISB Now was in preparation one of our Past-Presidents passed away. John Paul was president of the International Society for Biomechanics from 1987 to 1989 and was the winner of the Muybridge Medal at the Congress in Tokyo in 1997. Although in his 80's, he attended the Cape Town Congress in 2009, and it was great to hear his Scottish brogue asking questions or making comments to delegates. He made significant contributions as an administrator, and researcher. There have been many personal recollections of Prof. Paul on Biomch-l, these spoke to his intellectual rigor but gentlemanly nature – this corresponds with all of all of my dealings with him. The next ISB Congress will be hosted by his old Department, plans are already in place to acknowledge his contributions when we meet in Glasgow in 2015. More details about Professor Paul can be found elsewhere in this issue of ISB Now.
There hardly seems to be a day that goes by without me receiving an email from a journal asking for a submission. There are certain journals I would be delighted to receive such an invitation from, but many come from journals I do not know. Most of these journals are open-access journals, meaning they are available freely to the reader on-line. The Directory of Open Access Journals lists close to 10,000 journals, which is an increase of more than 1,600 from last year. With this rate of growth these figures are probably out of date as I type. Most of these journals rely on charges to the authors of the paper, rather than the traditional model of their income arising from library and personal subscriptions to the journal. This is a flipping of the traditional model but perhaps has also heralded other changes.
Research Councils in the United Kingdom have mandated that all the research they fund should be published in journals where access to the paper is freely available. Both the European Union and The US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy are exploring similar requirements. In effect tax payers who pay for the research can now read it. So some authors have to pay for their funded research to be published in an open-access journal, or some of the traditional journals now have the option that you can pay to have your paper freely available on-line.
The growth of these open-access journals is not only indicated by their number but in the number of articles they publish. For example, PLoS ONE when first published in 2006 had just 138 articles in the year, but by 2012 that number had risen to over 23,000. There have been some papers on biomechanics in PLoS ONE which I have found very interesting, but some would argue that other open-access journals do not always publish the same quality of work as their older rivals.
So the positives of open-access journals are that the work is freely available, papers are typically published quickly, and some of the journals allow readers to offer a commentary on published papers, therefore increasing scientific debate. Some of these journals are considered more open to the publishing of negative results, as they only ask reviewers to comment on the validity of the hypotheses and the methods. An initial drawback is that the author needs to have the funds for the publication fee, which for some may be a significant constraint (some open-access journals do offer to sometimes waive this fee). Under the older model, journals were purchased by libraries so librarians could exert some type of quality control over the journals they subscribed to. I have been asked on a number of occasions by my institution’s library which journals in biomechanics they should subscribe to. This, along with the peer review process, in theory meant that only quality journals and papers were published. This does not seem a perfect model, but what is the model for many of the open-access journals? It is relatively easy for a publisher to start a journal if the main requirements for the business are a server and some cheap software. The quality control then rests with the editor of the journal and the reviewers. This quality control is circumvented if a journal is run by a so call predatory publisher.
A predatory publisher is a company which publishes journals, often with very grand sounding journal titles, charges for publishing but makes little effort to solicit or use feedback peer review. A recent article in Science illustrates this problem very well (Bohannon, J. 2013. Who’s afraid of peer review? Science 342:60-65). John Bohannon created a series of fake scientific papers which he submitted versions of to 304 open-access journals. The papers he created contained grave errors including gross misinterpretation of the results of the “study”, he also invented the names of the authors and their institutions. The paper was accepted for publication by 157 of the journals, rejected by 98, and was still in limbo for the remaining 49 journals at the time his article in Science was published. There was evidence of a review process in only 106 of the journals, and many of these were focused on the paper’s layout not on the scientific content. Only 36 of the reviews identified any of the papers problems but editors accepted 16 of those anyway. Clearly not all open-access journals operate in such a cavalier mode – but some will publish any submission as long as the authors pay.
As members of the scientific community we should all be worried about predatory publishing as it diminishes all of our scientific efforts. What can we do? Try and avoid these journals, although they may be hard to spot. As always show due diligence when performing reviews. Educate our students about the value of the peer review process and the difference between a good journal and one which is simply out to make money.
The International Society of Biomechanics was officially formed at the 4th International Seminar on Biomechanics at Penn State. To mark that event there is a historical marker on the Penn State University campus. I walk passed that marker everyday on my way to my office, and it reminds me of the work of the ISB (and the ISB emails I need to respond to). The marker was unveiled in the summer of 2009, now winter is upon us in North America and the marker is currently surrounded by snow. This season marks the end of the year, so ISB membership renewal notices should be arriving in your inboxes soon. Please be sure to renew your membership and encourage others in your lab to join the ISB.
Penn State University
As the incoming President of the ISB this is my first blog so, to quote Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
I think I have this covered as I will spend most of this blog describing some of the activities of the ISB, which I hope you will see is worth writing about. First I must express my thanks to the membership for entrusting me with the honor of leading the society as President. I have been fortunate to serve on the Executive Council of the ISB under a number of Presidents including: Sandra Olney, Mary Rodgers, Brian Davis, Walter Herzog, Julie Steele, and Ton van den Bogert. I was always impressed with their commitment to the society and industry in promoting the mission of the ISB. These are hard acts to follow, but I will work hard on your behalf to maintain and enhance the objectives of the ISB.
Stepping down from the Executive Council after a 14-year tenure is Julie Steele. Julie has served on the Council since 1999, and as well as being a President also served as the Secretary-General. She has impacted the society in many ways, working tirelessly and enthusiastically on our behalf. One important task she undertook when President was the updating and revising the codes; these codes guide how the ISB goes about its various activities. In her time as Past-President she developed a new scheme which will impact many members of the ISB, the introduction of an ISB Fellows program. At the next Congress we will be appointing our first batch of Fellows. The purpose of awarding Fellowships of the ISB is to recognize distinguished achievement in biomechanics and to encourage continuing service and leadership to the society. The expectation is that applicants will only accept a Fellowship if they are willing to remain active within the ISB upon receipt of their Fellowship. There will be various criteria required to be appointed as a Fellow of the ISB, they include: full membership of ISB for at least 10 consecutive years, attendance at least three of the five preceding ISB Congresses and presentation of work at some of these, record of publication in international peer-reviewed journals, and demonstration of high standards of service to the ISB. I have asked Julie to usher in the first class of Fellows, specific details will be circulated next year in time for nominations to be considered for the 2015 Congress.
In most parts of the world, governments are cutting their budgets for research funding. For many of us, government grants are the lifeblood of our career, or so we are told. Faculty evaluations and tenure decisions are increasingly based on funding. Graduate students and postdocs can only get paid if there is funding for the research they do. With less funding available, investigators are submitting more and more grant proposals. We choose our strategies. Some manage to produce more proposals by working extra hours each day and sacrificing family time. Some will aim for quantity and hope that something will be randomly successful. Others write more proposals by reducing the time they spend on research and publications, which is professional suicide if it goes on for too long. All of these grant proposals will need to undergo peer review, and guess what, the peers are the same people who are already too busy writing grant proposals. So now the quality of the peer review is at risk, making the funding process even more unpredictable. This situation is clearly not sustainable. It is important that we talk to our funding agencies and communicate these concerns. I worry that many promising investigators will choose to no longer play in these “hunger games”. I also see a worrying trend in funding of “the rich get richer” and this needs to be reversed so that funding becomes more equally shared.
But not all is doom and gloom. As I have mentioned before in this blog, the work we do as biomechanists has great value for society. We just need to find a way to get paid for it. If government does not work right now, I suggest we should look at industry and education. I have done some of my best work in projects with industry. Some of those projects could never have been funded by government grants, they were too risky, not hypothesis-driven, or not well enough developed to justify a multi-year grant proposal. If you do this right, you can keep your basic research going while trying to get that government grant. Real innovation happens when you go outside of established knowledge, and companies are perfectly willing to take that risk. How to make contact with companies who could sponsor your research? Talk to companies who have booths at scientific meetings, talk to clinical colleagues and find out who develops the technologies to which you could contribute.
And let’s not forget about education. The knowledge we have is valuable, and if you teach, you earn money for the university and/or perform a service to society. You earn your salary! Yes, research funding is necessary but you may be able to do good work with a small grant from industry or foundation, instead of a million-dollar government grant. Universities where faculty members are required to apply for large grants may not be the best place to work right now. This is something you may want to consider when applying for your first faculty position.
But, whatever research funding you apply for, make sure that the budget allows you to travel to attend the ISB Congress. Even in the days of electronic communication and social networks, there is no better way to stay in touch with the field than a real scientific meeting. The upcoming ISB Congress in Natal, Brazil, promises to be especially exciting and I can’t wait to see many of you in the first week of August.
Ton van den Bogert
Cleveland, June 23, 2013
The weather is still cold in Cleveland, but we are already looking forward to the summer season and the scientific conferences we will attend. As I’m sure you all know, the ISB will meet August 4-9 in Brazil. It always impresses me how many old friends and colleagues I meet at each ISB congress, no matter how far away it is.
This year, we gave travel grants ($1000 each) to 30 students who have submitted abstracts to ISB 2013. This program was administered by Hae-Dong Lee, our student grants officer. I was one of the reviewers of the grant applications, and reading those applications made me feel very good about the future of the society. We have many student members who are smart and do good work. But what really struck me was the large number of students who are already very well connected internationally, some have visited labs in other continents, some have moved permanently, and are likely to move again. All are clearly comfortable with seeing the world as a village where they can find the people who can help them advance their career. My hope is that many of them will become lifelong members of ISB. Some will certainly become leaders.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting short and dark, the perfect time for reflection on the calendar year that is about to end.
In February, we lost David Winter, one of the giants in our field. I had the good fortune of meeting him several times, in person and via e-mail, and remember each and every interaction quite vividly. He was the type of person who made permanent impressions, most importantly on his students and through his books, also on an entire generation of biomechanists. If you have not done so yet, I encourage you to read the obituary and tributes. To honor David’s contributions to the field, and especially his efforts in mentoring and education, the ISB has established a David Winter Award for young investigators, to be awarded at each ISB congress.
In this issue, I would like to highlight some of the work of the ISB Executive Council. The Executive Council consists of fifteen individuals who work tirelessly to ensure that the mission and programs of the ISB are executed in the best interest of the membership. The council communicates on a daily basis by e-mail (my ISB folder has accumulated 1374 messages for the year 2011 alone!), but also is mandated by the ISB constitution to meet in person once every year. In odd years, the council will meet on the Saturday and Sunday prior to the ISB Congress. In the even years, we usually plan our council meeting in conjunction with another society’s scientific meeting. This year, the council meeting was on July 22-23, immediately after the ISEK 2012 Congress in Brisbane (Australia). It is important to note that no elected council member receives travel expenses from ISB, with the exception of the student representative. Several council members (including myself) traveled for more than 24 hours and suffered through major jet lags. It is truly remarkable to have a group of leaders in the society who are willing to make these efforts. The dedication of this team becomes even more apparent during the meeting itself. We always have a long agenda of discussions and decisions, and in all of those, we have the same guiding principle: how to best serve the interests of our membership as well as the worldwide biomechanics community. I will mention a few of the items that were discussed by the council during the meeting.
In the last President’s Blog, I wrote about careers and funding, and advocated two ways to reduce the unhealthy competition for research funding: (1) A career path for PhD scientists where they have a permanent position where they can do good science without continuous grant writing. (2) Reduce the number of PhDs we train, perhaps by hiring more of those permanent researchers to do the work.