Minutes of 2016 Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Forum on Physics and Society (FPS)

April 17, 2016, 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Park City Room, Marriott Hotel at City Creek, Salt Lake City, UT

Executive Committee Meeting

Attending: Pushpalatha Bhatt, Tony Fainberg, Beverly Hartline, Ruth Howes, Arian Pregenzer, Allen Sessoms, Michael Tuts;
On phone: Betsy Beise, Usha Mallik, Anna Quider, Phil Taylor

Chair’s Overview: As outgoing Chair, Arian Pregenzer first announced that the FPS has elected four new fellows this year: Douglas Arian (a specialist in physics education), Ashton Carter (United States Secretary of Defense), Roger Hagengruber, and Benn Tannenbaum (both with long service at Sandia Laboratories). Second, she noted that the FPS held three successful sessions at the March 2016 meeting in Baltimore. In addition, Dr. Ernie Moniz, United States Secretary of Energy, was the recipient of the FPS Burton Award and gave the keynote address for the entire APS meeting on Monday, covering the Iran nuclear deal. Micah Lowenthal, Past Chair of the FPS, also organized a separate session on the Iran deal, which was held on Thursday at the March meeting. Two foreign arms control experts, Dr. Goetz Neuneck of Germany and Dr. Anton Khlopkov of Russia gave their own perspectives on technical and political aspects of the agreement. The US speaker, Scott Kemp of MIT, had provided technical support to the negotiating team. The foreign speakers were provided with $2000 travel grants from APS which were formally presented to them at the session by Amy Flatten, Director for International Scientific Affairs of the APS. This session was particularly timely and very well attended.

In addition, two sessions were co-sponsored by FPS in collaboration with the Division on Biophysics. These sessions, also well attended, covered topics in cancer research and epidemiology. It was very important and helpful to the FPS to cosponsor sessions with a technical Division. We should try to find partners to cosponsor future sessions, particularly technical ones. To raise FPS profile and keep in touch with current technical topics, we should creatively look for joint sessions in the future.

We should seek out members in the Forum who are excited about physics, especially younger physicists, as many of us in the FPS have been working within this APS unit for many years and are generally on the older side. We need to seek out new members.

Comments: Allen noted that relatively few people know about the FPS at present and Usha remarked that young members in particular are quite busy at early stages in their careers, and would probably want to see positive results from the time they would devote to FPS activities. Beverly seconded this thought, adding that for this purpose, we should have some projects that specifically appeal to younger members. Anna observed that recipients of the APS Congressional Fellowships should constitute a pool for prospective members in the FPS. Beverly noted that FPS officers should be able to get a list of Fellowship applicants, which would also be a useful pool and Anna added that many applicants had also taken studies in policy issues, sometimes receiving certifications or master’s degrees. These people should also be prime candidates for the Forum, which clearly is concerned with policy issues. Pushpa cautioned that as well as seeking younger participants, we cannot ignore physicists at later stages in their careers, whom we might draw into FPS activities.

There followed a discussion on how FPS might recruit younger members. Ruth suggested talking to younger people who come to our sessions, perhaps handing out information or forms for them to fill out. Allen also suggested trying to work more closely with POPA. Bev proposed that FPS should become more active in Regional and Section meetings, and Usha suggested trying to find projects that could provide a match between younger and more senior Forum members.

Bev suggested an informal group from the Executive Committee to take charge of this problem. Anna thought a group of 3-5 people would be useful, not necessarily meeting in person, but on the phone. It was suggested that Anna and Usha collaborate on this but no final decision was taken.

Tony summarized his impression of the foregoing discussion, which appeared to focus on three topics for expanding future FPS efforts: membership outreach, future projects, and raising the FPS’s profile within the APS.

Turning to another topic, Ruth said that the deadline for selecting FPS fellows is June 1, so our Fellowship Committee should be working to this end. Beverly reported that the Committee’s activities are now well underway. Richard Wiener is actively searching and finding candidates, and the rest of the committee is also looking for nominations. We have a quota that is now 6 fellows per year (we do not have to have 6 but can do so, based on the size of the FPS membership).

Allen informed the Executive Committee that prior commitments prevented him from attending the APS-wide Program Committee, tomorrow (April 18), and Pushpa kindly volunteered to represent the FPS there in his stead.

Secretary-Treasurer’s Report: The Secretary –Treasurer (Tony) presented a somewhat abbreviated report, as he is just getting used to the formats of the monthly financial statements furnished by APS Accounting. The bottom line is that the FPS is in good financial condition, having a credit of $38K in the “bank,” which is comfortable but also well below the $50 K threshold, which, as pointed out by Pushpa, and also explained in detail by the minutes of the 2015 Executive Committee meeting by outgoing Secretary-Treasurer Tina Kaarsberg, is the level, above which, APS will withhold contributions to FPS’s budget. In other words, above $50K, we had better use it or lose it.

There was some discussion about Tina’s concern, expressed in her report in 2015, that the endowments for the Szilard and Burton Awards are being slowly depleted. Arian had enquired of APS staff , however, and discovered that the APS considers those Award endowments to be in quite good financial shape in spite of recent slow depletions, and it was decided not to worry about their levels at this point.

Some New Business. At this point, Tony discussed a proposal that he is organizing, together with Dave Hafemeister, Pierce Corden and Charles Ferguson, to present a short course on physics and national security issues in the March 2017 timeframe, to be held at The George Washington University in DC. A brief (and necessarily confidential, at this point) white paper was distributed to the Executive Committee, outlining topics and potential speakers for this proposed two-day effort. Tony reported that a final proposal would be prepared over the next two months and that, possibly, the Executive Committee could decide whether to support it through an email or phone process, rather than by physically getting together for another Executive Committee meeting. He noted that Dave Hafemeister had produced a long series of such courses over the past decades, and that they generally broke even, so that, even if the Forum was asked to put up, say $5000 to support the course, it was highly likely that any advance would be paid back and the Forum would not lose funds. The courses would typically cost about $100 and a book would be produced from the lectures. (After the meeting, Beverly suggested considering supporting some younger members with a travel grant to encourage attendance and later Forum membership among younger physicists interested in societal issues. Tony endorsed this idea, both in conversation with Beverly and when reporting back to his course collaborators in the Forum’s reaction to the pre-proposal presented at this meeting.)

Report on APS Council Meeting. As new Councilor, Pushpa reported on the Council Meeting and later distributed through email some slides that were presented at the session. The Council officially has the authority to make statements on behalf of APS. Now, as a result of the recent amendments to the APS Constitution, there is now a Board of Directors of APS that is part of the governance of the Society. Ruth added that POPA had to modify a statement recently, which had then to be sent to the Council for approval before release. Pushpa continued, reporting that APS Council wants the Units (including Divisions and Fora, such as FPS) to propose topics for discussion by Council. An example given was the role of Computational Physics in a changing environment. Amy Flatten presented a report from the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists. There was a discussion at the Council Meeting on Unit Bylaws and a report by the APS President. An APS Annual Report, in glossy format, was presented by APS Executive Secretary Kate Kirby. Some bottom lines: APS now has 53,099 members, but 35% are students. The number of Fellows inducted per year should now not exceed 0.5% of the total Division (or Forum) membership. It was suggested that the base for selecting Fellows should be the NON-student membership number. At present, counting all APS /Division/Forum members, the number of permitted selections of Fellows includes students in the base, and amounts to 0.1% of membership per year. The resulting quota for the Forum under the new rules would be 6 Fellows per year.

Arian said that with the creation of new Fora, such as the Education Outreach Forum, FPS would have to work to distinguish itself from others. Pushpa noted, however, that FPS is already unique in that is has a seat on POPA and on the Council, too.

Other outcomes from the Council Meeting: there is a new topical group on medical physics and gravitational physics, formally a topical group, has become a Division (following the announced discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO). New policies include a Code of Conduct at APS meetings, inclusion of minorities of all types, and consideration of LGBT issues. There was also discussion of inaugurating cross-membership dues with AAPT. Also, unit dues for a third Forum may be increased from $8 to $10 per year. The effect of this on FPS would be minimal.

Other New Business. Tony talked on a human rights issue involving academics and journalists in Turkey, many of whom have been imprisoned in pre-trial detention from having signed a petition opposing the internal war of the Turkish government against the Kurdish PKK organization and against the local population in general, in the Southeast of the country. This has resulted in many civilian deaths. Tony raised the issue of whether and what the APS could do to support fellow physicists and other academics in this matter. Allen strongly suggested to try to coordinate with other scientific organizations to come up with the most effective strategies. He particularly mentioned AAAS and the National Academies of Science. He noted that APS President Homer Neal had already sent a letter on the issue to the President of Turkey, Recep Erdogan.

Presentation from APS Congressional Affairs. Mike Lubell gave an informational talk on current efforts by the scientific community to engage in a public relations campaign to increase public support for funding scientific research. The effort is called Science Counts, and is intended to convince the public that support for science is vital to the continuing economic well-being of the nation. The political foundations of research are trending badly: discretionary spending within the federal budget, which is where federal R&D funding comes from, is steadily being reduced as a fraction of the overall budget, and in 15 years, may only make up about 25% of the budget. Note that debt servicing at the end of this time period may reach 14% of the budget, further constraining the amount available for all other items including scientific R&D. An intricate poll was commissioned by Science Counts, using focus group techniques. It discovered that whereas scientists are considered among the most trustworthy members of society in the US, many, if not most, of Americans feel that federal research is more or less unnecessary and that if no further federal research funding were available, the slack would be taken up by the private sector. This is clearly a misapprehension and Science Counts is investigating how to counter this unrealistic view.

The corporate tax rate and system will be reformed in the t Congress. Some members, notably Randy Hultgren is sympathetic to this R&D problem. Norm Augustine is involved in this project, which will propose legislation in the 2017-18 timeframe to address the issue. The presentation was so far just informational to the FPS, so that we are aware of the problem and the effort.

Minutes of the 2016 Business Meeting of the Forum on Physics and Society

9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.
Park City Room, Marriott Hotel at City Creek, Salt Lake City, UT

Business Meeting

The business meeting was open to all APS members.

At the opening, Arian semi-formally and metaphorically passed the baton on to Ruth, the incoming Chair.

Remarks by New Chair. Ruth began by noting that the April meeting in 2017 will take place in January in Washington, DC. Her second major announcement was that after several years of excellent service, Andrew Zwicker, having just been elected to the New Jersey Legislature, is no longer able to remain as Editor of the Forum’s newsletter, and that we will have to search for a new editor. Andrew has some suggestions, and Ruth will start the process of finding a successor.

POPA Report. Phil Taylor gave a report on the last POPA meeting. The written version will be in the Forum’s Newsletter.

February has brought new members and new issues to POPA. Phil expressed some relief that climate change is now off the table, as Council has approved a revised Statement on Earth’s Changing Climate. Many POPA members, including the initial chair of the drafting subcommittee, had wanted to weaken the 2007 statement by, for example, stating that serious deficiencies remain in our understanding of climate science. Eventually “deficiencies” was replaced by “challenges” and a comparatively inoffensive statement was produced. Other topics to be discussed include the barriers women face in obtaining degrees in physics, the first use of nuclear weapons, and energy. All this is described in more detail in the April FPS newsletter.

Arian asked whether the FPS could be helpful by working with POPA. Mike Lubell offered the opinion that the climate change issue was an anomaly. The problem was strong political influence on the APS Council. Fox News got involved, falsely reporting that Curt Callen resigned from the Committee over the previous “pro” climate change statement of POPA. This political influence by external conservative press on APS was very unusual. POPA usually does respond to APS leadership and membership. Note that APS is partnering with some Republican Congressmen on climate change legislation and will examine its own energy activities.

Presentation by APS Washington Office of Public Affairs. Greg Mack works on government relations for APS Public Affairs and wanted to expand cooperative relations with FPS. It would be sensible to do so: we have many common interests and it would be mutually beneficial. We can inform all of APS membership of the relationship between their research and the public good. Crosstalk with APS Units, especially FPS, could be a good part of this effort. One thing OPA could do would be to contribute articles to the FPS Newsletter.

Ruth asked for any talking points developed by OPA on specific issues that we could pass on to our FPS membership. Pushpa suggested working together at APS meetings and business meetings, perhaps jointly staffing information tables.

Arian asked whether OPA should be present at our special events, such as the Energy session in Chicago, being organized by Pushpa, and on nuclear and national security matters (Dave Hafemeister’s short course in DC, discussed in the Executive Committee 2016 minutes. Allen suggested considering special projects on which we could work together.

Al Saperstein, who was present, suggested the use of science-related plays/readings, that have now become commonplace at APS meetings. We should investigate ways in which to bring the broader public to such events in cities where APS meetings are held. Perhaps we could move them to public science museums, instead of simply at APS meeting venues. A series of excellent plays have been presented in the past and one is being given at this APS meeting on the life of Lisa Meitner (written by a colleague of Ruth’s at Ball State University).

Finally, Beverly announced that nominations are open for FPS Fellowships and suggestions should be sent to her.

Final Word. The incoming Secretary Treasurer (Tony) wishes to thank the outgoing S-T, Tina Kaarsberg, for her excellent past and continuing help in enabling him to come up to speed to handle the tasks of this position. One remark: Tony forgot to ask for the approval of the minutes Tina produced for the 2015 meeting. I would request that we now, as Executive Committee, do so through email communication.

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.