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Harry W Power

Commentary on the SFO Proposal

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Executive Summary of the Commentary on the SFO Proposal

by Harry Power


There is a perceived financial crisis facing the 6 OSNA societies due to declines in membership and sales. It would therefore be useful for the OSNA societies to develop a response that reversed those declines. A group of members from the societies has developed a proposal for a single unified society that they call the Society for Ornithology, or SFO (47 pp., including title page). This proposal will be discussed at the upcoming NAOC-V meeting in Vancouver, B.C.


Although enthusiasm for the SFO proposal has waned with several societies having already rejected it, my experience is that bad ideas about organizational structure – and the SFO proposal is a very bad idea – have a way of coming back again and again until they eventually prevail. I saw this with the gradual and ongoing destruction of the Museum of Zoology at The University of Michigan, and the several incarnations of biology at Rutgers University, each worse than its predecessor. Therefore bad ideas not only have to be killed, they have to have a stake driven through their hearts lest the undead rise again.


Attached is my commentary titled, “The SFO “Vision”: It’s Actually a Call for an Information Cartel and It Won’t Work Plus a Counterproposal That May Work” (12 pp., including title page).


In it, I begin by showing that the OSNA endowments are not going broke, and that to say that they are is a scare tactic to induce acceptance of the SFO proposal. I then reveal the fundamental flaws in the assumptions underlying the SFO “vision”, including the idea that a demand for free content is the ultimate driver behind the financial problems, show the lack of fiduciary responsibility at the heart of the proposal, explain how it is really a call for an information cartel and that such cartels always fail, and provide a counterproposal that may work to reverse the declines in the OSNA society fortunes.


The core of the counterproposal is to recreate our societies as true societies, ones that respect and value members as individuals rather than as mere subscribers of periodicals. The key to establishing that respect is to replace the present system of conflicts of interest hidden behind anonymous reviews and enforced by nonresponsive editors by a system of signed reviews, responsive editors and ongoing commentary via a combination of digital and print media. The hope is that such a system – one that combines accountability with the mutual creativity of authors, reviewers, and editors working with one another rather than as adversaries – will instill a fierce loyalty among members so that they will strive to promote their societies rather than desert them as is now happening.

Reply to SFO.pdf

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Not an Information Cartel -- Colleagues, there will still be hundreds of options for publishing papers if the SfO proposal goes through. In particular, sister journals throughout the world will still exist, including J. Avian Biol, IBIS, EMU, etc. Furthermore, a full range of domestic options will remain -- everything from Ecology to Northeastern Naturalist. Kevin

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