A Q&A with Lou Justement
FASEB President Louis B. Justement, PhD, recently spoke with the FASEB team about the organization’s future and to offer insights and ideas about how FASEB can better serve its member societies and their individual members.
Q. What are your strategic priorities for your year as FASEB president?
A. First, I want to say that it is an honor and a privilege to serve the Federation as President and to be able to work with an incredibly dedicated and talented group of volunteers and staff. It is an exciting and challenging time for FASEB. We have had the good fortune to sell the FASEB campus and to put the Federation on a strong financial footing. This will allow us to aggressively pursue our strategic initiatives and investment process to identify initiatives that will support the many critical missions of the Federation, including science policy; training and career development; and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), while at the same time creating opportunities to generate revenue to sustain the Federation in the coming years.
From an operations and budgetary standpoint, we will be dealing with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic for the duration of my term as President. Nevertheless, we will continue to effectively conduct the business of the FASEB Board, the Science Policy Committee (SPC), and the DEI Committee using any and all virtual approaches available, while maintaining the strong sense of community among FASEB volunteers, staff, and member societies that is the foundation on which the Federation is based.
FASEB is actively evaluating its business model to identify ways to ensure that the Science Research Conferences and our journals are immune to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to ensure that the core businesses of the Federation can quickly adapt to a range of challenges going forward. For example, the debate about open access will significantly impact scientific publishing and is something the Federation is looking at closely. With challenges come opportunities and, with respect to scientific meetings, FASEB is developing the infrastructure necessary to provide expanded virtual access to our meetings. We are also actively pursuing new members for FASEB. Although recruiting new members right now is going to be a challenge, we are poised to grow the Federation with the new membership tiers we have created and an earnest desire to broaden the scientific scope of our member societies to meet the Federation’s strategic goals.
Q. Would you describe your efforts to broaden the scope of FASEB’s advocacy?
A. FASEB continues to evolve. In the past few years, we have thought more strategically about growing the Federation and what that means in terms of the scientific areas we represent and the organizations we partner with. Recently, efforts undertaken by the Federation have focused on the importance of convergent science, where we bring together different scientific disciplines to solve specific problems. By harnessing the expertise of different scientific disciplines, it is possible to develop more effective solutions for critical issues facing the U.S. and the world. Under the leadership of FASEB Immediate Past President Hannah Carey, FASEB initiated an enhanced advocacy campaign to highlight the National Science Foundation (NSF), showcasing the important role this agency plays in fostering convergent science, which in turn benefits the biomedical research enterprise. As President, I am dedicated to continuing these efforts and to the development of new partnerships between FASEB and other federations, coalitions, or scientific societies to foster a more expansive vision of how we can address the most important issues facing us in the biological and biomedical sciences.
Q. Why are DEI initiatives important to FASEB?
A. The success of the scientific endeavor is dependent on creating and sustaining an inclusive environment to ensure a diverse workforce. FASEB has been engaged in that process, but recently the Federation recommitted itself to the critical role that DEI plays in the scientific endeavor. FASEB’s most recent effort started with the SPC Symposium in 2018, and subsequently the creation of the DEI Task Force in the fall of 2019. These activities culminated in the creation of a new DEI Committee. This committee brings together FASEB volunteers and staff, as well as expertise from member societies and outside entities, to focus on critical DEI issues. This is an important issue and one that needs much more attention. FASEB recognizes the need for gender equity and diversity in science and the importance of ensuring that the biological and biomedical sciences not tolerate harassment in any form. Because FASEB is a well-respected organization that others in government, academia, and industry listen to, we believed it was time to use our voice to promote DEI in science more aggressively. Toward that goal, I am pleased to note that the FASEB Board just approved an integrated three-year plan to commit staffing and significant financial reserves to support the DEI mission. There is no better way for the Federation to have a significant impact than to promote DEI in the sciences.
Q. What do you see as the value of FASEB Capitol Hill Day and similar events?
A. Capitol Hill Day and other advocacy events are essential to the mission of the Federation. Hill Day is one of the foundational activities that FASEB sponsors. Something I am extremely proud of is that FASEB has always promoted the importance of the biological and biomedical sciences in an apolitical manner, and we remain committed to working with politicians on both sides of the aisle to ensure the continued success of the scientific enterprise in the U.S.
As part of our advocacy efforts, we distribute factual information to lawmakers, federal agencies, and the public. Making fact-based information available is part of our mission, and it allows us to help Congress make good decisions in advancing biological and biomedical sciences. This is more important than ever because we face a critical period in which science has been and is still under attack. Truth and facts are being attacked and, most importantly, “science” is being weaponized as a political tool. This cannot continue, and it is FASEB’s responsibility to present factual information and to provide a reasoned assessment of the knowledge we have gained through scientific research to politicians and the public.
Q. Given coronavirus restrictions, how will FASEB support training and career opportunities for students, postdocs, and early-career scientists?
A. FASEB has the ability to bring together entities from across the U.S. and to harness their combined knowledge and expertise in training and career development to foster the success of trainees and early-career investigators. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of uncertainty that in particular adversely affects our trainees and early-career scientists. To help mitigate this uncertainty, FASEB can gather critical information from federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and NSF, and distribute that knowledge as widely as possible. Because FASEB is uniquely positioned to assess current realities related to training and career development, we can rapidly disseminate what we have learned to help our member societies and their individual members decide how best to proceed. FASEB also promotes the efforts of our member societies to foster training and career development and provides venues to share best practices. When the foundation of training and career development is networking, this is particularly a challenging time in light of the pandemic and the need for social distancing. The good news is that, even though we are currently working solely in a virtual reality, FASEB and the scientific community will return to face-to-face meetings that bring graduate students, postdocs, early-career, and established scientists together to network and learn from one another.
Q. What other FASEB objectives are important to you for the coming year?
A. I am very passionate about science policy and public outreach, and I am particularly interested in defending the independence and integrity of the scientific process. Misinformation directly threatens the health and well-being of every citizen in the U.S. For example, some people believe that vaccines are dangerous when we know that is counter to the facts. We are going to learn a lot of lessons as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic about the epidemiology of this disease, novel types of interventions, including anti-viral drugs and vaccines, and what we need to do as a nation to be prepared for the next pandemic. What I am concerned about is how we will use that information going forward. We almost certainly are going to face another pandemic in the future, and that is why it is important for FASEB to continue to play a leading role in making the case for the importance of scientific independence and integrity.