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New Society Works with Policymakers to Advance Cause of Computational Biology

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NEW YORK--Seven months after its founding the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) has launched a web site and become involved in planning and sponsoring several major scientific conferences, according to the society's president, Larry Hunter, of the US National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine. The organization's membership has grown to 500, representing the spectrum of both academic and industry researchers in almost a dozen countries, he reported.

"Overall I would rank the first months of the ISCB as a resounding success," Hunter stated. "We have the active participation of many top researchers in bioinformatics around the globe, in both industry and academic settings. The society has clear and practical goals in place, and we are working hard on achieving them."

In addition to the Pacific Symposium on Biocomputing last month, the society is sponsoring the 1998 Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) conference in Montreal in June and has begun to plan the 1999 ISMB, which will be in Heidelberg, Hunter told BioInform. ISCB's home page is at http://www.iscb.org. While the site remains under construction it already provides information on training programs in computational biology and pointers to conferences sponsored by the group, he said. Future plans include employment information and possibly a technical report repository and electronic newsletter.

"We have also participated in meetings with government and industrial policymakers to encourage mutual understanding of the issues faced by researchers in computational biology," Hunter continued. "Industrial organizations stressed the need for additional training opportunities, which was one of the motivations for getting that part of the web site up early. Government officials asked for the society's help in defining areas of computational biology that are likely to grow in importance."

Hunter identified securing "tangible benefits for our members" as a key objective in the coming year, listing such examples as discounts on publications, conferences, and memberships in other professional societies. There will be a society discount for 1998 ISMB attendees, he noted.

The group also wants to find funding for a permanent staff, which would allow even more member services, according to Hunter. One funding strategy that is being actively pursued is to solicit industrial memberships.

Ultimately, he said, the society would like to serve as a conduit for information to policymakers and funding agencies. It could also endow a prize for excellence in bioinformatics research or education, or broker industrial support for bioinformatics training and research, Hunter speculated.

"The bioinformatics community has been very receptive to formation of the society," Hunter concluded. People seem to recognize that a critical mass has been achieved and that it is time for the community to have its own voice. The only complaint I have heard is that the society is moving too slowly. To that I can only say that we are a volunteer organization and if people in the community want the work done faster, they should come help out!"

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