Transforming BEMS for the Future

PRESIDENT’S COLUMN: Transforming BEMS for the Future: In Search of the Next Frontier

Niels Kuster

Niels Kuster In lieu of the traditional winter workshop, the BEMS Board of Directors and several EBEA Council Members gathered in Zurich on February 6, 2009 for an intensive day of brainstorming and discussions to examine the critical challenges facing our Society and to explore strategies for enhancing its future. After 30 years of aspiring to be the premier Society to promote innovation, development, implementation, and communication of bioelectromagnetics in engineering, biology, medicine and related fields, it has become increasingly evident that the Society must revitalize and redefine itself to keep pace with the unprecedented array of global scientific, technological, economic and political changes. The goal was to identify the current challenges/issues, to begin defining the characteristics of a more vital, productive society and to begin developing an actionable leadership scheme for achieving this future

Many challenges/issues were identified and ideas/solutions were proposed, criticized and debated in an open and constructive way. The following briefly highlights my personal synthesis of some of the conclusions reached after the lively and intensive discussions.

  • The founding BEMS members are slowly retiring. It is a challenge for any organization to maintain its dedication to promoting the innovative and inclusive ideals of its founders; however, it is also a chance to positively nurture an intergenerational dynamic while incorporating current needs in these changing times.
  • Even though BEMS is an international Society, it is still perceived as a U.S. oriented society. This perception makes it difficult to unify our international and multidisciplinary interests under one umbrella.
  • The Society’s archaic office management structure must be revamped to operate more efficiently and cost effectively. An electronic administration must be implemented (i.e., electronic correspondence and processing, no more fax/telephone) and the website must be completely overhauled to provide a modern, informative and interactive medium for members and the public alike.
  • The polarized discourse within our society seems to be driven by special interest agendas where there is an unfavorable and increasing imbalance between policy makers and researchers who aspire to stimulate sound science.
  • Large research groups focusing on BEMS related topics are decreasing. Such groups with long-term research agendas are vital to the continued growth and implementation of bioelectromagnetic research.
  • Funding from the wireless industry has declined significantly in recent years and government funding is rapidly dwindling as well. Although emerging technologies such as terahertz applications are fueling new research interests, it is unlikely that they will be able to generate the same amount of research funding.
  • Replication studies do not offer a viable or attractive career path for young researchers since it is difficult to build a career on negative findings. False positive findings can end a career much faster than in other fields.
  • The shift in focus to medical applications has proven to be more difficult than anticipated. Many of the specialized fields such as MRI, cancer therapy, etc. are already represented by their own societies that are larger and more accommodating than BEMS. Although BEMS is the ideal organization to unify these emerging research fields, it cannot provide the necessary framework to meet the needs of these groups in view of our current structural problems. Additionally, our fixed positions on many vital issues do not provide the interactive and flexible academic environment necessary to effectively explore emerging fields.
  • The current global economic downturn will hinder any proactive implementation strategies within the Society and negatively affect all aspects of scientific research in general.

In view of these critical challenges, BEMS will have to transform itself into a more dynamic, more modern, more flexible and cost-effective society. The Society will retain its scientific focus on its core competence of risk assessment related research while providing a framework by which other groups interested in emerging research can achieve their goals within BEMS. At the same time, we must explore and expand dynamic partnerships with other societies, e.g., thermal medicine, etc. The vision is one of a truly international, interdisciplinary and sustainable research organization primarily serving the needs of all researchers from different world regions and driven by a common interest in the science, technology and application of electromagnetic fields in engineering, medicine, biology and related fields. The importance of this effort is underscored by the fact that BEMS and Bioelectromagnetics have become an indispensable platform for progress and communication in the field of bioelectromagnetics.

A special meeting of an enlarged Long-Range Planning Committee that also includes several EBEA members will be held in Davos prior to the Joint Meeting to develop and propose a strategic plan to address these issues and foster continued innovation, research and development in bioelectromagnetics during these rapidly changing times. Regardless of external changes, internal changes must first be confronted before erosion occurs within our society. I invite everyone to voice their opinion in the Newsletter or by email to our board members or to me. It is our responsibility to assure that BEMS has a glorious future by making the next qualitative leap forward together.