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11.03.2008  |  Industry News & Releases

Interview with Dr. Miriam Balaban, a Sister Society Founder and President

By Barbara Meyers Ford, SSP News Editor in Chief—Miriam Balaban was born in Philadelphia and is a chemistry graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. She serves as a publisher and an editor of books and journals at International Science Services in Rehovot, Israel, and L’Aquila, Italy. Professor Balaban established the School for Science Communication at the Mario Negri Institute for Biomedical Research in Italy and was its dean for four years. Since 1975 she has been research associate at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University. Phil Altman once told Miriam that she was the longest-standing member of CBE.

Her major research over the past 40 years has been in the field of desalination. In 1966, Miriam founded—and since then has been editor in chief—of the journal Desalination: The International Journal on Science and Technology of Desalting and Water Purification. Through her central role in this ever-growing field, she was selected as secretary general of the European Desalination Society based in the Science Park of Abruzzo in L’Aquila. The society organizes and participates in international conferences and workshops worldwide, which means my e-mails from Miriam over the course of this interview were answered from numerous spots around the globe.

BMF: What brought you to your position as editor of Desalination? What do you consider your greatest achievement over the last 40 years with the journal? And what do you still hope to accomplish in the next few years?

MB: I founded the scientific press using the most sophisticated equipment at the time (Monotype) with excellent compositors. I established it as editor of the Israel journals of science and the translated books and journals produced under the Israel-US (NSF) Program for Scientific Translation, which I created to cope with technically complicated material and to create an export industry. This amounted to about $15 million over the years, which helped support students and scientists who did the translations.

Given that international editing and publishing were my objectives and the Press the tool, I was always interested in new projects, which continued to come my way. In 1965 an engineer working in the area of newly developing desalination technology mentioned that there was no journal in the field. I said “I will make one!” And I did, but being young and starry-eyed, I offered it to Elsevier while editing and producing it through my own Press.

After 43 years with Elsevier, I intend to publish a sister journal on my own to accommodate the flood of papers in this booming field. Unlike the situation in the world economy, desalination is a field where jobs are beckoning and research is expanding. We must keep the communication channels of this expanding field open and accessible.

Through editing the journal I came in close communication with the scientific community and was involved in its growth to help tackle today’s main concerns with water scarcity and purification basic to clean environment. In about 1980, I started to build the database for the community, which is now the Desalination Directory with many features—25,000 addresses, 9,000 papers, an events calendar, etc.

Due to the growth of the field, university courses are being developed. I am a lecturer at MIT and am now developing a course in desalination there. I also organize short courses in L’Aquila, Italy; Jeddah, Israel; and elsewhere.

BMF: What do you think is the next big step forward for scientific publishing?

MB: It is hard to say, but possibly the next big step forward in scientific communication and publication will be stricter peer review within research institutions and posting on their own systems. The whole process will become more accessible and more economical.

BMF: What has been the most professionally and/or personally satisfying event of your career?

MB: I suppose the most satisfying experience in my career as well as my personal life is the friendship and collaboration with people worldwide and working together across geographical and political boundaries.

BMF: Who were the people most influential in your publishing-related experiences? Who made special impressions during the course of that aspect of your career?

MB: Eugene Garfield has been my close friend and colleague throughout, and I enjoyed my collaboration with Ed Kennedy in developing IFSE. Miriam Rothschild is also one of my closest people.

BMF: You were the first president of IFSE, the International Federation of Scientific Editors, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. What would you like to share with the members of SSP as we celebrate our 30th anniversary?

MB: As president of IFSE—as in desalination—my guiding light is international and interdisciplinary collaboration. In the early days of the CBE style manual, I suggested that it should cover all sciences, not only biology, because the standards and practice were common. Then when the ELSE board suggested publication of a European style manual, I was of the opinion that we should help build on the CBE style manual because standards and practices should be international. And of course it should be the Science Style Manual. Upon realizing that there were regional “strongholds,” this triggered me to found IFSE—one banner, one style manual, one science in one world.

It was in Philadelphia, my home town, that in 1983 IFSE, SSP, and CBE joined hands to hold their conferences together. This gave me great pleasure, and it gives me joy to celebrate the 30th anniversary of IFSE and SSP together.

BMF: If you have one, what is your motto?

MB: Don’t ask your society what it can do for you ask what you can do for it. (JFK applied this motto to country). Also, “Lack of expression is as bad as lack of access to literature.”

BMF: Using today’s vernacular, what’s on your Bucket List? That is, what do you still want to do professionally or personally?

MB: To publish all worthy papers promptly after peer review; arrange for editorial services and courses for scientists where language and communication skills are an impediment and also are an impediment to presenting good research and to the communication of knowledge; clear my desk every day; write memoirs of my rich experience for which I am thankful; and have time for my family and friends.

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