George Bush and Bill Clinton may be clogging the airwaves with television commercials promoting their candidacy, but among those vying for the presidency of a scientific society, such a voluble brand of campaigning is considered bad form.

In further contrast to the president of the United States, presidents of scientific societies are volunteers, working for free at what is sometimes a full-time job. They usually serve a single, one-year term, and rarely run for a second. They don't have to battle Congress, but their power is limited largely to a vote on an elected council or executive committee. And as for perks, well, there's no White House, no Oval Office, no Secret Service, and no Air Force One (though there's often plenty of travel).

There are a few similarities between scientific society presidencies and the highest office in the U.S., however. Just as the nation's chief executive is usually a...

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