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The Cooper Ornithological Society is pleased to announce a major new award to be known as the Katma Award, proposed and sponsored by Dr. Robert W. Storer. He explains the rationale and aim of this award, together with the derivation of the name, as follows:

Soon after the popular song “Ta-ra-ra-Boom-Der-É” appeared, W. S. Gilbert invented the character of Tarara, the Public Exploder, for the plot of Utopia, Limited (1893), the penultimate opera of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. According to the plot of the opera, when the king failed to provide the people with all they wanted, it became the duty of the Public Exploder to set off a stick of dynamite under him, at which point the Public Exploder became the next king. This “despotism tempered by dynamite” can be thought a metaphor for science, which progresses by a series of theories which are exploded by, and in turn succeeded by, new ones.

I propose the term katma, derived from the Greek root kat meaning “against” for theories that are proposed to replace current dogma, or settled opinion. I believe that there is a need for such a word. Heresy has an association with religious thought and has pejorative, rather than constructive, implications. Unlike the impenetrable jargon of much modern science, the sense of this word is easily understood through the proverbial (and real) antagonism between cats and dogs.

Why is katma needed? Science moves forward by the production and acceptance of new ideas, yet it has been increasingly difficult to air new ideas in both pure and applied sciences. Serious work that questions current dogma too often is stifled by those who are angered by seeing their own work questioned. Great katmatists like Galileo and Darwin are heroes of science.

Establishing the Katma Award of the Cooper Ornithological Society is a positive effort to counter this trend by encouraging the publication and discussion of new ideas, especially those that run counter to established opinion.

Guidelines for the Katma Award have been established by a Katma Award Guidelines Committee after consultation with Dr. Storer. They are as follows:


Recipient. The Katma Award is intended to encourage the formulation of new ideas that could change the course of thinking about the biology of birds. It will be given to the author(s) of an outstanding paper chosen by the Katma Selection Committee from among those published in The Condor, Studies in Avian Biology, or other publication of the Cooper Ornithological Society.

The award may be given to feature articles, short communications, or commentaries (e.g., editorials, reviews) of any length. Papers with one or two authors will be preferred; those with more authors must specify the contribution of each. The authors may be either those who propose a largely untested idea or those who develop and advance it.

Editors of COS publications will strive not to reject manuscripts simply because they are contrary to established beliefs. They will inform reviewers that they are willing to consider papers with unconventional ideas or innovative approaches as long as these are backed by a well-reasoned argument.

Selection. The committee to select Katma awardees will be composed of 3 persons, serving staggered 3-year terms. They will be appointed by the President of the Society (except for the initial committee). Terms will expire at the end of the COS annual meeting. Cooper Society members are welcome to send recommendations for the award to the Selection Committee.

The Katma Award will be given only when it is merited, no more than once a year. The Selection Committee will annually review all papers published by the COS in the previous year, but may decide that none deserve the award that year. Hence, the Katma Award is neither given on a regular schedule nor linked with any other awards of the Society. The Selection Committee will send its nomination for the award, if any, to the COS Board of Directors before the annual meeting. The Board will vote on the nominee. Since the award is intended to stimulate new thinking, it will be given only to papers published subsequent to this announcement.

Award. It is expected that the award will be approximately $2500.00. In addition to the monetary gift, the author(s) will be given a suitable certificate. The recipient of the award will be announced, and the award presented, at the annual meeting of the Cooper Ornithological Society, and by prior arrangement the author(s) will be present to receive it.

The Selection Committee will prepare a citation to be read at the time the award is presented and to be published, together with a photograph of the awardee(s), in The Condor.

The Katma Award Guidelines Committee consists of Peter Stettenheim, chair, Bonnie Bowen, president of the Society, David Dobkin, editor of The Condor, Joseph R. Jehl Jr., and Bette Loiselle.

Published: 1 November 2003
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