Sunday, June 21, 2009

Things You Don't Do at a Scientific Conference

Poster Paper Presented at the SPD Conference

Having just returned from the 40th Meeting of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society (where I also presented a poster paper), there are a number of observations I'd like to make - in terms of what I absolutely do NOT wish to bear witness to at any future meetings. These are not in any particular order of import, only perhaps the order in which they come to mind, hence registered an impression.

The object is not to pillory so much as to make future meetings more meaningful, more productive and beneficial for all participants.

1. Do not put 200+ poster papers in one tent, while allotting about 60-odd square feet per six papers (and six presenters).

What happened is that there was a last minute flood of papers (natch, because every manjack wanted to be seen or recorded in the annals of the 40th anniversay meeting!) so the posters that were to be inside (in the Century Room of the Millennium Harvest Hotel in Boulder) were than ALL moved into a tent with all the other outliers, surplus papers.

The tent was god-awful. Two unappealing aspects were: the lighting (next to nil after 5.00 p.m.), and an accompanying stench of fertilizer that got worse as the afternoon wore on. But the worst aspect was the limited space, as I noted, about sixty four square feet for presentation space.

The general configuration for a given cluster of six posters was like this:


Two posters were placed on side A of a removal wall, two on side B and two on side C. Each poster was about 4' wide and 4' high'. Presenters were supposed to stand beside their posters and then answer any questions put forth by curious onlookers. (Of course, most onlookers didn't venture into the tent display but stayed in the Millennium Room where the posters numbered up to about 19.01 were accommodated.

Given each human poster-presenter occupied about six square feet - allowing for presenting + personal space (no one wanted to be arms akimbo or cheek by jowl to any questioners!) there remained only about twenty four square feet for any passersby, viewers. When these latter did arrive, they could not see the posters clearly so each presenter had to do an endless 'shuffle' to allow seeing. Even standing at the edge of a poster obscured a critical aspect, or equation or image.

This is simply not good enough! There should not have been two very unequal venues, and the tent - the way it was set up - should not even have been considered. It was disrespectful to all those who had to endure it. (Especially when it rained!).

The organizers ought to have anticipated a large, last minute flood of papers, and tried to establish an appropriate venue of equal quality for ALL posters, not just those whose solar topics fortuitously happened to fall in the range of topics up to around 19.01!

2. Numerical Simulations are not science.

It seems obvious, but you wouldn't have known to have beheld a lot of the oral papers. But the sober fact is that, given the right computer, software and algorithms, anyone can cook up beautiful images of the meriodonal flows in the Sun, or a model coronal hole ....or a CME! (Coronal mass ejection). This isn't necessarily science, because if actual observations aren't supported then it is more in the realm of speculation.

More on this in further blog entries about the meeting.

3. Don't barge in with a last minute paper.

The quality can be perceived from a mile away, it's what we call the 'reek' factor. Fortunately, there were only 1-2 such papers.

4. If you charge $50 EACH for a banquet, make sure the food served is real BANQUET food, not ordinary barbecue fare!

I mean, at $50 a pop one expects a tad more than baked beans, grilled chicken breast, some pulled pork, buns, potato salad and a weasly slice of blueberry pie. By comparison, last year's Division of Dynamical Astronomy meeting banquet spared no expense. The wine kept flowing, it didn't suddenly cease when a bottle ran dry. And the food choices ran to baked ham, roast beef and filet mignon, with matching desserts (e.g. hot fudge sundaes), veggies (sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes + homemade gravy, Caesar salad).

If on the other hand you are going to do barbecue, fine. Charge barbecue "banquet" prices, like $20 each. Not $50 each!

5. Thou Shalt NOT use another presenter's preprint paper as your personal notepad!

This again, ought to be obvious, but evidently not. At the last poster session for the 21.04- 21.09 (solar flare models) papers on Thursday evening, I stared with mouth agape as one of the poster presenters (a Chinese postdoc from New Jersey Tech Inst.) just snatched one of the preprint papers displayed in a manila folder for an adjacent poster. As she was babbling away to a questioner, she turned the paper over - which must have run 20 pages or more- and used the last blank page to write her email address for the curious person. She didn't even have the brains or sense to at least tear the last page off- to hand to the person- and return the bulk of the paper to its rightful place. Nope, she gave him the WHOLE paper for the sake of her measly little email info!

I had to first wonder if this lady was mad, or perhaps, overburdened with the demands of the conference. But in future, "Madame Chang" or whoever she was, could do well to keep handy a small, cheap notepad, then - when she needs to - she can tear off as many sheets as she needs to provide her email or other contact address. But on no account take another presenter's whole paper, which he or she worked countless hours on, to simply give away as a medium for your pathetic personal info.

6. Keep the romancing out of an oral paper presentation venue.

Open public romancing or catching touchy-feelies or casual gropes always looks kind of tawdry, but especially so in a scientific venue. In future, I do hope Mr. Hot shot Casanova grad student (from the last session on CMEs) will restrain himself when his fellow grad student blonde hottie is in the room. Doing a neck petting, and determined hair stroking just before a main paper oral presentation, and in front of an auditorium full of scientists, doesn't cut it. Listening there, Don Juan?

Next year's conference meet of the SPD I understand will be in Miami. I plan to pass on it, until perhaps the section can get itself sorted out - and especially in terms of bringing more substantive papers, works to bear. On that note, Carolus J. Schrijver's talk was perhaps the best. He set the firm tone for realism and objectivity in all solar work, and much less fantasy and hyper-imaginary ideations (and simulations)!


Anonymous said...

At any rate, I liked some of the vadlo scientist cartoons!

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