Cable Car Picture

So clearly I’m in San Francisco, at the biggest conference in the geophysical year. I have a talk, you can download it from the talks page linked here, but that’s not what this post is about.

This is a big conference, stupidly big. While I’m enjoying it more than I thought I would, there is more than a tinge of guilt in being here. Because this conference is so big, you miss most of the talks you are interested in - because inevitably the sessions clash. So, in comparison to not coming, in which case I miss all the talks, coming means I miss most of the talks. Of course others get to hear me, but is that what it’s all about?

(The AGU Fall meeting talk attendance has a lot in common with winning the lottery - buy one ticket, or even many tickets, and you’ve got a very small non-zero possibility of winning, but mostly you lose. If you come to AGU, you have a small, non-zero possibility of seeing everything you want, but mostly you lose.)

So apart from the ego boost of an invitation, I didn’t really come to hear the talks, I came for the conversations in and around the meeting. But even they clash horrendously when all the tribes are in one place.

For all my problems with clashes, I did hear some outstanding talks, and I have (and will yet) learned from listening. So there is real value … but …

Then there are the posters … which are a horrendously inefficient way of communicating information, but a great way of starting conversations. I can’t help thinking we can do that better using social media now … do we really have to fly thousands of people thousands of miles for a few short conversations in front of something that could be better presented in a different way exploiting a combination of social media and remote attendance.

I really wonder whether this sort of conference should become a dinosaur of the past. I totally respect the opportunities which physical co-location brings, both for serendipitous science, and for interdisciplinarity, but surely we can come up with a way of doing this sort of thing that requires fewer carbon miles? Perhaps we should have the big interdisciplinary overview meetings a bit less frequently, and keep the domain specific stuff where it belongs - in smaller more focused meetings? I appreciate that approach might cause problems for folks nearer the start of their careers, so I don’t have all the answers, but it can’t be beyond the wit of our community to resolve these sorts of issues …

I guess I wont get another invitation …

(p.s. EGU the same applies to you :-)