JSM 2011 [reflections]
The meeting is now over and I should be busy packing rather than writing this post. This has been a highly busy week, with many meetings on the side, while working at night by refraining from fighting jetlag (as usual), so I should also let things rest rather than letting a sort of post-meeting melancholia express itself… As after last year JSM… Anyway, here are some of my raw reflections on JSM 2011.
On the positive side, I attended many exciting sessions, either because they were bringing new perspectives to me—maybe the keyword I will carry back from Miami Beach is pseudo-data— or because they exhibited a comprehensive and influential perspective on a domain (I am mostly thinking of David Cox’s and IMS medallion lectures). I met new people (including the editorial board of CHANCE!) and old friends (the Bayesian mixer was too short!), delivered the rewards for the Mitchell Prize to a great paper on galaxy formation by Ian Vernon, Michael Goldstein, and Richard Bower, had several conclusive “business” meetings (and a few disappointing ones to keep the balance right!). I even managed to stick a working session into the tight program (although I wish it had been at another time in the day as I was partly dozing away…) I also enjoyed a terrific Cuban dinner in Versailles (!) and managed to take a few satisfactory pictures of sunrise (to be imposed on the readers in the coming days, I afraid!).
On the down side, I attended too many sessions with a very small audience, although the talks deserved better. Maybe due to the humongous size of the convention center, maybe due to the lesser attendance, maybe due to the strong attraction of the nearby beaches, I generally had a feeling of being in a small meeting. As noted by Julien, having so many parallel sessions is both an organisational nightmare and an academic absurdity. Besides forcing attendees to make choices between sessions (the worst case being the Savage award delivered during my Bayesian model assessment session!), it dulls the attractiveness of the meeting and the relevance of the talks. It is certainly not going to happen, but JSM should have a stronger filter for proposed talks in order to avoid contributed sessions where the only attendees are the five speakers plus the chair! It should also do something about the last day sessions: since canceling the last day of the conference is not possible (if only because there would be another last day!), inventing an attractive programme for the last sessions would anchor more attendees till the end. A national (and international) meeting of this size is an enormously expensive monster, in terms of costs both to the universities and companies (especially in Miami Beach!), and to the environment. The RSS went the major step of canceling the yearly meeting this year and, although the size of the meeting is not the same, the statistical societies involved in JSM could maybe consider alternatives. One way could be to encourage videotransmission of talks (of course, this would not reduce the number of talks, but impact the size of the audience. I tried to give a talk at MCQMC next year this way, as flying to Sydney for three days did not sound realistic, but this proposal was not received positively!) There is no obvious solution to this issue, otherwise it would have been found, but this feeling of somehow wasting enormous amounts of money in an uncertain economy contributes to my melancholia….
On a more personal [down]side, having to watch for Emily and planning for alternative vacation plans did not help with my stress level! (At this stage the hurricane warning is off. And so are we.) The constant heat and humidity did not either, even though I knew in advance it would be a problem and decided not to whine about it (at least on this blog…) The cost of living in Miami Beach however came as a surprise, although it may explain for the lower attendance this year. (Having rented an apartment across the street from the convention center was a partial solution to both problems, though.)