partly virtual meetings

flight to Montpelliers, Feb. 2012A few weeks ago, I read in the NYT an article about the American Academy of Religion cancelling its 2021 annual meeting as a sabbatical year, for environmental reasons.

“We could choose to not meet at a huge annual meeting in which we take over a city. Every year, each participant going to the meeting uses a quantum of carbon that is more than considerable. Air travel, staying in hotels, all of this creates a way of living on the Earth that is carbon intensive. It could be otherwise.”

While I am not in the least interested in the conference or in the topics covered by this society or yet in the benevolent religious activities suggested as a substitute, the notion of cancelling the behemoths that are our national and international academic meetings holds some appeal. I have posted several times on the topic, especially about JSM, and I have no clear and definitive answer to the question. Still, there lies a lack of efficiency on top of the environmental impact that we could and should try to address. Benidorm, June 5, 2010As I was thinking of those issues in the past week, I made another of my numerous “carbon footprints” by attending NIPS across the Atlantic for two workshops than ran in parallel with about twenty others. And hence could have taken place in twenty different places. Albeit without the same exciting feeling of constant intellectual simmering. And without the same mix of highly interactive scholars from all over the planet. (Although the ABC in Montréal workshop seemed predominantly European!) Since workshops are in my opinion the most profitable type of meeting, I would like to experiment with a large meeting made of those (focussed and intense) workshops in such a way that academics would benefit without travelling long distances across the World. One idea would be to have local nodes where a large enough group of researchers could gather to attend video-conferences given from any of the other nodes and to interact locally in terms of discussions and poster presentations. This should even increase the feedback on selected papers as small groups would more readily engage into discussing and criticising papers than a huge conference room. If we could build a World-wide web (!) of such nodes, we could then dream of a non-stop conference, with no central node, no gigantic conference centre, no terrifying beach-ressort…

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