ISBA 2016 [logo]

Things are starting to get in place for the next ISBA 2016 World meeting, in Forte Village Resort Convention Center, Sardinia, Italy. June 13-17, 2016. And not only the logo inspired from the nuraghe below. I am sure the program will be terrific and make this new occurrence of a “Valencia meeting” worth attending. Just like the previous occurrences, e.g. Cancún last summer and Kyoto in 2012.

However, and not for the first time, I wonder at the sustainability of such meetings when faced with always increasing—or more accurately sky-rocketing!—registration fees… We have now reached €500 per participant for the sole (early reg.) fees, excluding lodging, food or transportation. If we bet on 500 participants, this means simply renting the convention centre would cost €250,000 for the four or five days of the meeting. This sounds enormous, even accounting for the processing costs of the congress organiser. (By comparison, renting the convention centre MCMSki in Chamonix for three days was less than €20,000.) Given the likely high costs of staying at the resort, it is very unlikely I will be able to support my PhD students  As I know very well of the difficulty to find dedicated volunteers willing to offer a large fraction of their time towards the success of behemoth meetings, this comment is by no means aimed at my friends from Cagliari who kindly accepted to organise this meeting. But rather at the general state of academic meetings which costs makes them out of reach for a large part of the scientific community.

Thus, this makes me wonder anew whether we should move to a novel conference model given that the fantastic growth of the Bayesian community makes the ideal of gathering together in a single beach hotel for a week of discussions, talks, posters, and more discussions unattainable. If truly physical meetings are to perdure—and this notion is as debatable as the one about the survival of paper versions of the journals—, a new approach would be to find a few universities or sponsors able to provide one or several amphitheatres around the World and to connect all those places by teleconference. Reducing the audience size at each location would greatly the pressure to find a few huge and pricey convention centres, while dispersing the units all around would diminish travel costs as well. There could be more parallel sessions and ways could be found to share virtual poster sessions, e.g. by having avatars presenting some else’s poster. Time could be reserved for local discussions of presented papers, to be summarised later to the other locations. And so on… Obviously, something would be lost of the old camaraderie, sharing research questions and side stories, as well as gossips and wine, with friends from all over the World. And discovering new parts of the World. But the cost of meetings is already preventing some of those friends to show up. I thus think it is time we reinvent the Valencia meetings into the next generation. And move to the Valenci-e-meetings.

12 Responses to “ISBA 2016 [logo]”

  1. This is a very interesting post and indeed a debate should be started probably not only inside ISBA but also ASA and other professional societies. Indeed, the costs associated to the conference have been in the mind of the organizers from the very beginning and we have done our best to reduce them at a minimum. In terms of pricing, one issue to consider is that the registration fees include a 22% value-added-tax: this means that about 100 euros out of 500 are donated to the Italian government upon registration. All things considered, the current registration fees are in line with those of ISBA 2012 (considering the JPY/USD exchange rate at 2012 levels), those of ISBA 2014 and the ones proposed for ISBA 2018. In addition, we should take into account that, differently than other societies, ISBA uses all the money from sponsorships in funding travel support for students and young investigators (81 in ISBA 2014). However, this ultimately means that the cost of the conference organization is solely supported by the registration fees. By the way, we are working hard to secure similar or increased levels of travel funds also for ISBA 2016. No need to say, ISBA doesn’t plan to make profit from the conference. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the problem of high conferences’ costs should not be carefully taken into consideration! It’s indeed a big problem!

    Dan – you definitely shouldn’t feel left out! The World Meetings are indeed the continuation of the Valencia tradition but most importantly they have been the place where Bayesians have traditionally gathered together to discuss advances and future of Bayesianism. That is also why Sections’ meetings (BNP, OB, MCMCSki) alternate with the World Meeting every two years. Please, get in touch! What makes ISBA strong are members like you who are fully engaged and are comfortable to freely voice their opinions!

    • Thanks, Michele! I agree that the problem with conference fees is global. However, to second Dan’s comments, moving the location from a fancy beach resort to a university amphitheatre could only lower the costs, sometimes all the way down to zero [as would be the case in my university]. And improve the quality of the presentations compared with resorts where the acoustics, the screen size, the lighting generally prevent me from sitting anywhere but the first rows. Not to mention the usually abyssal or inexistent wifi. The cost setting is worsened in the current case by having the conference in a secluded place, rather than a major city. I have not yet seen the rates for the rooms, but I doubt they will come cheap. And the town does not sound large enough to offer alternative housing to a large conference. I thus think we should definitely turn the page on Valencia-style beach-town conferences. And integrate [at the ISBA executive level] the costs and fees in the selection and planning of all of our future conferences.

      About my other idea of offering virtual videoconferenced hubs to members who could not make it to Sardinia: do you think it is feasible? Or that it would add even more to the costs?!


      • Once again, you raise very good points. And indeed a discussion has already been started on these same issues, at least inside ISBA. On the one hand, we have realized that the choice of a University setting might not come much cheaper for a meeting of this size. Most importantly, as you noted, the choice would indeed correspond to a different experience for the participants with respect to what they are used to from the ISBA World Meetings. One of the main points that have been raised is that people at ISBA “meet” and “talk”. A fresh Ph.D. student can start chatting over dinner with some icons of our professions, perhaps just because they happen to sit together at the same table. And despite my relatively young age, I have myself seen people that first met loosely during one of the breaks of meetings end up collaborating and working together on research projects. Plenary talks where all participants can gather together at the same time in the same place are also very important to the Valencia tradition. This experience might be somehow lost with an alternative format, where small groups of people from more or less the same network may tend to mingle “within” instead of “between”. At least, that’s my experience at other big meetings, which end up being as much expensive if not more expensive than our main meeting (no names here, but let’s say I was in Boston last August).

        In terms of the conference facility, the Forte Village has a dedicated and modern conference space, with a large room for plenary talks and also a vast foyer space for our “signature” poster sessions after dinner. Apparently, the Forte Village has been nominated as one of the World’s Leading conference venues in multiple years from 2005 and 2011, so I am expecting a nice conference experience overall. We are not yet-ready for e-World meetings, but who knows what the future can reserve us? For sure, something will be lost. I will somehow miss not being able to personally chat with the speakers, and as you point out other costs might intervene. But these are all important points of discussions, and this is why we all need ISBA members to be engaged and share their opinions. Which reminds me that we have an open poll for suggesting topics for the short courses (here) and I should probably take the opportunity to advertise it here!

      • Michele: I do not wish to turn this debate into an infinite regress, but I stick with my point that having the meeting in a university environment would be (a) much cheaper by selecting a country where universities help their faculty have meetings and conferences in their own buildings for free and (b) more enjoyable in terms of the quality of the work environment. By being creative about the format of the meeting, we can preserve the “Valencia feeling” we enjoy very much even in more frugal and less idyllic environments. Even a middle ground solution like Chamonix led to a more reasonable fee of around 150 euros for three days and 250 people… (As you know, I am not in the least interested in beaches and sea activities!)

  2. An interesting idea. A colleague and I were just talking about the issue of the high price of conferences the other day. As early stage researchers, yet to win a significant grant with travel money attached, it makes it next to impossible to attend more than one (very carefully) chosen conference per year. Having such high registration fees inherently implies some exclusivity in terms of which researchers can actually afford to attend these conferences. This would, however, seem at odds with the mission statement of conferences, which is to disseminate research to a broad scientific community. As you suggest, maybe it is time to go back to the core mission statement and reconsider how it can be embodied in an age of high rental costs, expensive hotels and European austerity!

  3. Dan Simpson Says:

    I’m pretty sure I won’t be going if it costs that. It’s simply not worth the money. To pay that much, I would want to know where my money was going.

    It’s a shame – I’d like to go to an ISBA meeting. But by this time I will be an early career person who isn’t early career enough for ISBA funding and unlikely to try to convince someone to give me money to go to a lovely resort on an Italian island.

    Why isn’t it somewhere more practical? (I’m actually a member of isba now, and things like this make me wonder why on earth I am…)

    It’s one of those things where I’m sure whoever decides on where the next one of these will be thought this carefully through when they made the decision to put it here, but I can’t reconstruct the logic in my head.

    • Dan Simpson Says:

      I see the short courses are being held at the nearby university rather than the resort. I wonder why…

      • Dan Simpson Says:

        Incidentally, I don’t think Internet things are a good solution at all. It’s important for young (and young-ish) researchers to meet bith each other and the senior people in the field. The informal interactions are the most important part of these things.

        It would maybe just be nice to be able to do it in an environment that wasn’t a holiday resort. (Imagine if, for example, it was in the type of location with rooms made specifically for delivering and receiving lectures. Perhaps even with some sorry of large surface where the whole room could see your writing…)

      • it is presumably much cheaper or even free to have the short courses at the university. Or is it a convoluted way of yours to point out that the whole meeting could have been held in the nice city of Cagliari?!

      • Well I’m nothing if not subtle :p

        But both, really.

    • As a member of ISBA, you can contribute to make the future meetings less costly by launching the debate within the society.

      • Honestly, I’m not sure it’s my place. I don’t feel like this is “my” meeting (I’m not sure I was even a statistician when the last Valencia happened, so I just have no connection to it). So it seems a touch presumptuous to swoop in and try to change things. I assume people have made these choices carefully. I’m pretty much ok if the meeting is just “not for me” – there’s always MCMSki, O’Bayes, and BNP. I feel like I’m covered :p

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