Archive for conferences

NeurIPS without visa

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 22, 2019 by xi'an


I came by chance upon this 2018 entry in Synced that NeurIPS now takes place in Canada between Montréal and Vancouver primarily because visas to Canada are easier to get than visas to the USA, even though some researchers still get difficulties in securing theirs. Especially researchers from some African countries, which is exposed  in the article as one of the reasons the next ICLR takes place in Addis Ababa. Which I wish I could attend! In the meanwhile, I will be taking part in an ABC workshop in Vancouver, December 08, prior to NeurIPS 2019, before visiting the Department of Statistics at UBC the day after. (My previous visit there was in 1990, I believe!) Incidentally but interestingly, the lottery entries for NeurIPS 2019 are open till September 25, to the public (those not contributing to the conference or any of its affiliated groups). This is certainly better than having bots buying all entries within 12 minutes of the opening time!

More globally, this entry makes me wonder how learned societies could invest in ensuring locations for their (international) meetings allow for a maximum inclusion in terms of these visa difficulties, but also ensuring freedom and safety for all members. Which may prove a de facto impossibility. For instance, Ethiopia has a rather poor record in terms of human rights and, in particular, homosexuality is criminalised there. An alternative would be to hold the conferences in parallel locations chosen to multiply the chances for this inclusion, but this could prove counter-productive [for inclusion] by creating groups that would never ever meet. An insolvable conundrum?

the future of conferences

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2019 by xi'an

The last issue of Nature for 2018 offers a stunning collection of science photographs, ten portraits of people who mattered (for the editorial board of Nature), and a collection of journalists’ entries on scientific conferences. The later point leading to interesting questioning on the future of conferences, some of which relate to earlier entries on this blog. Like attempts to make them having a lesser carbon footprint, by only attending focused conferences and workshops, warning about predatory ones, creating local hives on different continents that can partake of all talks but reduce travel and size and still allow for exchanges person to person, multiply the meetings and opportunities around a major conference to induce “only” one major trip (as in the past summer of British conferences, or the incoming geographical combination of BNP and O’Bayes 2019), cut the traditional dreary succession of short talks in parallel in favour of “unconferences” where participants set communally the themes and  structure of the meeting (but ware the dangers of bias brought by language, culture, seniority!). Of course, this move towards new formats will meet opposition from several corners, including administrators who too often see conferences as a pretense for paid vacations and refuse supporting costs without a “concrete” proof of work in the form of a presentation.Another aspect of conference was discussed there, namely the art of delivering great talks. Which is indeed more an art than a science, since the impact will not only depend on the speaker and the slides, but also on the audience and the circumstances. As years pile on, I am getting less stressed and probably too relaxed about giving talks, but still rarely feel I have reached toward enough of the audience. And still falling too easily for the infodump mistake… Which reminds me of a recent column in Significance (although I cannot link to it!), complaining about “finding it hard or impossible to follow many presentations, particularly those that involved a large number of equations.” Which sounds strange to me as on the opposite I quickly loose track in talks with no equations. And as mathematical statistics or probability issues seems to imply the use of maths symbols and equations. (This reminded me of a short course I gave once in a undisclosed location, where a portion of the audience left after the first morning, due to my use of “too many Greek letters”.) Actually, I am always annoyed at apologies for using proper maths notations, since they are the tools of our trade.Another entry of importance in this issue of Nature is an interview with Katherine Heller and Hal Daumé, as first chairs for diversity and inclusion at N[eur]IPS. Where they discuss the actions taken since the previous NIPS 2017 meeting to address the lack of inclusiveness and the harassment cases exposed there, first by Kristian Lum, Lead Statistician at the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG), whose blog denunciation set the wheels turning towards a safer and better environment (in stats as well as machine-learning). This included the [last minute] move towards renaming the conference as NeuroIPS to avoid sexual puns on the former acronym (which as a non-native speaker I missed until it was pointed out to me!). Judging from the feedback it seems that the wheels have indeed turned a significant amount and hopefully will continue its progress.

CASSIS [in Vancouver]

Posted in pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 29, 2018 by xi'an

My friend Luke Bornn is running a workshop on Statistics in Sports the day after JSM, in Vancouver. With sessions on American football, basketball, and other sports. Not exactly in the continuation of the long summer of Briton conferences series, unless one considers the “British” in British Columbia!, but definitely worth considering as a boxing day for JSM!

the dark side of the “work hard party harder” spirit[s]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , on December 20, 2017 by xi'an

Now, following the blogs of the past days about harassment at ISBA meetings, reposting Pierre’s blog about the strong unbalance between men and women attending these meetings, and then the ISBA first action towards making ISBA meetings safe(r), or more inclusive, here are some completely personal reflections on why I think the culture of “work hard party harder” that permeates these meetings needs to change. Towards “more Bayes, less booze”, to repeat from an email I received in the past few days… (As in every entry on this blog, except maybe those few pointing out factual mathematical errors, but this need be stressed, this is indeed a personal view on the topic, reacting to the news, for which I claim absolutely no expertise or superiority of any kind above other viewpoints. And certainly no representativity. Especially not of the safeISBA Task Force opinions. Comments more than welcome, more than usual!)

So… I have been attending five of the Valencià (pre-ISBA) meetings, from the early 1990’s till 2010, all located in Spanish coastal resorts, from Peñíscola to Benidorm. As is obvious to anyone having attended one of those meetings [and not being submitted to harassment or unwanted pursuits on their first and last experience there], there was a tremendous feeling of belonging to a community. An exciting, strong, exhilarating community unlike any other statistical meeting. Here were people working exactly in my field, ready to share ideas, discuss posters for hours, and possibly shred one another to pieces when diverging on a point of theory, while remaining good friends. Plus being party animals able to drink and dance the whole night, till the wee hours when I was myself getting out of bed for my morning run… Definitely impressive. (Actually, it is at one of these meetings that I first heard the motto “work hard party harder”.) All very exciting, with a size small enough that one could feel connected to all participants by more than science. With a blurry boundary between academia and social network, between work and party. Without truly realising on my part that the resulting freedom of discussions and actions in this environment was not absolute and definitely not the same for everyone. Even though the overwhelming majority of participants were and are fine individuals, and that many friendships and collaborations started there.

Academia offers this paradox of a sensation of great freedom (to teach, research, publish, discuss anything you wish) controlled by many others (like editors, publishers, grant committees, conference organisers) that you cannot afford to antagonise too much. And hence that the feeling of a single-happy-family-of-forever-friends bumps into this constraint of reality, especially when the positions of two participants differ by much in seniority or culture. Or, primarily, gender. Because as Pierre was saying, as a man, I was never the victim of any misconduct or abuse of power. And hence could continue enjoying long poster sessions and fierce discussions without any worry of staying too long other than impacting my running the next day… While some friends of mine rather remember unwanted attentions at their very first meeting, with harassment from some organisers as well…
There were many aggravating factors to this potential for harassment, from the deleterious atmosphere of beach towns like Benidorm, to having all participants located in the same (monstrous) hotel, to holding poster sessions late at night, with excessive drinking a strong possibility, even though, as a friend was emailing me last morning, “it is too easy to blame alcohol consumption” as the sole culprit, and the availability of nightclubs and bars for after-poster-sessions… To continue quoting from this friend, she rightly suggested “swinging the pendulum back to more work hard” and less institutionalised partying. While keeping ISBA meetings definitely fun and terribly exciting. And plain safe. I am thus looking forward to the policies being developed to ensure ISBA 2018 in Edinburgh [clearly not a beach town!] is meeting all terms, and regains its attractivity for all members. All of them.

conference carbon footprint

Posted in Kids, pictures, Running, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2017 by xi'an

As a local organiser of the recent BNP 11 conference in Paris, and hence involved in setting and cleaning coffee breaks and [now famous] wine&cheese poster sessions, I was rather shocked by the amount of waste generated by those events, albeit aware of the importance of the social exchanges they induced… And thus got to wonder how the impact of those conference events could be reduced. One solution is the drastic one, namely to provide exactly nothing at all during the breaks between talks and expect anyone hungry or thirsty enough to bring one own’s food or drink. Another one, as suggested by my daughter at the dinner table, is to provide Ecocups, namely reusable plastic glasses that can given to all participants at the beginning of the conference. Or sold (or rented) to those who have not brought their own mug or bottle. (Of course, this may be a poor idea in that manufacturing and shipping a hard-plastic glass that most likely will be discarded after a few days may be more damaging than producing the equivalent number of “disposable” thin plastic glasses. And in the end all this agitation is peanuts compared with the impact of flying participants to the conference. For which I have no handy solution… As biking to the conference location is a privilege very few can enjoy.) Still, and even though this puts another stone in the already rocky organisers’ garden, I wish we could adopt more positive policies at the meetings we organise and sponsor.

ISBA 2018, Edinburgh, 24-28 June

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2017 by xi'an

Edinburgh, Sept. 03, 2011The ISBA 2018 World Meeting will take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 24-29 June 2018. (Since there was some confusion about the date, it is worth stressing that these new dates are definitive!) Note also that there are other relevant conferences and workshops in the surrounding weeks:

  • a possible ABC in Edinburgh the previous weekend, 23-24 June [to be confirmed!]
  • the Young Bayesian Meeting (BaYSM) in Warwick, 2-3 July 2018
  • a week-long school on fundamentals of simulation in Warwick, 9-13 July 2018 with courses given by Nicolas Chopin, Art Owen, Jeff Rosenthal and others
  • MCqMC 2018 in Rennes, 1-6 July 208
  • ICML 2018 in Stockholm, 10-15 July 2018
  • the 2018 International Biometrics Conference in Barcelona, 8-13 July 2018

CNRS bans airbnb!

Posted in Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , on February 4, 2017 by xi'an

A few days ago, like all members of French research labs associated with CNRS, the national research institute, I received an email stating

” Le recours aux service de co-voiturage (ex, BlablaCar) et le recours aux services de location entre particuliers (ex. Air B&B [sic]) ne sont pas autorisés car ils font peser un risque sur le CNRS en termes de responsabilité.”

which means that it will no longer reimburse travel expenses connected to airbnb rentals for fear of litigation. While the decision is not completely surprising, given the bureaucratic tendencies of the CNRS, and the fact that cities and administrations are increasingly targeting airbnb, making it primarily a politically motivated ban, this is a most unwelcome item of news, both for funding reasons, as airbnb or a similar rental service offers massive gains when attending a conference with colleagues, and for comfort reasons, as I find resorting to hotels much less relaxing than in a rental, if only because I cannot cook and eat what I want.