Posted by: Jeremy Fox | August 11, 2011

The ESA meeting should have public lectures (UPDATED)

Sarcozona asks why the ESA meeting doesn’t include free lectures aimed at the general public. That’s a great question; I think it’s really weird that the ESA doesn’t do this. The Canadian ecology & evolution meeting included such a lecture back in May (in the evening, when more members of the public can attend), and it was a great success.

UPDATE: Via their Twitter feed, the ESA responds that the meeting already includes a public lecture, namely the opening plenary. I respectfully disagree that the opening plenary fills the niche I have in mind. First of all, although I didn’t attend the opening plenary this year, in my previous experience the opening plenary is not attended by a significant number of people who aren’t attending the meeting. Perhaps that could be changed with more, or more effective, publicity or a change of venue, perhaps not. And because few members of the public attend, the speakers at the opening plenary typically pitch their presentations towards their fellow professionals. Second, the time is wrong–the opening plenary is held at dinner time (5-6:30), it needs to be held after dinner if we’re serious about attracting members of the public. Finally, the topic of the opening plenary is usually something worthy and earnest, related to the worthy and earnest official theme for the meeting (“earth stewardship” this year). Worthy is not the same thing as “fun” or “engaging”. If you want people to make a special trip downtown, you have to make it an event they want to see.

By the way, I’m speaking from personal experience here, having organized a series of very successful free lectures for the general public relating to Darwin’s 200th birthday back in 2008.

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