FINAL UPDATE: The snark in this post is out of line, and for that I apologize to Howard Rundle and the other Evolution 2012 organizers. It was and remains true that I’m personally skeptical of the need for the chimes, based on my own experience over many years at an even larger meeting (the ESA). But as previous updates and Howard’s comment indicate, the organizers have good reasons for wanting to try the chimes. It was wrong of me to write a snarky post based on my own gut reaction to the idea without first checking in with the organizers.
As noted by Howard, myself, and others in the comments, it’s impossible to structure a large meeting in a way that will please everyone, so the only thing you can do is try to please as many people as possible. Which is exactly what the organizers are trying to do with the chimes. The chimes are an experiment, and the organizers deserve credit for carefully considering their options and deciding to give this experiment a go.
Evolution 2012 is going to be a great meeting, chimes or not, and it’s a massive amount of work to organize. Like all the attendees, I’m very grateful to Howard and his fellow organizers for putting this meeting together. And I appreciate him taking a bit of his very scarce time to stop by and clarify the reasoning behind the chimes.
In many elementary schools, a bell sounds throughout the building to indicate the end of one class, and a few minutes later another bell sounds to indicate the start of the next class. This practice is so common it’s given rise to popular slang, such as “saved by the bell“. I have just received an email indicating that the Evolution 2012 meeting is going to work the same way (emphasis added):
You are scheduled to give a talk at the upcoming 1st Joint Congress on Evolutionary Biology in Ottawa. The purpose of this message is to provide some additional information about timing. All talks in the general concurrent sessions are 14 min MAXIMUM, INCLUDING QUESTIONS. A building-wide chime system will be in place to help keep all concurrent sessions on time and in synch, and to allow 1 min movement time for attendees to switch rooms between talks (as well as time for the next speaker to get set up ). Using the building PA system, a brief start chime will be broadcast every 15 min on the hour (i.e. at xx:00, xx:15, xx:30, xx:45), and then a 2nd slightly different ending chime at 14 min., 29 min, 44 min. and 59 min. past the hour. For example, if your talk is at 9:00 am, then it will begin with a start chime at 9:00 am and finish with an end chime at 9:14 am. 1 min later a start chime will indicate the beginning of the next talk (9:15 am). There will be a digital clock in each room, situated so as to be visible to both the speaker and the volunteer chair of each session, and it will be synchronized with the chimes.
It is unclear if attendees will also require hall passes to go to the bathroom.
I’m not looking forward to having my thoughts and conversations interrupted by chimes broadcast throughout the building every 15 minutes. Even if the chimes can only be heard in the seminar rooms (which I doubt), they’ll still be incredibly annoying. And no, I don’t think it will be worth it to avoid parallel sessions drifting 30-60 seconds out of sync with one another.
UPDATE: Just to be clear, the email also says that there will be a digital clock in each room, synchronized to the chimes and visible to both the presenter and presider. So the chimes are in addition to and not a substitute for clocks!
By the way, not all talks are 15 minutes–symposium talks and presidential and award addresses are longer. So those talks are going to have chimes sounding while the talks are going on! Correction: I am informed by the meeting organizers that the chimes will not sound in rooms hosting longer talks, with the exception of a small number of longer talks being held in one particular room that is also hosting shorter talks.
Hopefully, if enough people complain early enough, they’ll shut the chimes off. Peeps: start complaining on Twitter right now (#evol2012)!
UPDATE#3: And if you say “Well, we’ll get used to it”, my responses are (i) speak for yourself! and (ii) why the frick should we have to get used to it? If someone says to you, “I’m going to cause you discomfort twice every 15 minutes for no reason,” your response should not be “Ok, go ahead, I’ll get used to it.” (Plus, are you seriously claiming you’re going to get used to chimes going off during the longer talks?)
UPDATE#4: I have corresponded with some of the meeting organizers, who were gracious enough to reply very quickly to the concerns raised in this post. They said that the chimes are a response to complaints about parallel sessions getting out of sync in past years, they will be very short (2-3 seconds) and will serve only to indicate the time (as opposed to drowning out speakers), and now that the decision’s been made to use them it would cost $4000 to turn them off. (They also suggest that the chimes will be expected and therefore less bothersome than cell phones going off, but the relevance of this fact is unclear to me. You can’t justify deciding to disturb people by pointing out that other things disturb people even more).
So the organizers clearly had their reasons, and I certainly understand that it’s now too costly for them to change their minds. And I’m very glad to hear that longer talks (mostly) won’t be interrupted. I remain unconvinced that the cure is better than the disease here, but we’ll see–perhaps I and commenter Jeremy Yoder are in a minority on this. The reaction of attendees should reveal whether most folks prefer chimes to sessions drifting slightly out of sync.