Have conferences become a giant racket?

What has happened to a bunch of nerds getting together in a big room, eating some sandwiches and talking about ideas?

Why are people so willing to pay big money to meet other people in their respective fields at conferences, when they just could have done what I have referred to in the paragraph above?

We now have a conference ‘industry’.  Take Ted talks for example.  Come to our conference!  Our speakers have all the big ideas!  These people will save the world!  The conference industry is booming!

Seems to me there is a lot of talk-ie and not enough do-ie.

Take this conference for example, which is only 5 years young:

International Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference

Fancy website!  There is money for that and the nice conference, yet, there is little to no money for research in this field.

If you happen to be one of the lucky folks to have a steady job in industry, government or academia, someone may foot the bill for you to go – $470 for members and $550 for non-members, but only if you register early.  Of course that doesn’t include travel and hotel costs.

But wait!  If you can’t get your costs covered, for the low low cost of $150, you can still pay the organizers AND work for nothing at the conference.  This is referred to as ‘volunteering’ on the conference website.  So there is always that.

Sorry to pick on you, International Fire Behavior and Fuel Conference, but you are following the modern conference ‘industry’ trend.  You folks could instead spend your time figuring out how the dollars would be better spent actually funding climate research, or figuring out a way to actually use the internet to communicate at your conference (the internet — what’s that?) so as to minimize the carbon footprint of the large number of people travelling to your conference.

I’ll leave it to my readers to answer the rhetorical question that serves as the title of this article.


The $550 conference meal — if you register early (Sandwich by whologwhy)

“He is like I am. He speaks like I do.”

Okay.  I couldn’t resist posting after reading this New York Times article about evangelicals and Donald Trump.  The article may very well be biased, but it is particularly funny.  In it, it appears some evangelicals quoted have convinced themselves that Trump is a man of God, even if there may be some lingering doubts about his Christian beliefs: “If he’s a Christian, then he’s probably a baby Christian,” said one person.

Evangelicals interviewed who are pursuing higher education seem to have greater doubts about Trump’s abilities to lead, though.

After reading the NYTimes, I thought about this other fun article in the Boston Globe which discussed the speech levels of party candidates.  According to it, Trump is speaking at a fourth grade level.  I can’t dispute that it seems to be working really well for him with evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike.

When Christians are willing to put their doubts aside as to whether Trump is God-fearing enough in order to support his presidential candidacy, however, the fourth grade rhetoric appears to be working some big time magic within that group.  Even if you think Trump is right off his flippin’ rocker, you can’t deny how clever he is for using simple speech to reach voters from all segments of American society.

Trump for POTUS!





This article just about sums up my first semester of law school

Since I don’t have time lately to post anything of my own, I thought I might provide a link to the blog “The War on Bullshit” which has, in my humble opinion, posted an accurate and eloquently written article summing up how I feel about law school grading.  Law school is an engine powered by a large amount of arbitrariness and subjectivity along with massive egos of academics (easily developed when one has only had to live in one’s own head for the majority of one’s life).  Couple this with a professor’s inability to teach law in a coherent and logical manner, and voila, you have a recipe for a law student’s living nightmare.

Some profs and some administrators* will say things like, “law is a self-regulating profession so self-teaching is critical” or, “law professors are not trained as teachers” or, “you should spend more time learning from your classmates”.  Well, sorry, but that doesn’t give a law school a valid defense for providing sub-par service (let’s not forget that legal education has become prohibitively expensive).  These are only thinly veiled tu quoque arguments: “your marks stink, student A, because you’re not working hard enough / you didn’t learn the concepts thoroughly on your own.” (but these profs and university administrators know this argument all too well). If I’m learning on my own, then why don’t I just attend law school online?

I will also argue that there is a great deal of special pleading, or goal post shifting, occurring on a regular basis:  “We don’t want the smart students to transfer out of our law school, else we’ll lose our jobs.  Let’s make our marking extra arbitrary and our exams beyond difficult, so we’ll be sure to remove as many marks as possible, and while we’re at it, we’ll lower our grading curve average.”

Thanks.  Make sure that I can’t have good enough marks to transfer out so I can float tuition at your institution for another two years.  But this is all just speculation without evidence.  I wouldn’t want to be accused of making a false cause argument.  My bad. It’s my fault for not understanding the highly sophisticated legal concepts being taught to me.

Despite all of this, we are still left wondering why law students have high rates of depression and substance abuse problems.  Hmm, I wonder why.  But again, that’s just causal speculation.

* I say some, because I don’t want to be accountable for making the composition/division fallacy, where I think ALL profs and administrators are the same.  They’re not, but I often hear similar messages from them.


Evolution of Popular Music

I gotta get back to slogging through contract law, but I came across this really interesting paper, which has been covered in the media. Some scientists have determined that there have been three major branches of popular American music involving early 60s rock, early 80s new wave and early 90s rap.  According to the paper also, the British Invasion was not necessarily responsible for the 60s evolution of rock because it had already started, but the Invasion possibly helped to increase this genre’s popularity.

Having been a biologist before and more than a bit of a music fan – this paper is pretty cool, and it’s an open source paper, which I like.

Here is the link: The evolution of popular music: USA 1960–2010.  Have fun.