Meetings

Scientific Groups Express Worry Over Conference Cuts

By / Oct 23, 2012 (TMG archive photo)

The scientific community often relies on conferences to share new scientific ideas. Many are worried that recent cuts could limit innovation.

New Obama administration guidelines and legislation pending in Congress that would cut federal agency spending on meetings aren’t winning many fans in the scientific community.

A number of scientific groups — including the Computing Research Association, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the U.S. Public Policy Council of ACM — have asked members of Congress and the Office of Management and Budget for exemption from spending and attendance limits, saying the meetings are important for sharing scientific research and industry collaboration.

“Participation in scientific conferences is a critical opportunity for scientists and engineers to keep current in rapidly changing fields of science and technology,” a letter [PDF], dated September 10, states. The Office of Management and Budget says it has not received the letter.

The inability of the government researchers and program managers to participate in these conferences is actually very damaging.

Scientific groups are far from alone on this front — for example, the U.S. Army recently had to cut its attendance at a recent conference, and dozens of National Weather Service employees had to skip a conference after funding for travel wasn’t authorized.

Among the people speaking out against the policy is Vinton Cerf, the president of the Association for Computing Machinery. If the name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because Cerf is considered a “father of the internet,” having played a key role in the formation of one of the most successful federally funded scientific projects in U.S. history. While Cerf understands the reasons for the cuts, he considers the action “a terrible penny-wise decision.”

“This is a problem not just for the computing research community, but for almost anyone who’s involved in scientific work,” Cerf told The New York Times. “The inability of the government researchers and program managers to participate in these conferences is actually very damaging.”

Should scientific conferences be treated in the same way as more general training conferences? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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