Supercomputing Conference Feels Effects of GSA Scandal

Attendance is down significantly as federal researchers stay home. That's because of cutbacks to research conferences — and scientific groups are protesting.

The attendees stay in budget hotels. The conference is no-frills.

But the attendees of the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking Storage, and Analysis, also known as SC12, are feeling the effects of limitations that the General Services Administration (GSA)  2010 conference — anything but no-frills — has caused.

If you want to get that inspiration that is going to lead to the next discovery, we need physical conferences.

The supercomputing conference, happening this week in Salt Lake City, is one of the first major scientific conferences feeling the impact of reduced federal employee attendance.

The event, which draws a number of federal research labs that the U.S. Department of Energy runs, saw a sizable decline this year. While specific federal attendee numbers weren’t available, the conference, which had 11,000 attendees in 2011, has 9,500 attendees this year. This is despite a record number of exhibitors.

The general chair of the conference, the University of Maryland’s Jeffrey Hollingsworth, says this could pose a major issue for scientific conferences in the future.

“If this is the beginning of a new norm, this is a serious problem for science, because science can be conducted in many ways,”  Hollingsworth told Computerworld‘s Patrick Thibodeau, “[but] if you want to get that inspiration that is going to lead to the next discovery, we need physical conferences.”

Weeks ago, Associations Now reported that scientific groups sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget asking that scientific events be excluded from limits on federal employee conference attendace, with the Association for Computing Machinery’s Vinton Cerf, a “father of the internet,” among the most prominent critics.

Should scientific and research conferences fall under the same umbrella as nonresearch-oriented training events? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

(Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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