09 August 2011

ESA 2011, Day 1

I got to the Austin Convention Center bright (?) and early - about 6:45 am. Because the Convention Center has wifi, and the hotel wants $10, and I won’t pay the hotel.

At the Monday morning plenary, the Executive Director of ESA, Catherine Carter, said, “I feel like I should say, ‘Howdy!’” Er. Do we have to play into the Texas stereotype?

I was surprised that when Terry Chapin, the society president, gave a talk stressing about the importance of communicating with the public... in which he had problems starting his PowerPoint. Perhaps thus demonstrating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Not sure.

Many awards were then given, many of which were for things form last year’s meeting. This struck me as a bit unusual, waiting a year for recognition. I was a bit surprised that there’s a poster award, the E. Lucy Braun award, won by Joe Fader (Illinois State University). Wonder if I can get his poster for the Better Posters blog? I was also amused that one of the awards was for a paper that had about 20 authors. And not one was at the meeting to pick up the award. The presenter commented that perhaps the authors were all trying to reduce their carbon footprint by not travelling to the meeting.

Finally, the main event keynote, Steve Pacala, who is a very good speaker. He called this the “Ecological crisis generation”, faced with problems like population and atmospheric carbon dioxide. This stands in distinct contrast to the tone when he started: “It was a blast.”

Pacala made a lot of interesting points about what it means to do science in crisis mode, as it were. He said, "Never have so many been asked to predict so much while knowing so little... To do the work, I have no choice but to loosen the evidentiary standards I use elsewhere." The good news was that talent, funding and progress is available in a crisis. The bad new is that evidence isn’t going to be as tight as we might like. Pacala asked ecologists to “Reserve part of your career for work on an environmental crisis.” But I worry about the possible seige mentality emerging from a scientific field constantly coping with crises.

Then, I went to a session on an outreach program called “Research ambassadors.” The scientists in the program talked about speaking to little kids (4-5 years old) and prisoners. Interesting that scientists speaking to both mentioned that in some cases, they underestimated their audience.

Almost all of the speakers talking about working in prisons. One said, “They’re so craving human contact, and it’s great to be that person.”

But there was irony with so much talk about public outreach to learn that ESA's contact person had quite a day or two before the convention, and reporters were having problems getting in contact with anyone.

I found lunch at Downtown Burgers across from the convention center. The burgers are very good, and the fries are awesome.

I split my afternoon sessions between paleoecology, undergrad teaching, and the posters.
In the poster session, I made it a mission to talk to the people in the furthest reaches of the poster room. And I talked to quite a few people about the design of their posters more than the science.

After that, I was lucky enough to go to dinner at P.F. Chang’s with a bunch of paleoecologists, courtesy of Jacqueline Gill.

And that was yesterday. And today’s already half over! I’m falling behind!

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