How scientific conferences will survive the coronavirus shock

Giuliana Viglioni in Nature:

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Adam Fortais had never attended a virtual conference. Now he’s sold on them — and doesn’t want to go back to conventional, in-person gatherings. That’s because of his experience of helping to instigate some virtual sessions for the March meeting of the American Physical Society (APS), after the organization cancelled the regular conference at short notice. “If given the option, I think I would almost always choose to do the virtual one,” says Fortais, a physicist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “It just seems better to me in almost all ways.”

Fortais could get his wish. Since the coronavirus spread worldwide in early March, many scientific conferences scheduled for the first half of the year have migrated online, and organizers of meetings due to take place in the second half of 2020 are deciding whether they will go fully or partially virtual. Some researchers hope that the pandemic will finally push scientific societies to embrace a shift towards online conferences — a move that many scientists have long desired for environmental reasons and to allow broader participation. Scientists with disabilities and parents of young children are just two examples of the researchers who are benefiting from online meetings, says Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Cobb has been cutting back her own air travel since 2017, both to reduce her personal carbon footprint and to blaze a trail towards structural change in her discipline. She hopes the changes as a result of the pandemic will last long after it has ended. “In five years, we’ll be in a remarkably different place.”

More here.