We call for more sustainable & diverse scientific conferences! (EN/DE/ES/FR)

We call for more sustainable & diverse scientific conferences! (EN/DE/ES/FR)

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Thomas, Oren, Nishtha, Arthur, Fabian and Karim hat diese Petition an The Scientific Community (The Scientific Community) und gestartet.

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Towards more sustainable and diverse scientific exchange

The disruptive impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on our lives are not easily quantified, but one among these that merits attention is the way in which the virus has changed the scientific conferences that took place last year. What are the lessons we can take away from these changes in the future?

While it is natural to assume that most are hoping to go back to their pre-pandemic lives, it can also be imagined that the political measures have created an opportunity to reconsider our long-established and unquestioned habits. For instance, decreased activity made it possible to reduce CO2 emissions worldwide [1, 2] and to lower pollution levels in many areas around the world [3–8]. Not only that, diversity in science has also received a boost by enabling more attendees and contributions through online conferences, see e.g. [9]. These advances are still tentative however, and as such there is a risk of strong rebound effects [10–13] and falling back into old habits unless action is taken to solidify the progress that has already been made. In the wake of all the media coverage of the pandemic [14] it is increasingly likely that issues of equality and climate change could be superseded in the public awareness, and a significant amount remains to be achieved regarding global policy changes [15]. Meanwhile, the window of opportunity is rapidly shrinking [16, 17].

In 2021 the American Physical Society March Meeting was entirely remote for the first time in its history, and given that, our impressions were positive. We agree that a virtual conference can never fully replace in-person meetings, and as expected for a first attempt, minor technical and organizational challenges affected the proceedings of the normal March Meeting experience. Despite this, the meeting demonstrated the clear future potential for successful international scientific conferences beyond the traditional model. By treating online conferences not as a last minute stop-gap but as an equal alternative, we are confident that new ideas and resources to resolve current weaknesses would be quickly discovered by the community at large. A very creative example of a progressive solution was the implementation of virtual reality at the Neutrino2020 conference. The case for change in our established paradigms becomes even more compelling when considering the following:

  • Global heating. International conferences and long-distance travel are inextricably linked, and researchers are likely to exhaust their full annual sustainable CO2 budget of 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per year by taking a round-trip flight [18]. In contrast, video-conferencing reduces CO2 emissions by a factor of at least 14 [19] and up to 3000 [20]. Even under worst case assumptions, virtual meetings are more eco-friendly for traveling distances larger than 400 km [21]. Having now definitively proven the man-made greenhouse effect [22], can the scientific community urge for climate measures while flying around the globe with the sole purpose of discussing with each other? This avoidable own-goal plays into the hands of cynics and climate-deniers [23].
  • Equality, diversity, inclusion. Fully in-person conferences cannot guarantee the same level of diversity, inclusion and equality that we have seen with virtual conferences. Here, we are not only referring to monetary aspects related to the wealth of different institutes but also to work-life-balance and academic hierarchy.
  • Global health risks and species conservation. International travel and our connected way of living has increased the risk of novel zoonoses and the prevalence of diseases in general [24–28]. Covid-19 is only the latest example and it is all but guaranteed that similar future pandemics will occur if we do not change our behavior.

Fortunately, the issue of international scientific conferences has already received a lot of attention [29–35]. As an alternative, we support any option where fully remote attendance is equally catered for, i.e. all tutorials, sessions, exhibitions etc. are accessible online. Since certain aspects of the conference cannot be replicated virtually, we suggest a hybrid solution where virtual participation of non-locals is promoted by significantly smaller conference fees compared to the on-site participation fee. Developing such new forms of scientific conferencing is certainly a challenge—yet, we are convinced that the benefits are undeniable: Let us be part of the movement to take responsibility and establish more sustainable scientific conferences. Change is coming, it is on us to take action now.

Be part of the movement towards a more sustainable and diverse scientific exchange and sign our open letter to show your support.

Signed,
Thomas Mertz, Oren Neumann, Nishtha Prakash, Arthur Scammell, Fabian Schubert, and Karim Zantout

Contact us via
Twitter: GreenerAcademia
Email: greeneracademia[at]posteo.net

References

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