Saturday, March 17, 2007
so, how was the conference?
(me, presenting at the Eastern Sociological Society meetings)
The most common problem with giving talks at conferences is that one doesn't actually get an audience, and one is left talking almost or entirely only to the other panelists.* This leads one to feel like presenting is pointless, that one is producing a good no one else is actually interested in consuming, and various related issues that cause existential and morale crises in academics. Alternatively, one can sometimes get good attendance at a talk, but then one is dealing with this stochastic process where each additional person at a talk increases the probability that someone in the audience will be a crank or twit that provides some kind of irksome distraction that is then does much to decrease the value of the session.**
At the Eastern meetings, I gave two presentations: one fell into the first category above, and one--the panel on Freakonomics--fell into the second. The main session vandal for the second was this guy who was apparently the spouse of a sociologist, but I somehow missed this and spent much of the time when he would talk thinking, "How can this guy be a sociologist and know so little about social science?" Anyway, fellow sociologists: if you want to bring your spouse (or child, or pet) along to a presentation, that's fine, but just like if you were going to a restaurant or movie theater, try to have them behave. If he is doing things like interrupting other audience member's points with asides where everyone is supposed to raise their hand if they've read Freaknonomics, that's not behaving.
Another person in the audience wanted the panel to discuss whether Freakonomics was "the son of the Bell Curve," which I regarded as being too beyond ridiculous to know how to address and yet seemed to resonate with some other people in the audience. I suppose maybe I should consider it a victory that no analogies to the Nazis were drawn.
* I haven't had this problem with any panels I've been on, but one consequence of the rise of internet in hotels is that one can't necessarily even count on the attention of fellow panelists.
** One may be more likely at ill attended talks to be on a panel with someone who is a crank or twit and does much to compromise the panel for everyone, especially if they go on for twice their allotted time with a presider who just lets them.