Friday, November 11, 2011

SVP 2011 - Las Vegas, NV

A week ago I was attending the annual meeting for the Society of Vertebrate Paleontologists. The reason this post is coming as a follow up to the meeting was because internet at the hotel and conference center was outrageously expensive, as was everything else

Pro: Despite not presenting anything this year, I felt it was a highly productive meeting for me, personally. I met some new people, got leads on projects, and caught up with collaborators who I haven't seen in a while. Russ and I put together our writing schedule, and I think we're back on track for submitting our paper. We should be ready for submission by early to mid January.

Pro: I saw some really interesting talks, in particular about the salvage project up in Snowmass, CO. One of the hypotheses for how this mammoth death assemblage formed was that animals sunk into the ground during earthquakes. It works like this:
1 - Animal is standing in lake, happy and free.
2 - The earth starts to shake, which liquefies the ground the animal is standing on.
3 - The animal sinks.
4 - The ground stops shaking, and the sediment immediately re-solidifies, trapping the animal.
5 - The animal dies a slow (on the order of months) and horrible death by starvation since it is trapped.

My friends at Eastern Tennessee are all doing really interesting projects for their master's degrees. I can't wait to see what they do for PhDs, and where they end up going. A plus for me is that they all seem to be proficient at geometric morphometrics, a technique I'm interested in using. You folks will be hearing from me in the near future.

Con: The conference was at the Paris in Las Vegas. I have a hard time imagining a more irrelevant venue for an academic conference. Las Vegas represent everything that is wrong with the world, and I argue the decision to have the meeting there was insensitive to students and particularly insensitive to women. It was insensitive to students because this conference is already expensive as hell. I roomed with 3 other people, bought food at a grocery store, and carpooled and it STILL was outrageous. More importantly, though, was that this conference was held in a place that treats women like they are objects to be bought and sold. I shouldn't have to choose between participating in my science and having pornography shoved in my face every time I step outside. No exaggeration there, folks, you go outside and people literally shove pictures of naked women at you, and these cards are all over the ground during the day. It's disgusting. If you want to know why we have problems in the world, go to Vegas. It's no place for families, and it's certainly no place for an academic conference. If anyone is interested in helping me write a formal letter of complaint to the president of the society, send me an email.

The other reason this was a less than enjoyable meeting was that the people running it seemed to think we didn't need to eat. In previous years, events that were around meal times had a fair amount of food available. Contrast that to this year, the welcome reception had... chips. And dip. That's it. I serve more than that to friends who are coming over to play board games, nevermind several hours of mingling. What was somewhat amusing, if not annoying, is that these same bowls of crappy chips kept showing up at everything. It was like an unfunny running joke for the duration of the conference. I personally want to know what my $200 registration fee paid for if 1) I'm not getting anything to eat and 2) they aren't printing us copies of the abstract book anymore. That $200 didn't even include the banquet, which I didn't go to because $75 seemed ridiculous for a single meal.

Con: My birthday overlapped the conference.

Pro: I got to hang out with some cool people that I rarely see for my birthday, which ended up being pretty great. I also discovered the one and only good thing in Las Vegas: slushy machines filled with frozen mixed drinks.I want to give a shout out to all the folks who got me birthday drinks, we sure had some fun times. So far, year 27 is pretty good.

In summary, it was a good meeting, but only if you worked to make it good for yourself. Otherwise, you didn't miss much if you skipped it this year.


  1. Nicely stated! I didn't go to SVP, sadly, but I have been to Vegas for a conference in the past. I think your points are spot-on-- it's not a place that's particularly friendly to women (or people of color, arguably), and on top of that, it's incredibly wasteful.

  2. Thanks for the comment Jacquelyn. Hope you can make it to Raleigh, NC next year.

  3. We had a national Geography conference there a few years ago. It was strange to have all these classes about resource scarcity and the environment - then have a conference in arguably one of the most unsustainable places in the country.

  4. Do any of my readers attend the American Association of Mammalogists meetings? If so, how do you feel about it being in Reno this upcoming summer, at a casino? I'm not too pleased, and I'm considering not going.

    Thanks for the post John, excellent point. For all practical purposes, Las Vegas shouldn't exist.