Twitter wipes out windbags at Planet Under Pressure 2012

All plenary panel questions must be submitted by social media at the Planet Under Pressure 2012 conference starting in London later this month.

“People won’t be popping up there and seizing the microphone, and belabouring the audience for hours”, said Dr Mark Stafford Smith, Co-chair of the scientific organising committee. Announcing the radical move in an in-house interview for CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, Stafford Smith appeared to be influenced by the plight of his fellow countrymen.

“That means that it’s just as easy to ask a question from your dinner table here in Australia….as it would be if you were sitting in the plenary hall there,” he said.

We’ve all suffered the great conference dilemma. Organisers feel bound to offer audience participation despite the certain knowledge that the floor will be dominated by hobby-horse speeches and free publicity statements for quack projects.

Let’s celebrate another example of social media delivering equal access to the experts and the opportunity for carbon-free participation. But I do wonder how the social dynamics within the conference hall will work out. Will the audience feel disenfranchised and stay outside in the coffee bars?

It’s appropriate for a science conference to demand precision and focus. Now it’s over to the panellists to answer the questions without deviation or repetition.

One thing leaves me uncertain. Does the science community know how to use Twitter and Facebook? I did a quick check on the “plenary speakers and panelists” promoted by the conference organisers. There are nearly 50 of them and only five offer their thoughts on Twitter, of which two are media specialists acting as moderators.

Don’t worry. One of the remaining three is Nigel Cameron, President of the US Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies and renowned victim of Twitterrhoea, his Tweets coming in uncontrolled bursts. We’ll be lucky if he gets through his presentation without asking himself a question.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK