Reader Comments

Post a new comment on this article

On the half-life of scientific meetings

Posted by TCErren on 20 Aug 2008 at 12:45 GMT

On the half-life of scientific meetings

Erren TC*

With the following brief material I would like to complement the recent “Ten Simple Rules for Organizing a Scientific Meeting” [1]. Indeed, besides abundant advice on the many aspects of handling and managing the logistics of your event, the key Rules 1, 5 and 10 for scientific quality and impact could be a little expanded to provide balanced recommendations of what can make a scientific conference most effective.

(i) Quality draws quality
Most importantly, wherever possible, you should develop a scientifically sound thematic thread for the whole meeting, or several threads for different parts of the conference which you organize. This, in my experience [2, 3], will certainly facilitate your next step, i.e., to diligently contact quality speakers. Note that if you succeed to get the first ‘heavy weight(s)’ interested with your theme and thread, this can pave the road to persuade additional ones to come and contribute.

(ii) Establish a critical mass of participants
In addition, when developing “a balanced agenda” [1], you should attempt to establish a ‘critical mass of contributors’. This implies that you deliberately invite both scientists who have produced evidence for or are in favour of a specific hypothesis or theory and researchers who challenge the results or their interpretation in the field.

(iii) Get rigorous summaries and commentaries published
Provided that both quality proponents and ‘critics’ are invited and attend (i and ii), you should offer the possibility to contribute and publish not only individual talks but also to provide commentaries on or summaries of what was presented at your scientific meeting. It is critical to ask and answer, “which presentations and specific leads persuaded, and which did not?” It can be even helpful to team up researchers from different disciplines to write one of several reports on the meeting. Note that critical summaries can be positive, negative, or both. Note finally, that – as has been commented by Horrobin, one of the 250 most-cited biomedical researchers of the past two decades [4], after [2] – “any good conference [generates] more questions than answers”. Overall, there can be no doubt that via national and international publication of meeting material, including comments and summaries, those who attended but also those who did not in person may nevertheless benefit a posteriori from thoughtful and stimulating presentations which you must hope to have organized.

Following suggestions (i), (ii) and (iii) are all means to one end: to increase the half-life of your event. Envisaging a scientifically balanced meeting (ii) with quality contributors (i) will facilitate your applications for funding, a necessary condition to bring your conference to life. Moreover, as good meetings produce more questions than answers, it seems imperative to have critical summaries which are quotable, provide contextual reference and guidance and can be worked on after your meeting took place (iii).


1. Corpas M, Gehlenborg N, Janga SC, Bourne PE. Ten simple rules for organizing a scientific meeting. PLoS Comput Biol. 2008 Jun 27;4(6):e1000080.
2. Cologne Symposium 2000. Low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF), Visible Light, Melatonin and Cancer - International symposium May 4-5, 2000; University of Cologne, Germany. Tagungsband Zbl. Arbeitsmed 50: 298-314; Also available at:
3. Cologne Symposium 2002 (2002) Light, Endocrine Systems and Cancer - Facts and Research Perspectives. In Erren TC, Piekarski C (Eds.) Neuroendocrinology Letters 2002; Supplement 2; 23: 1 - 104. Also available at:
4. The Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). accessed on August 11, 2008.

Thomas C. Erren
Head of the Institute and Policlinic for Occupational and Social Medicine
School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Cologne
Kerpener Str. 62,
50937 Köln, Germany