I'm off to a science conference/convention/meeting tomorrow. There'll be about 180 scientists packed into a room for two and a half days of talks on various subjects. Well, not all day. We do have places to sleep and there will be (bad) meals. And alcohol (and good coffee). I think my wife thinks that's why we all go. For the alcohol. Not so. We go to meet and talk to one another. The talks are often a side show. It's the connections you make and stuff you talk about one on one that really makes for a good meeting. Of course liquid refreshments help with that aspect. So it is kind of vital. Much effort is put into making sure there is decent beer, wine and coffee. And plenty of it.
Conferences are an interesting anthropological phenomena. Especially the scientific ones. Imagine, if you will, a large group of scientists all in one place. Some of these people (fortunately a minority, despite the stereotypes) are socially clueless. Others are so immersed in in their work they may as well be socially clueless. Oh yeah, everyone wears name badges. Got that picture in your mind? Everyone is looking for Dr. Bigshot so they can ingratiate themselves to him/her. Dr. Bigshot is important in some regard. They may be a well known scientist, in which case knowing them may, in some magical way, translate into more exposure (yes, we can be a somewhat vain bunch). And/or Dr. Bigshot may sit on a grant review panel, in which case you really, really, really want them to think you're a good guy/gal who is doing something worthwhile. Just in case they should get one of your grants to review. Of course Dr. Bigshot is in all likelihood there to drink beer and talk science, and may not welcome the fawning overtures of the lesser known. Or they may bask in it. Both types of Dr. Bigshot exist.
This weekends meeting is a relatively small and intimate affair. It's being held at a rustic (translation: poor accommodations and bad food) conference center outside one of this country's most uninspiring towns. And you wonder why we need good beer. At least we won't be inflicting ourselves on the general public. Large meetings are something else. These involve scientists in the thousands. They descend upon a city like flies with dandruff. It amusing really. Often you get not only a name badge, but also some kind of cheap bag/tote emblazoned with the name of the conference and it's sponsors. The attendees will wander the city between talks looking for coffee, food and/or beer. Many forget to take off their name badges and will be carrying their bags with "Annual Meeting of the International Society of Science Geeks" in large bold letters on the side. If you should live in a city hosting such a meeting and you run into a pack of such geeks looking lost and bewildered, take pity. We're harmless. Just point us at the nearest bar/restaurant/coffee shop.