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Worth It?

Responding to a JAMA paper in which Stanford University School of Medicine's John Ioannidis questions the purpose of attending conferences in person, ScienceNews' Janet Raloff examines the costs and benefits of making the trek to meetings.

Travel is, of course, a major cost consideration. But, Raloff says, "an equally important, if less tangible, issue [is] the quality of data shared at science meetings." Citing Ioannidis, she adds that "the contribution of large conferences to the dissemination and advancement of science 'is unclear.'"

But there are obvious benefits of conference attendance. "Meetings allow people in related — and often unrelated — fields to mix and discuss and sometimes engage in heated debates," Raloff says. "Their conversations may lead to the redesign of follow-up studies or reanalysis of data — long before the findings are ready to see the prime time of journal submission." Further, though it's tough to tell when, how, or why this could happen, "conference attendees might hear a talk that catalyzes an 'aha moment,'" she adds.

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