Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Make academic conferences hybrid post pandemic

This is a plea, and a warning, to academic conference organizers to retain an online option for events post-pandemic. As Skiles, Yang, Reshef et al. (2021) report, virtual conferences forced on organizers by the COVID-19 pandemic have improved diversity, equity and inclusion in science and engineering conferences. Regrettably this may be a temporary, with some organizers I have contacted indicating they will only provide online access for those unable to get to the venue due to the pandemic. 

Where pandemic restrictions are lifted, some delegates may no longer be permitted to attend online. That this will exclude most of those who could previously attend, either is of no interest to the organizers, or seen as a a positive. The organizers want high quality delegates who can pay a high price to attend. Those who are from low income countries, or institutions which cannot subsidize high fees are not wanted. People who may not be able to attend due to child mining duties are similarly considered not worth having at the conference. The ideal delegate is a white, western, male from a wealthy university in the first world, with a wife to look after the children.

In the past there have been online conferences, but these were fringe events. The pandemic has shown an online event can be mainstream. Given this has shown to be the case, is it ethical and lawful to deny access to disadvantaged groups by removing the online option? I suggest not.


Skiles, M., Yang, E., Reshef, O. et al. Conference demographics and footprint changed by virtual platforms. Nat Sustain (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00823-2 

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