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AIDS festival conference in Toronto

by Eva Amsen

Since I’m in Toronto, you’d expect me to write something about the AIDS festival conference going on right now, but I’m preparing a trip and my head is already in Europe. (The rest of me will fly there on Thursday).

Still, as an ad on a passing bus told me, “We ALL have AIDS!!”, so I shall scrape together some content from local media.

BlogTO has some photos of the opening ceremony and this is pretty much identical to the kind of coverage the event gets all over the news here. Everyone is really excited about all the celebrities that are in town, and really annoyed by the lack of the PM at the event. But it all seems like nothing more than a huge party and a big ego boost for all kinds of celebrities to show the world how much they care.

The Toronto Star recognized this too, and published scientists’ opinions about the conference. It’s a MUST READ article, with the opinion of one of the HIV pioneers:

Every major advance in the field of HIV, [Gallo] says, has been a result of basic laboratory science, yet scientists feel like “fish out of water” at the conferences.

“What I worry about at this meeting is that there is a certain degradation of science (by) the circus quality and the lack of importance of that which is the only way the problem is going to be solved.”

After reviewing the abstracts for the conference, “I have to admit the quality left something to be desired,” he says.

Of course, the level of the scientific part of the conference will never be high if top scientists refuse to attend. On one hand it’s a crazy circus, but on the other hand this is the kind of thing that attracts attention, and in the long run funding for their research. It’s up to the scientific community to give conferences like this a more research-focused twist.

Sure, this is a hyped-up celeb-fest, but it’s there, it’s entirely about AIDS, and it does have a research component. Regular scientific conferences may be more fitting to researchers in terms of exchanging information and making contacts within the scientific community, but this would have been an ideal chance to not be the typical ivory tower scientists and mingle with people passionate about the end goal of their research (finding a cure for AIDS) while still being able to write it off as regular conference attendance.


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Eva August 15, 2006 - 8:42 PM

Edited to be a bit less snarky.
On my way home I gave it some more thought and decided that while I understand scientists not wanting to attend the same event as Alicia Keys and Bill Clinton, I actually think they should have. Even though it’s a silly circus, it’s a circus supporting THEIR WORK. It’s not like they’re expected to give a keynote lecture on viral packaging at Burning Man.

Tara C. Smith August 23, 2006 - 7:21 PM

There’s a bit more to Bob Gallo’s comments than meets the eye. He wasn’t invited to give a plenary talk (after he’d missed a talk he was supposed to give at a previous conference), and therefore refused to attend. The reporter didn’t even bother to get a response from any of the organizers.

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