Thursday, April 29, 2010
Last week I attended the Association for Chemoreception Sciences meeting in St. Petersburg, FL. Today I gave a talk to the American Rhinologic Society in Las Vegas. The difference is enough to make one’s head spin.
The biggest contrast is the dress code. AChemS, like most academic science meetings, is casual in the extreme. Graduate students (and post-docs who aren’t actively seeking faculty positions) wear cargo shorts with T-shirts or Gap-ish women’s wear. Atrocious sandals are popular (Birkenstocks signal that you’re a field person). Sandals can be worn with socks if you are from Europe or if you already have tenure. (Full disclosure: your humble Blog Proprietor has worn Sperry Top Siders since he was sixteen.) Casualness is not a function of the beach-side meeting site—trust me on this.
The ARS is a medical society; the crowd is almost exclusively rhinologists and otolaryngologists. The men wear suits and ties, the ladies dresses or tailored suits. No shorts. No sandals. No exceptions. And this is Las Vegas, where anything goes.
Score one for the medicos.
Another contrast is scientific style. The posters look pretty much like those in academic science, but the graphics are, well, really graphic: color photos of a neck reconstruction, a resection of an extracranial skull base tumor, and neck dissection for metastatic thyroid cancer. Attendees were strolling the poster aisle with plates from the lunch buffet. Not having gone to med school, I wasn’t up to nibbling on a pulled-pork sandwich while viewing this stuff. These guys are hard core.
Score another for the scalpel team.
The talks were short (six minutes) and emphasized summaries and conclusions over methods and statistical analysis. Reasonable for a crowd interesting in evaluating newer and better treatment techniques. Disappointingly, most of the presenters just read their Powerpoint slides. Yawn.
The exhibitor section was mind-blowing. Every manner of medical instrument for reaching up the human nose, including endoscopic probes that provide a video feed as the doctor clips off polyps or bores into sinuses remotely. Cool. I’ve haven’t seen this many plastic skulls and life-like rubber face models on the counter since the Halloween superstore closed for the season. (Cronenberg fans will recall Dead Ringers.)
Score one for hi-tech medical devices.
In the end the docs take it on points; but I still prefer the messy, contentious style of basic science. It’s a temperment thing; if I were a clinician I’d want to be up on the latest tools and techniques. But I never was a “hands” guy in the lab.
. . .
So I’m blogging from McCarran airport which has free WiFi. (Sweet!) However I’m more than ready to fly away. This is my first visit to Las Vegas and it hasn’t moved me. I feel like I’ve had a low-grade brain fever since I walked off the plane. Don’t get me wrong—the locals are pleasant, the staff at Bally’s were fine, but . . . the whole experience is a bit too virtual for my taste.
Some of it is real: the nostalgic smell of fresh, indoor cigarette smoke, the whiskey voices and nicotine laughs of the craps players. Western types with their hard R’s. But this is Disneyland for grownups with wagering. I’ll stick with the Dumbo ride in Anaheim.