IAB 2012: The Aftermath

There seems to be general agreement among those to whom I’ve spoken, or who’re on Twitter, that this years IAB in Rotterdam was one of the best, if not the best.  Granted, the parallel sessions were very short – there’s not much you can do in 8 minutes – but the organisation was superb, and the range of plenary speakers excellent.  Solly Benatar is always worth hearing; and though Aubrey de Grey is – in my opinion – mad as a box of frogs when he’s on about aging, I could happily listen to him speak all day: he’s excellent.

And there was no magic dancing.  There was a bit of magic in the opening ceremony, and some perplexing dancing in the closing one… but no magic dancing.  Actually, there’s a part of me that regrets that a bit.  I did try to play the game where you try to work out and attend the really bad paper that got selected by accident – but I didn’t notice anything that came close to that.  The quality of the parallel papers was high.  Ditto the posters: I confess that I don’t really understand how poster sessions are supposed to work for ethics and law; but I liked the way they were thematised and treated as stimuli for mini-oral presentations.

For me, John Coggon’s paper at the “nudge” symposium was the best of the conference – and that’s not incestuous promotion of Manchester people, because he’s buggering off to Southampton.  I’d like to have seen Stephen Latham’s paper on political theory, too: I was elsewhere, but Christian Munthe was doing a fine job of live-tweeting everything he saw.

What were other people’s thoughts?  Do say in the comments.

In the meantime, we’ve already opened the #IAB2014 hashtag on twitter.  Mexico, here we come.

  • David Hunter

    I’ve been at every IAB since Sydney and this was the best IAB I have been at – both in regards to the quality of the papers, the plenary speakers and the general smoothness of the organization while there (even if some of the behind the scenes processes were less than ideal to deal with). Indeed some are even saying this was one of the best conferences full stop they have attended.

    I put the quality of the sessions down to rigor of the review process (not just because I was involved in it) only about 30% of submissions were accepted as presentations a much lower percentage than in the past (I don’t know for sure what the acceptance rate has been each time but I inquired in regards to Sydney and was told it was about 70%). I suspect this screened out some magic dancing. I do worry though that by removing so many false positives we might have introduced some false negatives – I did feel that there were fewer talks by PhD students – which may have upped the quality but would be a worrying trend for the future. Of course this could be explained by several factors including the cost of the conference and how tight funds are everywhere but it might be an idea to have one or two streams for graduate students next time to ensure that they can get the IAB experience.

    I do think that 8 minutes was absurd for papers and would have been happy for there to be more parallel sessions if we could have had a bit longer to talk. Likewise the price for the IAB always seems very high – perhaps cheaper venues and less lavish social events could allow this to drop a little.

    Still a great event well done to Inez and the team, and I look forward to the next IAB.

  • David Hunter

    I should have said as well I saw one absurd paper – but it was as part of a symposium so wouldn’t have been picked up by the review process – and probably would have made it through the review process anyhow since it had a fairly pedestrian description – it was just the argument/idea that was bonkers. But not magic dancing cancer cure bonkers mind.

  • Hilde Lindemann

    Yes, well done Inez! But a session on the past and future of philosophical bioethics in which no mention was made of either women’s continued struggles for acceptance or what their impact has been on how bioethics is done? Terribly laddish.

  • Hmmm.  I – and I think David and James, too – had meant that session (the idea of which grew out of a discussion during a lunch-break at the last IAB) to be about philosophy in bioethics, and its role in comparison to the role of, say, law, neuroscience, sociology, and all the rest of it.  Gender didn’t get an explicit mention, for sure, but (at least as far as I took the brief) “philosophy” was meant to mean philosophy tout court.

    Or have I misunderstood your point?  I do that embarrassingly often…

    I don’t want to deny that there’s space for much more discussion of gender in bioethics.  I had a chat with Francoise Baylis after Thursday’s session about the possibility of doing a panel on this next time – it could be important, interesting, and fun.  It’d be good to get something like that at the IAB proper, not least because there’s likely to be a number of people who – for one reason or another – wouldn’t be at the FAB satellite.

    I’ve already warned her that I might well pester her about the idea of setting up a panel: would you mind if I pestered you a bit, too, when the time comes?

  • Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh

    I agree with Hilde – but I wouldn’t single out the Philosophy & Bioethics session in particular. There was an ‘old boys club’ feel to many of the symposia. While I enjoyed all the sessions I attended and did not have a particular problem with any individual papers, it seemed that the ‘usual suspects’ showed up multiple times in self-selecting symposia while individuals who don’t have the same opportunity to network with other bioethicists (LMICs, PhD students) struggled to get involved due to a strong emphasis on symposia over abstract presentations. I know of high-calibre academics who did not have an abstract accepted for any form of presentation while some very ordinary presentations were given, which suggests that the quality assurance system is not quite right yet. I think there ought to be some sort of limit on participation to encourage broader participation beyond already established bioethicists. It might be no harm to have an emphasis on diversity for self-selecting symposia also?

    I agree with sentiments of other commenters below regarding high fees, PhD student involvement and the general smoothness of organisation (lovely organising team). I also found it refreshing to see more of a discussion (across symposia, abstract and poster presentation sessions) of what bioethics is and should be!

  • Sorcha Uí Chonnachtaigh

    I imagine that some of the unease about this relates to the fact that mainstream philosophy (and even the more woman-friendly field of bioethics) tends to take a particular approach that is stereotypically masculine, marginalises feminist perspectives and so on. I find it shocking that you couldn’t find a female philosopher involved in bioethics to be part of the panel but perhaps that didn’t even cross your minds, which reinforces my point! 
    (I would like to point out that at most of the sessions I attended, women panelists/presenters were in the minority and this was especially the case for the non-feminist symposia. Same goes for representation of LMICs versus wealthy nations and people of colour versus white.)

  • Not having sent out the invitations for the panel, I’ll have to step back a bit from that, except to offer a little background.

    James, David and – to a lesser extent – I had been talking about philosophy in bioethics since Singapore, largely because of the low quality of argument of some of the arguments there.  That was the germ of the idea for the panel, as I understand it.  As far as I know, that we’re all male is just incidental: not everyone in the initial conversation was (I can’t remember exactly who else was involved, but Heather Widdows was certainly there); it could just be that we happened to be available.  David or James might be able to shed more light on the selection of speakers, though.

    Meanwhile, while the demographic of speakers at conferences might be a problem, it’s not necessarily so – or, at least, not obviously.  But that’s one of the reasons why I’m toying with the idea of a panel at the next one, because there’s clearly a rabbit worth chasing there.

  • Mikey Dunn

    Hilde, if I may add to Iain’s response, the main point that
    I wanted to draw attention to in my short presentation was that characterising
    philosophy as being in battle against other disciplines for the centre ground
    in bioethics is to mistakenly characterise the rise of empirical work in the
    field. One reason for this is that I believe that the ‘empirical turn’ – which I
    was asked to speak on – should be interpreted as a challenge from philosophers about how philosophy ought
    to be practiced within bioethics, rather than as a turf war between philosophers (as a general category) and social scientists (as a general category). When drawing attention to the importance of
    your ‘naturalized bioethics’ work (and related contributions from phenomenological
    and hermeneutic perspectives) in my presentation, I regret not making it
    explicit both that women have played a major role in elucidating this challenge,
    and that FAB has been an important driving force in sustaining it.

  • Stuart Oultram

     Re-the eight min speaking time I’ve always assumed that this was (to some extent) a strategy to aid / encourage attendance especially given that that unless you are speaking at a conference many University’s are unlikely to offer staff financial assistance to attend 
    I’ve always assumed that this was (to some extent) a strategy to aid / encourage attendance especially given that that unless you are speaking at a conference many University’s are unlikely to offer staff financial assistance to attend


  • Stuart Oultram

    Apologies for the repertition in the above – not sure what hapened there

  • David Hunter

     Yeah the organisation of this was largely done at the last IAB and Heather WIddows would have been one of speakers had she decided to attend the IAB this time round.

    The aim was to look at the role of philosophy in bioethics and to reflect on the “empirical turn” so that was the main thought in selection of speakers etc, we wanted people we knew were working on this, going to be okay and most importantly were attending since we had no funding… That said we could have had some excellent female speakers had we searched further for them (in particular Catherine Womack would have been good to have involved and hopefully will be with what the network organises next time.)

    That said had we done so their contributions would have been good insofar as they are excellent philosophers, their gender wouldn’t have added (nor I hope did the gender of the speakers subtract) to the quality of their talk.

  • David Hunter

     I wondered if there wasn’t just too many symposia. That said they are a useful way of addressing the problem of 8 minutes to talk in. My suggestion would be that the IAB has spaces for shorter and longer sessions (say 15 minutes per speaker) along with the option of symposiums more rigorously reviewed (although these were reviewed and some proposals including one of mine were rejected)

  • David Hunter

     in regard to this “I know of high-calibre academics who did not have an abstract accepted
    for any form of presentation while some very ordinary presentations were
    given, which suggests that the quality assurance system is not quite
    right yet.”
    Yep me too. However this is the price of a quality control system, the higher the standard you set the higher the amount of false negatives you get.