The new jetsettingBMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39104.497199.59 (Published 25 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:210
Last week, I received six separate invitations to speak at conferences abroad. One agreed to reimburse my economy class air fare if I couldn't pay it myself. Another promised a business class flight, chauffeur driven limousine on the ground, a personal bodyguard if I wanted to check out the local night life, and a generous honorarium with tax all sorted. The others offered various packages and incentives in between.
I turned them all down, mainly because in these days of global warming, I am finding it increasingly difficult to justify going half way around the world to give a talk that other people are going halfway around the world to listen to.
Let's be clear: I'm no saint when it comes to my carbon footprint. I'm off next month on what is colloquially known as a “freebie”—two lectures and a workshop in return for a week in a luxury hotel overlooking a mile of private beach. I usually drive the three miles to work. I run my dishwasher and washing machine 21 times a week. I've never got round to finding the right low energy light bulbs for my non-standard sockets. All this behaviour has gone into my new year's resolution box, and if you're interested, I'll report progress on mending my ways in a few months' time.
Back to the conference scene. I contacted the organisers of one event and offered to do my lecture by video link—not because I especially wanted to prepare a talk for which I would not now be paid and find a technician willing to get up at 4 am to help me beam it across to New Zealand, but because I figured it was time I did my bit to change the “freebie” culture for international speakers. My email probably read like the response of a B-list celebrity who can't be fagged to pick up her own Oscar, but to their credit, the organisers have put my offer on the agenda for their next planning meeting.
If all goes well, I will deliver my talk live, and take questions from the audience, without leaving my office in London. But all this depends on delegates agreeing to a shift in the definition of a “quality” conference such that Professors A, B, and C do not need to be wheeled on, in the flesh, to give keynotes before anyone is allowed to get started on sharing research findings.