Dear members of the Scientific Programmes team,
As one of the participating audience members in the recent Royal Society meeting, New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives, I am greatly disappointed to find that the audio recordings made available of the meeting on your site omit the questions and comments from the audience and the responses of the presenters. While the presentations and round tables present good and valuable information, I found that the audience participation segments invaluable in understanding how various persons can approach the data from very different perspectives. I believe that these omitted segments reveal something crucially important for multi-disciplinary meeting: an inability to hear and appreciate the context in which data is analyzed outside one’s own discipline.
Whether it was an official objective of the Royal Society to have the meeting consider the controversy surrounding the continued application of the names, Modern Synthesis or neo-Darwinism, to describe the current state of knowledge and research in the variety of fields that are now advancing evolutionary studies, the meeting (in particular the audience participation) certainly did address what was the elephant in the room. These segments have also been the subject of much of the reporting of what went on at the meeting, much of which has been badly misrepresented as in the reporting of an exchange between Professor Dennis Noble and David Shuker in Quanta magazine.
I will be reporting on the meeting to the readers of the Environmental Evolution newsletter in our January 2017 issue and I find myself without recordings to verify what actually happened. I did not make notes because I had been assured by the Royal Society that the meeting would be recorded, that those recordings would be made available and no mention was made that the audience participation would be excluded. In what is being called a “post-fact” world, I think that access to documentation is a necessity. I also want to understand what the Royal Society has done and why without speculation. I hope you will respond to the following questions.
Could you tell me if the audience participation segments were recorded? If not, what was the reasoning for not doing so?
If the Royal Society recorded the audience participation, what was the reasoning behind omitting them from the mp3 files made available? When was that that decision to omit these segments made? Before, during or after the meeting?
If audience participation segments were recorded, is there a way that those recordings can be accessed by reporters for the purpose of verification of what occurred?
Thank you for your attention to this matter and for any answers you can supply.
James MacAllister MS, FLS
Dear Sir Venkatraman Ramakrishnan:
Greetings. The Royal Society Scientific Programmes office advised prior to the November 7-9 meeting there on “new trends” in evolution that the recorded audio of the public’s “participation” in that meeting — which was one-third of the proceedings — would be posted on the conference web page following the event along with audio of the formal presentations. As it turned out, the public’s participation was the most robust part of the meeting, with many of the attendee-participants more distinguished than many of the formal presenters. However, the Scientific Programmes office has now breached public trust by not posting the “participant” Q&As. Further, the Scientific Programmes office now denies it ever said it would post the public part of the audio.
Hundreds of people likely spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend and “participate” in the discussion. Again, many attendee-participants were more distinguished than many of the actual speakers. However, what we’re left with as record is a series of mostly standard lectures and old science.
I have reported this matter on Huffington Post, which has now generated a flurry of other commentaries and comments.
Following up with another inquiry to the Scientific Programmes office, James MacAllister, a former associate of Lynn Margulis, wrote the letter below. The Scientific Programmes office has not responded to James MacAllister’s inquiry.
Please advise what is being done by your office to correct this serious breach of public trust.
Comment from O’Leary for News: Is Darwinism a new form of paralysis? Has it entered the medical literature yet? Given that virtually all attendees have reputations to protect, why would anyone be afraid to just post their comments?
Look, what’s the problem? It’s not a barroom brawl, okay? Nobody’s facing charges.
Alternatively, brown bag, anybody?
See also: Royal Society reneges on promise to post public comments
Royal Society Meet: No “fisticuffs”; serious questions smothered instead
What the fossils told us in their own words