11 August 2011

The view from Austin: Ecological Society of America meeting, 2011

I have been attending the Ecological Society of America meeting this week. I’ve seen three days of posters, and have two to go. I may have some more to say next week, but with over 500 posters passing by my eyeballs so far, I have a few impressions about the state of conference posters at this meeting.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I’ve seen at this meeting. Normally, I see a substantial number of train wrecks in the poster sessions, but there have been very few at this meeting. Only one made me shudder. It was perhaps two feet wide and one foot tall, and written in tiny type.

While that poster was so small to be a problem, I noticed was that many of the posters could have been much larger. The poster boards at this meeting were standard cloth covered boards 4 feet high and 8 feet wide. Many posters were perhaps four or five feet wide.

I was often looking at posters thinking, “Make it bigger.” The posters looked timid.

At this meeting in particular, I was browsing much more than usual, because this is not a research field that I have followed closely. I was very aware that I was only giving each poster a few seconds to convince me to stop and look closer. It’s easy to breeze past a small poster because deciphering the subject matter is just that much trickier.

It is true that many people do not have the luxury of having their own printer, and bigger posters can run up a bigger print bill. But be aware that if you cut the cost of printing, you will pay the cost in audience attention.

Few people used the extra space to put up handouts with small versions of the posters. Much less common than other meetings I've been to.

And now, because I warned people on Twitter that I would do this...

The Comic Sans name and shame campaign!

Armstrong and Cooley, who used Comic Sans in the title of their poster, “Preparing diverse students in our Nations’ west to lead sustainable communities”. And you’re from the ESA! Set an example to others, guys!

YV Garcia from the University of Northern Colorado, who also used the dread typeface in the title of her poster, “Sci*Five: A promising model to enhance ecology research in an elementary school classroom.

On Tuesday, two posters from Auburn University took it to the next level and did their entire poster in Comic Sans. JS Kush and colleagues with “Miscommunication and confusion about longleaf pine growth” and Hermann and colleagues, “Effects of 25 years of different fire regimes on growth of young longleaf pine trees and encroaching hardwoods.”

Having no Comic Sans on 99% is a good average, and maybe a little more selection pressure can help make the font extinct at this meeting.

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