Over the last two years, I’ve noticed that most of the meetings I’ve attended have had far too many ‘grand old man’ talks. These are talks where the speaker gives a broad overview of either the field or the speaker’s work, with very little or no detail paid to detail.
These sorts of talks do have their uses. If the audience is primarily composed of people who know very little about the subject, these talks can be a good background to that area (An aside: This is one reason why I think science journalists and scientists can hear the same talk, and come away with very different impressions). But, at least at the meetings I’ve attended, most of the people don’t need background.
Certainly, when I attend a talk about a topic with which I’m familiar, I know I don’t want a grand old man talk. I want to hear why certain methods were used (and not others), and maybe even something about those methods work. Instead, we get too many PIs–a fair number of whom I believe couldn’t explain the methods or the particulars of ‘their’ data even if there were time–or grand old men (to use a phrase) giving talks. Admittedly, I’m kinda weird (I think), since whenever I see a paper in my area, the first section I look at is the methods: I want to know how they did their analysis–and if it seems sound, then I want to implement those methods. As you might imagine, I love it when methods are stuck in supplemental methods, but I digress…
I’m not sure why I’ve heard so many grand old man talks recently, although concerns over giving an impressive talk versus communicating new data probably plays a role (these shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but they can be). Nonetheless, most of the talks I hear at meetings have been very disappointing, although I’ve heard rumors that ASM, at least, is trying to figure out how to combat this.
Does anyone else agree with my assessment? If so, why do you think this is happening.