Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Summary of Antwerp conference

I am back from the Antwerp conference. Here is a quick report.

As last time, the conference was well organized and set in a beautiful town. Except the lunch! I paid 20 euros for a terrible terrible deal. On the first day, the food was really bad. Some crumbling sandwiches made without much love. Paul bought a superb sandwich outside for 3 euros and I effectively had paid 10 euros for the cheapest sandwiches you could possible imagine. On the second day, words of discontent must have propagated to the conference organizers and the lunch buffet was more or less appropriate for the 10 euros. But, I could only eat a banana, because the evening before I had eaten mussels with Belgium fries and was still not feeling too well even though I had digested them properly, which could not be said about Suzanna from Croatia according to confidential reports. So I effectively paid 10 euros for a banana!

I must say that I and many others I spoke too were not very impressed with some key note speakers and the focus and content of the conference in general. Let's start with deconstructing the key note speakers. First, we have Ken Louis who gave two (!) key note speeches. First, why two key note speeches? Was this the result of some horse trading and backroom deal? Why not give the second slot to a young scientist or therapist?
Second, everyone I spoke too was not impressed by his key note speeches. The first one was on attitude towards stuttering and stutterers. As I wrote before, this is too much dead end research for me, but that's fine. Different people have different opinions. And on second thoughts, it's OK to do this kind of research. However, his speech was exceedingly boring and totally obsessive and pedantic about how to construct a questionnaire on attitude. Now I am a quantitative mind and preach the need of attention to details. But not in a key note speech, which should be about the big picture and about MOTIVATION! He spent one hour out of one and a half on technical details, that absolutely no-one in the audience was interested in. I wish he had just spoken about the results. He should have spoken more about what he wants to do with the questionnaire, whether the attitude changes once you actually know someone who stutters or how to change attitudes. This kind of speech is especially off-putting for students. I quote a therapist: He is putting off a whole generation of students from stuttering: Stuttering is more than devising questionnaires or a definition on cluttering. He should have dropped the details, and talked about them in a technical workshop. I was not at his second talk on cluttering. Blame my absence on the mussels! But apparently he again focused on details like definitions and didn't mention how one could treat cluttering. A total mystery to me was the choice of Peter Howell as key note speaker given his reputation as a speaker. Again, zero big picture but circling around details, zero motivational drive for students, totally egomaniac view on OWN research. Many were not happy with his speech and left the audience before the end.

I liked Drayna's speech on the discovery of the gene mutation. I didn't learn anything new, because I had read his paper line by line. It's a shame he didn't make it over and spoke via recorded lecture. I wanted to ask him a few technical questions on the paper. But I enjoyed his presentations: fresh, straightforward, and informative. I now understand the details of what they found even better. Unfortunately, I was unable to ask him a question, because I prepared my presentation. I wanted to ask him: How confident are you in your results? Henny Bijleveld key note speech was OK. She listed the different theories of stuttering, and talked about a possible basal ganglia link. However, I missed some intellectual leadership on her part. She seems to be putting down slides after slides of different research suggesting a possible link to basal ganglia, but did not seem to make more concrete statements or offer some big picture. She said that the modulation of symptoms by emotions could indicate basal ganglia involvement but she stays vague. She also did not really address the issue of subtypes affecting experiments that I asked as a question. So the presentation was OK, but not more. I did not attend Walt Manning's presentation but I heard that people liked his presentation though did not agree with everything he said.

On key note speakers for the future, I would propose more "younger people": Ludo Max, Peter Reightes, Per Alm. And making them shorter: no more than one hour.

In general, I was missing intellectual leadership at the conference. No-one was there to put everything together for a big picture and to show future directions. Everyone was doing his or her things. I was also puzzled by the absence of more key note speeches on treatment approaches. After all, isn't that what most therapists are interested in? And there was NO REAL DEBATE. I want panel discussions on "How to treat kids'", "Why do kids recover", "What does the gene discovery mean?", and not obsessively pedantic and egocentric speakers on methodology. We don't just want to have the honor to ask a question of one minute after a one and a half hour monologue.

In my next post, I speak about the lecturers I went to.


Anonymous said...

Is there anything you were happy with, Tom? I agree to some of your comments, but the way you put it it was not worth a visit.

Sure, some speakers made me want to leave as well, and I too would have liked more time for quetions, but I did do a lot of networking and I'm so happy there is a whole symposium on stuttering, for how much focus is there on stuttering amongst SLTs? This might give them the boost they need.

Your blog is read by many and reading it might make people, who might want to come next time, to think otherwise. So do give us a blog with all the things that were ok and intersting, as there were many!


Tom Weidig said...

Hi Anita,

I am always looking for things to improve. That's how one improves!

If I thought it wasn't worth it. I wouldn't have been there.

There are already so many people who don't voice their opinions or just say "it's great".

I also have the experience of professional science conference, so I can compare.