Jonathan Wells and I presented our posters at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society for Developmental Biology this past weekend, and had a great time. For those who don’t know what a poster session is, the idea is simple: you summarize your data, experiment, hypothesis, whatever, in the space of a 6′ x 4′ panel, and then at a scheduled time (“poster session”), stand by your board and field questions from whoever stops by to talk. Jonathan presented his material on Saturday afternoon; you can download an abbreviated version of his poster as a pdf here. (The pdf is shorter than the poster itself because Jonathan omitted any copyrighted visuals.) I presented yesterday afternoon, and my full poster can be downloaded as a pdf here.
Neither of us faced any hostility, which (for Jonathan) was a refreshing change of atmosphere from the angry reception he received during his poster presentation at the 2005 annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology. In fact, we met with friendly, open-ended questions, curiosity, and meaningful exchanges. One biologist at Jonathan’s session carefully read the main panels, then said to Jonathan, “Are you serious?” He and Jonathan then spent a long time going over the arguments and data in the poster — the opening question was an invitation for a detailed explanation.
During my session, several people asked me to provide “your alternative” to the problems posed in my poster. I must admit I wasn’t ready for this question: I had expected spirited defenses of current neo-Darwinian theory, and had mentally prepared to grapple with that line of argument. But only one person half-heartedly attempted to defend textbook theory, and even he later agreed with me that the problems were real and, at the moment anyway, unsolved. The overwhelming response from everyone else was, “OK, Paul — so what do you propose to do?” Next time I’ll be better prepared to step into the opening these questions provide.
The most exciting exchange I had, near the end of the Sunday afternoon session, I can’t describe here, because the biologist who stopped to talk is a hero of mine (really) for the questions she asks, and I don’t want her friendliness towards me to cost her anything in her own work. I’ll say this, however: the spirit of open inquiry was alive at SDB 2011.