At the end of the day, science is people and their interactions, whether that’s face-to-face, through a journal submission system, or by email. And having a diverse array of people present a diverse array of views and doing science in a diverse set of ways is a Good Thing. And as the scientific community gradually comes to the realization that the diverse scientists in its midst put up with a heck of a lot of diverse crap in their day-to-day lives, especially those from minority groups, women, and the financially insecure, for example, there’s been what one might call an evolution towards considering people when thinking about science.

One of the major ways scientists interact is at conferences or meetings, united by a common research area or theme, and it’s at these meetings where some not-that-good stuff can happen, which has prompted many organizations (though still a small minority) to establish codes of conduct for attendees. Huzzah progress! There are also things you can do to be an ally at conferences.

It was with this floating around in my noggin that I was very interested to see the tweet below from the 2016 Animal Behavior Society:

HB2, or the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act is a large piece of rubbish that discriminates again transfolk by preventing them from using the toilet of their gender. Like I said, utter rubbish. So it was rather heartening to see a scientific society taking a stand on a social and legal issue that affects some of its members.

So it was with some sadness that, 2 days later, the 5th International Marine Conservation Congress announced its location:


Malaysia is rather unfriendly to LGBTQ folk (to put it mildly), and even depictions of them in film must show “good triumphing over evil.” Good grief. So needless to say, I won’t be attending. Which is sad personally, and professionally. And while I do understand the international nature of science, and the need to engage with a diverse range of scientists from across the world, I wonder if the topic of LGBTQ attendees even came up.

Is it the job or the purview of professional scientific societies to consider all these various factors when choosing their meeting location? Or should their goal be to be as international as possible regardless of the social or legal conditions of some of their members? Societies are of course welcome to have their meetings wherever they wish, but I think they should also think about what message that sends (be it positive or negative) to the full diversity of its membership.