NET NEWS: Biomedical Gabfest a Rousing Success

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Science  01 Jan 1999:
Vol. 283, Issue 5398, pp. 7
DOI: 10.1126/science.283.5398.7c

Scientific conclaves in cyberspace appear to have a rosy future, judging from the success of what was probably the largest one ever. Held last month for 10 days on a Web server at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, the Fifth Internet World Congress for Biomedical Sciences (or INABIS '98) brought together over 1800 authors from 51 countries—none of whom had to pay a registration fee or buy a plane ticket.

The all-text affair included a welcome party, plenary lectures, and 44 symposia and poster sessions, each with an e-mail discussion group. The meeting followed four previous annual INABIS conferences, but this year's was far more international. “The striking thing was the willingness, even the hunger of people in a lot of countries to participate”—especially scientists “not in mainstream places” eager to share their work, says conference president Henry Szechtman, a neuroscientist at McMaster. As an example, he cited a poster session on medicine organized by a Canadian, an American, and a Cuban that included a Spanish paper on Turner's syndrome (the condition of having a single X chromosome) and a Kuwaiti paper on trace metal detection.

Szechtman acknowledged some glitches, especially the “complete nightmare” of uploading images in sometimes incompatible formats. But participants seemed to be patient with the growing pains of this new kind of conference and gave it high marks for round-the-clock access, no problems with simultaneous talks, and a format that allowed in-depth questions. “I learned enormously more than is possible at a conventional meeting,” says pharmacologist Richard Kostrzewa of East Tennessee State University, a section organizer. And unlike conventional meetings, researchers can still drop by long after INABIS '98 is over—just go to

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