Invited speakers @ stats/astro conferences: where all the Asians at?

Having never been (pro-actively) invited to speak at a conference I keep wondering when my turn will come and, accordingly, I keep a keen eye on which of my contemporaries have started getting the call up.  A lot has been said in the blogosphere about the lack of women on these invited speaker lists, and I think there is evidence of increasing efforts to improve the gender balance in this regard.  However, I wonder if there’s also a need to be more proactive about getting a mix of nationalities (which only in a weak sense boils down to a mix of races)?  At the MaxEnt2013 conference I’ll be attending here in Canberra next month there’s just one Asian invited speaker (out of ten), and so far for the IAUS306 next year there’s just two (out of fifteen).  (And here I’m including India as part of Asia.)  I’m pretty sure that’s not in proportion to the number of academics in Asia vs. rest of world … ?

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3 Responses to Invited speakers @ stats/astro conferences: where all the Asians at?

  1. You’re coming to MaxEnt? Awesome! Somehow I didn’t know that, even though I’ve looked at our attendee list many times.

    Interesting point you raise about the nationalities of the speakers. We were conscious of the gender ratio when inviting speakers, unfortunately we didn’t end up as balanced as I had hoped. But the nationality thing didn’t come up, probably mostly because people haven’t been making a big deal about it yet.

    • Yeah, I wasn’t meaning to be here (in Canberra) in December, but thanks to the UKBA, here I am! (I only emailed my abstract to Dr Niven about a week ago.)

      Whereas the gender imbalance at conferences can plausibly be attributed to unconscious sexist bias, I think the under-representation by nationality is probably due to the importance of contact networks in academia: e.g. to tap into the Asian academic circles you probably need some with good contacts on your organising committee …

  2. “Whereas the gender imbalance at conferences can plausibly be attributed to unconscious sexist bias, I think the under-representation by nationality is probably due to the importance of contact networks in academia: e.g. to tap into the Asian academic circles you probably need some with good contacts on your organising committee …”

    Yeah. It’s hard to think of people to invite when you just don’t know the people. I think this also applies to the gender ratio. When thinking of people whose work I was familiar with and who I could vouch for as good speakers, I couldn’t think of nearly as many women as men, because the asymmetry is already there in the academic world. And a few that we did ask couldn’t make it. I’m not claiming to be immune to unconscious sexist bias but I think it’s a smaller effect here. I also acknowledge that we could have tried harder, by asking others for their recommendations.

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