World’s Largest Autism Conference Goes Virtual Amid Pandemic
Each year in Seattle, Washington, the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) holds the world’s largest scientific conference on autism, attracting roughly 2,000 attendees. Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, this year’s conference has been canceled for the first time since the conferences began in 2001.
“It’s a bad situation,” INSAR president Peter Mundy said, according to a report by Spectrum News. “But it may be leading to a revolution in how we really do science sharing and conferences in all fields.”
To compensate for the cancellation, INSAR will be hosting online offerings starting June 3, and continuing throughout the summer. According to Spectrum’s report, Mundy said he had been interested in virtual options for INSAR’s conferences even before the pandemic, and had been considering implementing virtual talks at the 2021 conference in Boston.
On June 3, four keynote speakers, all of whom are experts in science and mental health, have been invited to deliver talks through the video platform Zoom. Each talk will last for 35 minutes, followed by a 10-minute moderated Q&A session. While the cancellation of the INSAR conference may be disappointing to many who had planned on attending, there is also a silver lining. Brett Ranon Nachman, a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes virtual talks may reach a larger audience due to being easier to attend.
“You’re reaching people from all over the world and from so many different disciplines and professions,” Nachman was quoted as saying by Spectrum News. “It’s really very exciting.”
At the same time, Mundy acknowledged that virtual conferences lack the opportunity for attendees to experience spontaneous interactions, which are a vital part of what makes a conference successful.
“We anticipate that [virtual meetings] may be the wave of the future,” Mundy said. “We’ll still have a conference people will attend, but [it] may end up being smaller because there will be these other venues in which science is shared.”