Quite rightfully, most folks couldn’t care less about the woes of a bunch of Political Scientists (useless people at any rate) whose cunning plan to congregate in a prospective disaster area was foiled by – guess what – a hurricane. But while the world may dwell on Syria, Romney or Isaac’s s impact in the Caribbean, for us as a profession, the epic failure of APSA 2012 is already the stuff of legends. The decision to site the conference in New Orleans was controversial from the beginning, but almost exclusively for reasons of gender politics. In the heat of the argument, the facts that a) August/September is neatly in the middle of hurricane season and that b) hurricanes have a tendency to wind up on the Gulf coast were not given that much attention, which left us looking very daft.
But perhaps I’m too harsh here. As an ignorant European, I have no idea how big the risk of a major disruption really was. And no matter what, like so many others I signed up because I wanted to go. What really annoys me is the appalling lack of governance and communication (see this comment by Pippa Norristhat argues for some web 2.0 style feedback mechanism), something that we should be good at. Many people became aware that something was afoot last Friday, six days before the conference was supposed to start. I would have liked to have a blog-like section on the conference page that was more or less continually updated so that we could have seen how the leadership evaluated the situation, when they changed their minds about what, what the arguments were etc. Instead, we got the charge of the Light Brigade, slightly updated every 12 hours or so, even after authorities all the way up from the Mayor to the President had declared states of emergency.
Many people in Europe spent hours on Facebook and Twitter (well, more hours than they would have done otherwise) and the Monkey Cage’s very useful poll, because they tried to factor everyone else’s decisions into their calculus (it doesn’t make much sense to embark on a 12 hrs flight, only to present before an empty auditorium, or, more realistically, to bunk in some east coast airport). When the thing was finally declared officially off, all the relevant flights had long since been cancelled. Once again, our discipline is the laughing stock of academia. On the pro-side, there were a few good laughs to be had on twitter: