The hybrid online future

Without making any predictions about what will happen with the pandemic or when, I suspect that we are never going back to the way things were in terms of on-campus education and meetings. A lot more of university life will be hybrid online. This isn’t because hybrid online is necessarily great; I suspect that in terms of meetings, a hybrid meeting with some folks in a room and others on videoconference is the worst of two worlds. But it might be the best option that is possible — when an in-person meeting is better than a hybrid meeting, but a hybrid meeting is better than no meeting.

People get sick, at any time, and the prosocial thing to do is to stay at home and not spread the infection more than necessary. I expect, and hope, that this norm will remain, and we will have less people sick in class and at work. Students who fall ill will, reasonably, expect to be able to participate from home when they do the right thing and stay home from class. Teachers who suddenly fall ill likely expect it too. After all, it is less painful, for everyone involved, than cancelling and rescheduling.

If we are reasonable and empathetic, we will accommodate. If I’m right that hybrid meetings are, in general, slightly worse than in person meetings, the meeting quality will on average be worse — but more people will be able to participate, and that is also valuable. So it might not feel like it, but taken together, the hybrid solution might be better. The exact balance would depend on how much worse or better different meeting forms are; we probably can’t put numbers on that.

The same argument applies to online scientific conferences. I can’t imagine that the online conference experience is as useful, inspiring and conducive to networking as an in-person conference. My personal impression is that online conferences and seminars are great for watching talks, but bad for meeting people. However, online conferences are accessible to more people — those who for some reason can’t travel, can’t afford it, can’t be away from home for that long.

We might not feel excited about it, but the hybrid online future is here.

Various positions II

Again, what good is a blog if you can’t post your arbitrary idiosyncratic opinions as if you were an authority?

Don’t make a conference app

I get it, you can’t print a full-blown paper program book: it is too much, no one reads it, and it feels wasteful. But please, please, for the love of everything holy, don’t make an app. Put the text, straight up, on a website in plaintext. It loads quickly, it’s searchable, it can be automatically generated. The conference app will be cloddy, take up space on the phone, eat bandwidth on some strained mobile contract, and invariably freeze.

Posters, still bad in 2020

Don’t believe the lies: a once folded canvas poster will never look good again. You haven’t had fun on a conference before you’ve tried ironing a poster on a hostel floor with an iron that belongs in a museum.

Poster sessions are bad by necessity. If they had had space and time to be anything other than a crowded mess, the conference would have to accept substantially fewer posters. That means fewer participants, probably especially earlier career participants, and the value of having them outweighs the value of a somewhat better poster session.

Gene accession numbers

PLOS Genetics has a great policy in their submission guidelines that doesn’t seem to get followed very much in papers they actually publish. This should be the norm in every genetics paper. I feel bad that it’s not the case in all my papers.

As much as possible, please provide accession numbers or identifiers for all entities such as genes, proteins, mutants, diseases, etc., for which there is an entry in a public database, for example:

Entrez Gene
Mouse Genome Database (MGD)
Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM)

Identifiers should be provided in parentheses after the entity on first use.

In the future, with the right ontologies and repositories in place, I hope this will be the case with traits, methods and so on as well.

UK Biobank and dbGAP are not open data

And that is fine.

Stop it with the work-life balance tweets

No-one should tweet about work-life balance; whether you write about how much you work or how diligent you are about your hours, it comes off as bragging.


Write your papers in the past or present tense, whichever you prefer. In the context of a scientific paper, the difference between past and present communicates nothing. I suppose you’re not supposed to mix tenses, but that doesn’t matter either. Most readers probably won’t notice. If you ask me about my stylistic opinion: present tense for everything. But again, it doesn’t matter.