Prof claims victory over '#manel' at microbiome conference

A University of California, Davis microbiology professor is claiming a victory over the patriarchy after his complaints led organizers of an academic conference to invite more female speakers.

According to Wired, Professor Jonathan Eisen first raised concerns in a blog post last October, pointing out that 25 of the 27 speakers at the Second Annual Human Microbiome Congress were male, and announcing that he would contact each of them directly to ask that they withdraw.

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Maligning the event as “The White Men’s Microbiome Congress” in a blog post, Eisen succeeded in generating enough pressure to elicit an apology from Kisaco Research, the conference organizers, along with vague assurances that future events would “represent the diversity of the scientific fields we work with.”

Upon receiving a preliminary list of speakers for Kisaco’s Third Annual European Microbiome Congress, scheduled for late-November, Eisen tweeted about “Another white men's microbiome meeting from Kisaco,” pointing out that the roster only listed one female speaker.

Carefully checking the speakers’ backgrounds to ensure that his assumptions about their gender matched the “pronouns...used to describe them,” Eisen calculated on his blog that “95% of the highlighted speakers are male...and all of them appear to be white,” concluding on that basis that the conference “is a meeting for white men to speak at.”

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Asserting that “it is pretty clear this is not a random selection of top microbiome researchers,” he then calls on potential attendees to “boycott this meeting,” helpfully explaining that this means “do not attend this meeting.”

In fact, Eisen declares that “people should Boycott all Kisaco meetings,” calling on sponsors and invited speakers to withdraw from the conference in protest.

“I do not believe that there is a necessity for having diversity of speakers at meetings,” Eisen told Campus Reform. “However, extreme skews in diversity relative to the candidate pool is generally not a good thing. I generally focus my critiques on meetings that have extreme skews beyond what one would expect based on the population of the field—or even better—the population of people who would be good candidates to be speakers.”

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Since Eisen first registered his complaints in July, Kisaco greatly expanded the list of speakers for the upcoming conference, adding numerous female presenters.

“My guess—this is the result of the complaints,” Eisen told Campus Reform. “They clearly spent some time designing the website and the fliers featuring the skewed meeting speaker list, and given the promises to not do this—and that they had a public website saying that these were their speakers—it seemed fair to interpret this as having a similar speaker list to the previous meeting.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MrDanJackson