How not to behave in a Zoom discussion…

A couple of days ago, on February 12th, there was a ‘Golden webinar in Astrophysics’ one of a series that seeks to bring forefront research in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology to the public in the English and Spanish languages. The speaker this time was Avi Loeb and the full title of his talk was  Extraterrestrial Life: Are We the Sharpest Cookies in the Jar? A video of the entire event can be viewed here.

Avi Loeb is a very distinguished theoretical physicist, with broad interests in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology who has done excellent rather mainstream work on the formation and evolution of black holes, the first generation of stars in the universe and the epoch of reionization, as well as high-redshift gamma-ray bursts. He has also produced a large number of much more speculative articles in areas such as extra-terrestrial life (including SETI) some of which, in my opinion, is rather flaky. Loeb was a long-serving Chair of the Department of Astronomy at Harvard University and is the current Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation there.

The following is a short excerpt from the panel discussion following his talk. I was surprised to Avi Loeb adopt such a dismissive and confrontational attitude towards Jill Tarter (who has worked in the field of SETI for over 40 years). I’m also surprised that there was no intervention by the moderator of the discussion.

Many members of the astrophysics community have worked very hard to ensure that conference talks, seminars and panel discussions (whether in person or virtual) are conducted in a collegiate and cooperative manner. I don’t think Loeb is setting a good example in this clip, especially for someone who is an experienced former Department Chair. We all have strong feelings about certain things, but there’s no need to adopt such an aggressive tone. No wonder so many people find academia a toxic environment.

8 Responses to “How not to behave in a Zoom discussion…”

  1. Avi Loeb is a very distinguished theoretical physicist, with broad interests in the fields of astrophysics and cosmology who has done excellent rather mainstream work on the formation and evolution of black holes, the first generation of stars in the universe and the epoch of reionization, as well as high-redshift gamma-ray bursts.

    Other than Avi, I haven’t encountered anyone else with the number of their patents on their CV. (Usual disclaimer: just an observation, not a judgement.)

  2. As Jill said: I think the culture as a whole shouldn’t be badmouthed.

    Have I encountered some toxic things in academia? Yes. Is it worse than elsewhere? Probably not. (I‘ve had several non-academic jobs as well.). I do need more than one hand, but not more than two, to count the people I’ve personally been involved with who didn’t behave appropriately. Otherwise, there are few things I‘ve enjoyed more than my time in academia. Could it be improved? Sure. And it should be. But if it were really as bad as some would make it out to be, more would leave.

    Of course, some have left, and I don’t wish to belittle their problems. But most of us had a jolly good time, and that not at the expense of others.

    There used to be a video (I’ve posted the link here before) at https://nsm.utdallas.edu/events/ which should be watched in its entirety. I’ve mentioned it at various places for various reasons over the years. Another reason to mention it is Ted Newman describing the interactions he’s had with his colleagues over the years.

  3. […] A blog about the Universe, and all that surrounds it « How not to behave in a Zoom panel discussion… […]

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