Suggestions wanted for 2013 ESA opening plenary speaker (UPDATEDx2)

Via the Ecolog listserv, I see that the Ecological Society of America is soliciting suggestions for the speaker at the Opening Plenary at their 2013 Annual Meeting. This is the meeting-opening event on Sunday night. Last year’s speaker was Jane Lubchenco. It’s always someone prominent, but it need not be an ecologist. They want someone who will inspire, motivate, or provoke, someone who has something to say and whose talk will set the tone for the meeting (the theme of which is “Sustainable Pathways: Learning from the Past and Shaping the Future”). Good for the ESA for soliciting suggestions on this.

Note that the ESA won’t pay speaker fees, though they’ve still managed to attract prominent people anyway.

Suggestions can be sent to

Note as well that the opening plenary is open to the public, although traditionally the audience is comprised almost entirely of meeting attendees. I’m on record as suggesting that the ESA ought to make it a proper public event, with proper advertising to the public and perhaps at some venue other than the convention center (maybe a downtown theater or something, if there is one and if the rental costs could be worked out). So with that in mind, any chance of pulling in someone like David Attenborough, who’d really draw a public crowd? I’m guessing he might want a big speaking fee, but maybe for an organization like the ESA he’d waive it? Or, since they did say it can be someone who would “provoke”, how about Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva? Or, since the meeting will be in Minnesota, how about Minnesota Democratic Senator and ex-comedian Al Franken?

UPDATE: Ooh, Jared Diamond would attract a public crowd too, and would be a perfect fit for the meeting theme.

UPDATE #2: Nadine Lymn from the ESA kindly replied very quickly to my email with these suggestions (in my experience, ESA staff are always very good about responding to correspondence from members). I’m not surprised to learn that the ESA has looked into both Attenborough and Diamond in the past. Unfortunately, Jared Diamond charges a speaking fee, and Attenborough has declined in the past due to other commitments (being David Attenborough is more than a full-time job, I’m sure!) The ESA Public Affairs Committee is tasked with compiling and ranking the viable suggestions, and they like having lots of options in case their first choice declines. So keep the suggestions coming!


6 thoughts on “Suggestions wanted for 2013 ESA opening plenary speaker (UPDATEDx2)

  1. Via Twitter, Elena Bennett suggests US Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, a very good suggestion for many reasons. But do we want senior US federal science administrators two years in a row (Jane Lubchenco runs NOAA)? I’m just asking, I don’t really have a strong view one way or the other.

    • That would certainly be a change of pace! 🙂 Although in seriousness, I’m not sure I’d want a celebrity spokesperson on conservation issues, even a well-informed and articulate one, and even if it might attract a big public audience. But maybe that’s just me?

  2. What I would like to see is some thematic variation in ESA meetings from year to year. Is it just me, or has the theme been essentially some form of “environmental problems and solutions” for several years now? I’m just wondering if we could explore other broad topics in ecology.

    • You’re right about how the theme is basically a rephrasing of the same thing every year. But as far as I can tell, the official theme has zero effect on the meeting content. In theory, concordance with the meeting theme is supposed to be one factor dictating which symposium proposals get accepted. In practice, each section basically gets to sponsor a symposium on whatever it wants. In part, that’s because it’s usually pretty easy to “spin” almost any symposium as somehow being related to the meeting theme, since the theme is always quite broad and vague. I suspect there’d be strong pushback if the ESA were to try to actually make the meeting content conform to the theme in some more narrow way. What most attendees want to do is present their own work, and here about the work of others. Any significant effort to make the meeting content conform to the official theme would take away from that, and would drastically cut attendance.

  3. Tim Jackson, the author of Prosperity Without Growth is a moving and inspiring speaker not to mention an ecological economist, mathematician and award-winning playwright.


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