Leader: Saucy seminars

March 23, 2007

There may be good reasons why academic conferences tend to be held in Umbria rather than Cumbria, or Athens rather than Aberdeen. For the driven souls who attend them for new scholarly insights, these venues provide a more relaxing experience in the rare moments they spend outside the lecture theatre. But for those with a stronger interest in amatory leisure pursuits than in the latest breakthroughs in knowledge, they also make a more suitable setting for close encounters of a less research-oriented kind.

For some reason, research on this topic is scanty. But we suggest today that more academics than had been thought may head for the airport during the conference season with more in mind than their uncompleted seminar paper.

On the basis of our present knowledge, there is little reason to suppose that scholars are inherently more inclined to naughty behaviour than sales managers or mechanical engineers. Perhaps the real difference is that, despite many complaints about equal opportunities in higher education, the gender balance at most scholarly events is a lot less grim than at a meeting of bankers or road haulage managers. But who knows? Perhaps in 20 years, these less liberated groups will have caught up with us, and today's academic behaviour will be regarded as normal and healthy.

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