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Physicists query timing after last-minute conference cancellation

A decision to cancel a 10,000-delegate conference in Denver, USA, over coronavirus fears has left some would-be attendees perplexed and angry at the eleventh-hour timing.

The American Physical Society (APS), the 55,000-member professional society for physicists, axed its largest meeting of the year less than 48 hours before it was supposed to begin.

It was due to start today (Monday) at the Colorado Convention Center, in Denver, and more than 10,000 people from all over the world were expected to attend.

However last-minute jitters prompted a rethink.

“The health and well-being of our meeting attendees, staff, vendors, and the Denver community are our primary concern,“ said APS president Phil Bucksbaum in a statement. “We sincerely regret that the timing of this decision has significantly inconvenienced many members of our community.”

But not all delegates were impressed.

Dr Ilana Wisby, CEO of UK-based OxfordQCircuits, tweeted: “I completely understand this decision taken, but the timing on this is appalling. Our team have just flown half way across the world to learn that this is cancelled on landing. We look forward to receiving information on reimbursement and compensation shortly.”

It is understood thousands of delegates have had to cancel their flights to Colorado or rearrange their journeys, with some overseas delegates already in Denver when the announcement was made.

Another delegate, Stephen Hawn, tweeted: “Absolutely disgusting timing, APS. You have ZERO awareness of travel schedules and the wrench you just threw into so many people’s plans.”

APS said it would it would refund registration fees, which can range $305 – $695, and help registrants recoup hotel fees.

It has produced a ‘formal letter of cancellation’ for delegates to share with their employers, although that gesture left some nonplussed.

Paul Wright, a heliophysicist at Stanford University, tweeted: “I sincerely hope, ‘we ask that you honor all travel funding requests from attendees’, is enough for the vast number students who had to pay out of pocket to travel to Denver.”

The APS said it would be finding a solution to help delegates share their research online and this helped some delegates put a positive spin on circumstances.

“Maybe this can also become a thing and we can help those unable to travel and also reduce some carbon output,” tweeted Christopher Savoie, co-founder and CEO of Zapata Computing.

APS leadership must now decide whether or not to hold its annual April Meeting – smaller than the March Meeting –  which is scheduled for 18-21 April in Washington, DC.