The Leisure Fascists take over the American Physical Society, recommend no more booze at physics meetings

May 17, 2023 • 1:00 pm

The Pecksniffs aren’t satisfied with policing the language of science, but now want to regulate our behavior, too. And, by god, they’ve gone too far this time, for they want to put the kibosh on our BEVERAGES.

In the latest American Physical Society News (click on screenshots below), one author urges people to not drink alcohol at physics meetings. Not just that, but she seems to want alcohol banned at scientific meetings.  In this she’s bucking the tide, for, as the author notes, a Nature report last year showed that over two thirds of scientists think that alcohol should not be banned at scientific meetings.

Nearly 1,500 scientists participated in the online poll, which began on 20 December as part of a Nature story about reconsidering the role of alcohol in the scientific workplace (Nature 600, S86–S88; 2021). When asked whether alcohol should be banned at scientific conferences, 68% of those who responded to the self-selecting poll said no, 26% said yes and 6% were not sure.

That is, for every scientist who wants alcohol banned at scientific conferences, 2.6 scientists want it to stay. The democracy has spoken.

You can probably guess the reasons why Dr. Vriend wants it banned. First guess, then read the APS News article by clicking below:

Yes, you were right. I’m sure you guessed because “alcohol promotes bad behavior and harassment”, but did you know it also makes meetings less inclusive?

Here are the author’s reasons:

Many years ago, when I was a young graduate student in mechanical engineering and geophysics, I presented my first poster at an important conference. I was stationed at my poster, excited for discussion, when a colleague approached me with a beer in hand. I could smell alcohol on his breath, and he had clearly had too much to drink. For an hour, he loitered at my poster, asking inappropriate questions — and blocking my ability to talk to others, including potential collaborators or future postdoctoral advisors. I was deeply uncomfortable and uncertain what to do.

My story might feel familiar to many young scientists, and data confirms the relationship between alcohol and inappropriate behavior. Alcohol is linked to loss of inhibition, and research indicates that alcohol increases the risks of harassment, including in professional settings. A 2007 study found a significant association between the number of heavy-drinking male employees and a culture of gender harassment against women in a workplace. Of course, alcohol does not cause bad behavior on its own — any perpetrator is solely responsible for their actions — but its role as a risk factor is clear.

I’m prepared to believe all that, which is offensive behavior, and of course no woman (or person) should be subject to such harassment. But a simple conference statement that “harassment is prohibited and will be punished if it’s persistent and unwanted” (all conferences have these now), should suffice. Then someone could have gotten the guy off the scene.

Scientists are adults, adults drink, and people should be prepared to deal with drinkers.  In fact, science meetings are much safer than bars, for scientists are almost universally against harassment and there are plenty of people around to stop it, as well as ubiquitous conference policies to intervene and, if need be, show the harasser to the door.

Remember that scientific meetings are places not just to learn science, but to meet old friends and colleagues, schmooze, socialize after hours, converse and relax. Alcohol facilitates that, and not in a trivial way. It’s much easier to schmooze with someone you want to talk to by inviting them for a drink than just walking up to them. And alcohol might even facilitate scientific conversations since it lessens inhibition (people might, for example,  lose their fear of asking stupid questions!)

And, most important, you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to.

In the poll above scientists have clearly weighed the risks of drinking versus the benefits—and have voted for booze. I vote with them. (Remember, too, that many meetings are in hotels and you simply cannot stop people from drinking there. If there’s no hotel, people will repair to the bar.)  I have no beef with people who have personal reasons not to drink, nor would I stop them from trying, like Dr. Vriend, to persuade others not to drink. But taking the booze out of meetings is taking a lot of fun, as well as social lubrication, out of meetings, and it takes some chutzpah to do that.

It helps, though, if you can claim, as the author does, that banning booze helps promote diversity and a welcoming environment!

As scientists, though, it is not only our responsibility to do good research and advance our field, but to support the next generation of scientists. Science is more diverse now — in age, gender, sexual orientation, race, cultural background — than it was for millennia; we are moving away from the cliché of the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking clique of mostly white male scientists. I am not the only person not drinking alcohol — more than a third of US adults don’t, perhaps for religious or cultural reasons, or perhaps simply because science has shown that alcohol is not healthy. Still others may be uncomfortable drinking in work settings because they are struggling with alcohol abuse; after all, nearly half of US adults who drink, drink too much, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse.

Alcohol in professional events can stymie efforts to create a welcoming community, and scientists and students of all generations deserve better. In academia, as well as in the business and nonprofit spheres, we senior scientists are responsible for inviting young, diverse people into the field and making them feel comfortable and confident. We are responsible for upholding professional conduct and setting the right example for the younger generation.

I respectfully disagree, especially about associating booze with “cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking clique of mostly white male scientists”.  (It’s always open season on white males, but of course cigars are banned at meetings and what’s on tap is usually beer and wine, not whiskey).  I know few scientists that fit that bill, and, in fact, Vriend is creating a sexist stereotype, but one that seems okay to most people, though it’s not.  The dragging in of white males here is a gratuitous slur, and has absolutely nothing to do with her argument, except that drunken males harass women more than the other way around. And what does being “white” have to do with it? Alcohol use and abuse is not a monopoly of white people.

There’s also the sly implication that “young diverse people” (read: blacks and Hispanics) won’t feel as welcome if there is booze afoot.  What evidence is there for that?

In the end, I guess, the only way to be welcoming and inclusive is to make everyone conform to a strict code of straitlaced behavior. Is that diversity? This article demonstrates, more than anything, that the woke are puritanical. Remember H. L. Mencken’s famous definition of “puritanism”: “the haunting fear that some one, somewhere, may be happy”.

And I’m curious why the APS would publish this.

h/t: Luana

63 thoughts on “The Leisure Fascists take over the American Physical Society, recommend no more booze at physics meetings

    1. Well hardly. Prohibition was pushed by white Christian xenophobic nationalists, bent on limiting the civil rights of immigrants, women, and of course, black people. It was the signature accomplishment of the Ku Klux Klan.

      1. Hmm. I’ve read that it was primarily pushed by women wanting to eliminate the contribution of alcohol to abusive relationships.

      2. But those were considered progressive ideas back then. Temperance was pushed by tight-lipped first-wave Protestant Christian feminists and suffragettes as part of a social-improvement—progressive—policy bundle with eugenics, “yellow peril” restrictions on immigration from Asia, and the sanitarian movement to stamp out licentiousness and idleness that led to TB and venereal disease. The whole rationale for suffragism was that if women got the vote they could compel legislatures to enact prohibition and enshrine Temperance forever. Men fought suffragism because they knew exactly what the women were fixing to do: their waves nagged them incessantly (or cowered in fear) when they came home drunk with all the paycheque gone and no shoes for the children.

        Women and children suffered terribly from chronically drunken husbands in 19th and early 20th century drinking patterns—of course they still do. (Our first and greatest Prime Minister was a notorious public drunk but it was observed that the voters preferred John A. drunk to his opposition sober.)

        In this context, restricting civil rights of women would have been breezily embraced by feminists to keep them out of the clutches of rum. A drunken man was a disgrace who might yet be redeemed by getting religion and taking The Pledge but a drunken woman was a tragedy.

        The involvement of the Klan in prohibition is a new one on me—different country: In Canada, Prohibition was progressive feminism through and through by people not so far ideologically from the KKK.

  1. In my last job I worked for a semiconductor supplier to several major US corporations. One of these held three meetings over several years to inculcate their quality philosophy and requirements. These were in Hong Kong, since most of their suppliers were in Asia. The first was in a hotel with a large conference room and a bar, and the formal part of the meeting was followed by suppliers’ representatives and the hosts mixing and exchanging ideas over (shock horror!) drinks. The second meeting was at a university that had a no alcohol policy and everyone dispersed quickly with virtually no informal interaction. The US corporation learned the lesson, and reverted to a hotel for the third meeting.

  2. “…inviting young, diverse people into the field and making them feel comfortable and confident” as opposed to “the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking clique of mostly white male scientists.” In her website, Nathalie Vriend announces: “In my research group, I promote and advance “Be A JEDI” (*): Belonging, Accessibility, Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.” All these priceless lines make me wonder whether “Nathalie Vriend” is an invention by Boghossian, Lindsay, and Pluckrose, up to their old tricks. But her putative website also mentions projects in “singing sand dunes, silo honking, and seismic wave propagation”, which should perhaps make students feel unsafe. And the mention of “honking” verges on microaggression, does it not?

    1. But her putative website also mentions projects in “singing sand dunes, silo honking, and seismic wave propagation”,

      That’s a fairly coherent set of researches. “Singing sands” have been fascinating sound scientists for several centuries at least ; “silo honking” sounds a similar effect – I’ve certainly heard weird sounds coming from the dry-chemical storage silos as they’re being emptied into the mixing guns. The propagation of seismic waves in granular mixtures doesn’t necessarily follow the simplistic models for simple materials such as solids or fluids.
      It may not be your niche, but it’s close enough to my niche to be recognisable.

      And the mention of “honking” verges on microaggression, does it not?

      It’s perfectly good Anglo-Saxon word-excess for “throwing up through excessive beer consumption”. Does it have a different meaning in EN_US? See also “calling god on the Great White Telephone”.

    1. I guess edibles, can’t smoke indoors (there is a pot shop built into the corner of the parking lot I use for work, the smoking restrictions seem not to be widely observed)

      My initial response to this was an eye roll and “good grief”. If you ban drinking at poster sessions everyone will blast through and head for the bar. Where they will learn what people are actually working on and what questions are interesting.

  3. Lame.

    I went to a wedding once where they didn’t allow booze. Worst wedding I ever attended. I lingered at the reception for 20 minutes or so then left to go get a drink.

    1. You know the difference between a Scottish wake and a Scottish christening?
      One less drunk at the wake.

    2. I’ve been to two dry weddings – one mormon and one where the father of the bride was a recovering alcoholic. They are an object lesson in the benefits of alcohol as a social lubricant. At least the second one had the benefit of a stunning state park location.

      1. Many decades ago I went to a Mormon wedding. There were not as many alternatives to alcohol back then and the grape juice beverage was foul.

    3. I had a similar wedding experience. A friend of my wife from high school and college years. She was a real wild child, and then surprisingly married a very traditional Southern Baptist man. Her family was very traditional RC, but she certainly was not. More like the classic wild child rebel.

      The wedding was one of the most horrid social events I’ve ever experienced. No drinking and no dancing! The priest’s exhortations about the role of the woman. It was dreary, depressing, nary a smile anywhere. Her wild child friend looked and behaved more like the woman in Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting than the fun loving person I remembered from just a few years prior. I daydreamed about staging a rescue.

      1. I daydreamed about staging a rescue.

        You romantic, you. 🙂

        But to tell the truth, that is a rather sad story. More religious poisoning…

  4. My favorite academic conference took place yearly in Manchester. There was, of course, no alcohol at the conference venue itself, but come 5 o’clock we’d all head to the pub and have a blast discussing talks and forging gratifying professional, personal, and sometimes even sexual relationships. No one was forced to join us. End of story.

    1. “No one was forced to join us. End of story.”

      If I hadn’t been there, my PhD supervisor would have wanted to know why and would questioned my commitment.

        1. These decades it is no longer a hanging offence to enter a pub and drink non-alcoholic drinks.
          Well, in city centre pubs at least. Some more marginal pubs retain a gibbet disguised as a children’s play area.

    1. The brewery is owned by the Carlsberg Foundation, which also funds the Carlsberg Laboratory, noted for research on protein chemistry, introducing the pH acid/base scale, and for isolating brewer’s yeast. Carlsberg also had a majority share in the Tivoli Gardens from the early 20th century until 2000. For these reasons, we should all, in the public interest, drink Carlsberg beer whenever possible. [I always preferred Tuborg, but that is OK because that brewery is owned by Carlsberg too.]

    2. The same story is told of a pub “next to” the Guinness brewery on the Liffey in Dublin. It has probably been told of other major breweries. See also the “you don’t buy beer, you rent it” trope at the communal urinal.

      It may have been true in Bohr’s day, but these days the complications of fiducial metering for the tax man would probably mean the pipeline has been sealed off long since and replaced with a weekly drop off of (recyclable) crates of (glass-)bottled beer.

  5. Plenty of physicists if I’m not mistaken have used marijuana? I read Richard Feynman dabbled in it and other drugs.

  6. I basically agree with you on this one, but I think some more delving is called for since the nays, though a minority, are still respectable 1/4th of the respondents, and there is a fair number who also felt conflicted enough that they couldn’t decide either way. Is there a predominant demographic among the nay-sayers? What would we say if most of those turned out to be women? What would that tell us about their feelings and experiences about conferences where most of the attendees are men?

  7. Not a drinker but all the good discussions happened in pubs (where non-drinking needs were also catered for) and everybody was invited regardless of the choice of libation. Poster presentation was never a life-affirming moment, rather a drudgery that you had to do before a liquid lunch where you actually talked. This of course was 30 years ago and in a land where people still socialize for fun and not just to work.

  8. In my experience . . . If there are no drinks at the conference people will group up with others and move to a restaurant for dinner and drinks. Having drinks and food at the conference encourages people to stay at the conference, thereby increasing inclusion.

    In a perfect world people wouldn’t drink. We don’t live in that world.

    1. Yes, this is precisely what is done. (James Walker, below as well.) Evening poster sessions, with heavy appetizers and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) available for purchase, encourage many attendees to stay to talk and socialize with one another. This is especially important for grad students and younger colleagues who are still developing their professional friendships.

      As to your ideas about perfection….


    2. Having drinks and food at the conference encourages people to stay at the conference,

      Increasing the profit margin for the conference venue, and (potentially) reducing the fee they’d look for for next year’s iteration of the proceedings.

  9. Surely the booze is only in the evenings, not the day when you are I would have thought, more interested in the science than in partying? I mean when I was at St.Paul’s we’d often drink at lunchtime in the 80s, but by the time I left in 1996 it was… frowned on.

  10. Having organised a number of academic conferences, I can say that having booze on-hand increases the likelihood that people will hang around for the poster session. So, balanced against the possibility of tipsy jerks is the greater engagement with your poster.

  11. I very rarely drink, mostly because most drinks I don’t particularly like; but also because, when I was a teenager and at university, I could see no attraction at all in getting blind drunk and falling through a plate glass door; and I didn’t see much attraction in being a little bit bit drunk and having your personality change in a manner that wasn’t always for the better. I accept that there seems to be a stage before those where a drink leaves you feeling a little more relaxed and sociable and, as I get older, my friends, colleagues etc spend more time in the latter state; but they still, not-infrequently progress to more anti-social behaviour. One of my PhD advisors was reportedly so drunk after an event as to be literally rolling around on the floor, kicking legs in the air.

    I have never felt that I have been missing out socially by drinking lemonade although, of course, I haven’t tried otherwise, so I don’t know.

    I have also never quite understood why humans don’t seem to be able to socialize without the aid of alcohol. I’m not saying that it is necessarily a problem, but what if nobody could function adequately at work without having had a drink?

    I’ve often heard otherwise sensible people make nonsensical claims about the benefits of alcohol. At the end of a running race once, free beer was available to runners who had just run for well over an hour around midday, at altitude, in the heat and many of whom had to drive at least 60 miles home. And some people were claiming it was the optimal way to rehydrate. I kind of felt like people just wanted to justify having a beer. And on that point, I really doubt that the scientists have voted against the alcohol ban having weighed the benefits against the costs; they just want to be able to have a drink.

    I don’t want to stop people drinking and I would have voted against the ban too. But I have just never quite understood society’s apparent obsession with alcohol.

    Rant over!

    1. I am in a similar situation. All alcoholic drinks I ever tried tested like yeast piss, and I never saw the need to get used to it – the book “Stupid and horrible things that happened because someone drank too much” is long enough and doesn’t need me to add additional pages.
      That said, as long as there’s no pressure on me to join, it is not my right to tell anyone what to do in that regard, and as long as there isn’t a long list of drunken brawls and wrecked hotel rooms at academic conferences (which i doubt), there’s no reason to ban the stuff.

  12. Vriend claims the JEDI mantle, yet claims to have been overwhelmed by a single stumbling drunk… how embarrassing.

  13. The percentage of physicists wanting to ban alcohol is pretty small, so I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon. It’s hard to even imagine a convention center accommodating a group that large that doesn’t drink. Would the entire convention center, including its hotels, have to agree to go dry in order to accommodate the attendees? Let me know how that works out.

  14. Vriend was too chicken-livered (euphemism) to tell one boor to move along, and suddenly none of us can have a drink.

    1. Vriend may have been intimidated if an intoxicated man, especially an intoxicated man prominent in her field, acted that way towards her at an academic meeting. As a Woman in a majority-men STEM field, I can understand that. However, banning booze at meetings won’t stop unacceptable behavior.

  15. When I was a grad student, the local chapter of my professional society organized monthly evening symposia at rotating local venues. I was at one held on my campus when I was accosted by a few Very Angry Muslim Men.

    I was at the appetizer table filling my plate when these men accosted me and DEMANDED to know why alcohol was being served. I had never seen these men at any local society meetings before. Puzzled, I told them that these meetings always have wine (and only wine.) Then they began ranting about how the presence of alcohol Deeply Offended Them As Muslims and ordered me to get rid of it personally RIGHT NOW.

    Realizing that they thought I was one of the dining room staff, I became even angrier. I told them that no one is forcing them to drink it and that they should just shut up. They angrily walked away. Of course I reported them to my professional society for their behavior towards me. I never saw these Very Angry Muslim Men at any local symposia again. Did the mere presence of wine scare them away, or did my professional society warn them about their conduct? Who knows.

    Some people’s inordinate sense of entitlement truly amazes me, even though by now it really shouldn’t.

  16. Perhaps the definition should be updated for this millennium?

    “Woke puritanism”: “the haunting fear that some one, somewhere, may not conform to my righteous opinions”.

    1. I’ve always though of it as:

      “Woke puritanism”: “the haunting fear that some one, somewhere, may not give a shit”.

  17. I was just at a several day meeting for labs with DOE grants. They had no food or drink (except water) served at all during the meeting. (There were plenty of places to eat and drink nearby). The poster sessions were in the afternoon and they were vibrant and interesting. Meeting cultures can be shifted. Just because we are used to having alcohol does not mean it has to/needs to be there. I remember how the flow of alcohol affected my experiences when I was a student; it was not a positive experience. In the intervening years, it didn’t affect me as much, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a great idea.

    1. You give your own personal experience to buttress a general banning of alcohol. Why don’t you just abstain from drinking instead of enforcing your views on more than 2/3 of the scientific community?

      1. I rarely drink myself but I would have voted against banning alcohol. That said, possible like Jean, I have been at events where some people have consumed a small to moderate amount of alcohol with changes in their behaviour or personality – nothing outrageous or highly inapprpropraite but perhaps they were being more assertive than usual in their opinions or dismissive of other opinions or not really concentrating on what other people were saying etc. I remember a PhD supervisor laughing herself silly at something her student suggested, when there was nothing absurd about it at all.

        When someone has had a couple of relaxing drinks, perhaps their judgement is slightly impaired and they are unaware of the change in their personality; and perhaps others who have also had a relaxing drink just aren’t bothered by their companions. I don’t know for sure. I know it sometimes bothers me; and perhaps I just need to take a metaphorical chill pill and get over it. But the people who are drinking have taken a literal chill pill and I am not sure that should be required to feel comfortable.

        1. I think you say it best in your last paragraph – take a chill pill and get over it.

          These days people seem so obsessed with being comfortable and unchallenged and everything being just right whenever they are in a working environment. We feel that we shouldn’t have to put up with any discomfort at all.

          This is a ridiculous idea, but it’s one that many people seem very fond of. I don’t understand it, the way I see it, sometimes you have to put up with a cold draft, or an annoying colleague, or someone who types really LOUDLY. My attitude is ignore them, let’s get on with it, it’s not a big deal.

          One man’s meat is, of course, another’s poison. You might not like it when people have had a drink, but so what? Don’t drink, don’t be around them, go talk to someone else. I get that you may find them annoying after a bear, but have you ever considered that you might be annoying to them until they’ve had a beer themselves.

          Yes, drinking may impair someone’s judgement, but so what? Who are you to demand the retain perfect judgment at all times when around you? They aren’t driving you to the airport, they aren’t messing around with the cyanide in the fume cupboard, so leave them be.

          If someone is more assertive than usual, or dismissive, or (God forbid) not really concentrating on what you are saying, I have some advice. At the risk of sounding insensitive and unsophisticated even, my advice is to deal with it.

          The fact that it sometimes bothers you should open your mind to the possibility that you could be bothering them. From what you say, I imagine you might subtly show your disapproval when in these situations. You might not so subtly indicate they are bothering you. Hey, if I were them, I would likely return the favour and let you know what I thought, which might just involve me turning up my annoyance factor just in your direction.

          I just don’t remotely understand why you feel it has anything to do with you if people are drinking. I understand even less your censorious interest in their state of mind or whether their personality has altered just slightly, even when they are talking to someone else! You reveal your real opinion here:

          “But the people who are drinking have taken a literal chill pill and I am not sure that should be required to feel comfortable.”

          Eh? Who are you to decide whether someone should ‘require’ a drink to feel comfortable? Maybe they have social anxiety, and it calms them down. Maybe they just want to relax or have a laugh. As long as they are not actually misbehaving, what has it got to do with you? I’m a high functional autistic person and I find being in company of more than one to two people exhausting and overwhelming. Any more than that and it’s complete sensory overload, and after 2 minutes it becomes painful, then unbearable and I have to leave. Alcohol, just a drink or two calms all that down and makes interacting with people bearable and even enjoyable. Without the booze, I’m out of there, I can’t stand it.

          My point is that you don’t know why they are drinking, so just leave them to it. If they misbehave, deal with that behaviour, or leave. I’m the autistic one with the poor theory of mind here, but even I can see it from the other’s point of view. Sorry, if that’s a bit of a rant, and I don’t mean to be rude, and I’ve written too much already. So, live and let live is my motto.

          1. “You reveal your real opinion here:”

            Well, I intended to reveal my real opinion! But you have misunderstood my chill pill point, probably because I didn’t express myself too well.

            My point was that alcohol is a chill pill of sorts and if people need a drink to relax, I’m not going to stop them. But if I don’t particularly like the way things tend to go when the alcohol starts to flow, ironically the best way to deal with that might be for me to have a drink myself – except I really don’t like the stuff and don’t especially want to. (The “shouldn’t be required to feel comfortable” was referring to me). Of course, I could get up and leave but, as has been pointed out, socializing at conferences is often crucial for your career prospects.

            So once again, I wouldn’t vote to ban alcohol. And in life in general, I let people get on and drink if they want: I don’t personally; and if I don’t like how it’s going, I leave or don’t go to start with and everyone is happy. But when it is intimately connected with work or career prospects it doesn’t seem quite so simple.

            And yes – I am quite aware there are people who likely find me irritating and probably worse!

            I’d better make that my last comment or Jerry will be reminding me of the rules!

            1. I take your point, I just sensed a bit of a look down your nose type of attitude towards people who might like a tipple. I probably interpreted it the wrong way, so I’m sorry if it came across a bit strident.

              I think maybe I responded from a personal perspective rather than my more usual relaxed / detached approach. This makes me sound like a proper antisocial git, but I can’t stand being in social situations involving more than 3 or 4 people. A quiet meal with people I know well is great, but put me in a busy environment with more people, and I just want to get out of there. I therefore avoid those situations usually, but if it’s work related and could be of benefit to me, I will attend. I’ll just have a couple of drinks and much of the harshness disappears from the environment. It’s almost a mirror image of what you describe! I can even have a good time. I rarely drink and never get drunk (can’t imagine anything worse tbh), but it really helps in these scenarios – though I’m still always the first to leave.

              I think my main issue with some of the comments to this article is around behaviour. Although they are related, I think we should separate the drinking from the drinker’s behaviour. Some people are arseholes when they’ve had a drink, some always drink too much, some just get slightly annoying. People should be called out on their behaviour if it’s inappropriate, it’s the person, not the booze. It can cause some people to misbehave, but others (like me) are unaffected like that.

              Anyway, sorry if I came across a little bit emphatic earlier, and all the best!

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