I’ve been seeing some mail lately from researchers who don’t see much point in going to a conference if they don’t have sufficient time on the stage.

I used to go to conferences to learn things I needed to know. This wasn’t student learning — things I could get from books — because those books hadn’t been written yet. I went to conferences because, at the conference, you’d hear what the best people were working on, and how it was going.

There’s a picture in the lobby of the Hotel Metropole in Brussels of the attendees at the first Solvay conference in 1911. Madame Curie is sitting next to Henri Poincaré; they’re both examining a paper and it’s more interesting than the group photo. Behind them, a shockingly young Al Einstein is paying more attention to the photographer. Nernst is there, and Rutherford, Lorentz, Planck, de Broglie, Brillouin, Langevin. I could go on.

Do you think Al would’ve stayed home if he didn’t get enough stage time?