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In Brief

Sequester Means Silent Talks at Science Conferences

SALT LAKE CITY — Scientists are getting creative with budget cuts severely limiting travel to important conferences after the March 1 government sequestration.

Many government agencies, such as NASA, the National Weather Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), have banned or severely limited agency-funded travel to and participation in scientific conferences. These conferences are the lifeblood of scientific research — chance meetings lead to new collaborations, young researchers network for jobs and new ideas receive stimulating feedback.

At the Seismological Society of America's annual meeting here this week, the USGS could only send 14 employees, though dozens were signed up before the budget cuts. Instead of cancelling outright, many researchers pre-recorded their talks for playback at the meeting. One of the most unusual talks in absentia was by Susan Hough, a USGS seismologist in Pasadena, Calif. With wry humor, the slides speedily presented her case for revising the magnitude of some 19th-century Northern California earthquakes. Laughter from the audience was the only sound. After the talk ended, one audience member said, "Maybe every talk should be like this."

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Becky Oskin
Becky Oskin covers Earth science, climate change and space, as well as general science topics. Becky was a science reporter at Live Science and The Pasadena Star-News; she has freelanced for New Scientist and the American Institute of Physics. She earned a master's degree in geology from Caltech, a bachelor's degree from Washington State University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz.