The Curse of the Conference Q&A Oration

Conferences can be enlightening. They can also be forums when otherwise even mannered intellectuals descend into displays of uncouth narcissism. This streak of narcissism has become even more acute in the age of high saturation of social media and its associated proliferation of echo-chambers. Conferences have now become absorbed into this ecology, very often with live tweeting or posting of persons, comments, and photos.
Such egotistical self-referentiality can be made manifest in the presentation of papers, but conferences in recent times seem to indicate that the real displays come during the post-paper question and answer sessions, where ego-driven faux pas really come to light, with the most common of these being the question that converts into an oration. Recent conferences indicate that a misstep can be further broken down into 8 sub-types of increasing severity:
  1. The oration that pretends to be as a question pertaining to the paper
  2. The oration that does not pretend to be a question pertaining to the paper
  3. The oration that pretends to address the paper but dragoons said paper into the hobbyhorse of the orator/question-asker.
  4. The oration that ignores the paper and asks the presenter why s/he is not interested in the hobbyhorse of the orator/question-asker.
  5. The oration that ignores the paper and the presenter entirely and addresses the hobbyhorse of the orator/question-asker, whilst trying to keep within the overall theme of the conference.
  6. The oration that ignores the paper and the presenter entirely and addresses the hobbyhorse of the orator/question-asker, whilst pretendingĀ to keep within the overall theme of the conference.
  7. The oration that ignores the paper and the presenter entirely and addresses the hobbyhorse of the orator/question-asker, and deliberately strays beyond the frontiers of relevance for the conference.
  8. The oration that sparks a group frenzy concerning a hobbyhorse that strays beyond the frontiers of relevance for the conference.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, and other suggestions are possible. Be that as it may, it would seem that a good panel chair is vital in insisting that questions be explicitly framed as such, with discussion being kept not merely to the conference, but to the specific paper.
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