Although there's some discussion about an exact date for the origin of the telescope, 2009 is considered by some as the 400th anniversary of the instrument. Galileo developed his telescope and presented his invention in both Venice and Rome, including to members of the Accademia dei lincei, and in the year 1611, he was inducted into this Roman society. The Accademia supported Galileo and published both his application of the telescope to the observation of sunspots, as well as “Il Saggiatore” (The Assayer). So it was that Galileo found a community where his ideas and inventions could be discussed and disseminated and that would support him.

Scientific societies and science are now, of course, considerably more global entities, and in this age of rapid communication, the relationship between scientific publication versus presentation has also changed considerably. In fact, in many fields, there is a tension between the two. How close to publication do you need to be before you present the exciting findings from your laboratory to your field at large in the forum of one of the big internationally attended meetings and symposia? It was after the publication of the structure of DNA that it was first presented at an open meeting, the 1953 Cold Spring Harbor Symposium on Viruses. In particularly competitive areas, people prefer to wait until close to or after publication before they will talk about recent work in the context of the global community that composes the field at large, something that we discussed in our pages recently (Nature Structural & Molecular Biology 14, 457, 2007). At the opposite extreme, laboratory meetings and lecture series at specific institutions provide a more closeted environment for the discussion of new work. However, as travel plans are made for meeting others in the field face to face, it's worth remembering the value of the 'in between', those meetings that bring scientists from the wider local area together to discuss a broader range of topics. This is analogous to the locavore food movement, which aims to promote consumption of locally grown food.

In New York, we are lucky to have a concentration of institutions and a local academy, the New York Academy of Sciences (, that works to bring scientists from local research centers together for symposia and discussions, many of them interdisciplinary. In this context, scientists from a range of backgrounds can meet to discuss the latest findings in numerous different fields. Examples of the more than a dozen discussion groups include those focused on structural biology, small RNAs, genome integrity and chemical biology. At these meetings, science that is still in progress can be presented for valuable input from people outside the institutional community and from different scientific backgrounds. Such meetings also offer the opportunity to forge local collaborations and provide a first chance for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to present their work to a larger community. Of course, competition on unpublished findings remains a big issue, especially as webcasting and other global forms of communication have the potential to open such meetings up to a broader community. But the rise of such communication is becoming an issue at many larger meetings too, especially with the growing potential to blog directly out of meetings, something that many meeting organizations may have to form policies on to protect the presentation of unpublished science that is under competition, but that's a discussion for another day. In the current context, expanding local meetings globally using internet tools should not be regarded as a bad thing. Indeed, it can forge communication with, for example, scientists in developing countries. The New York Academy of Sciences has, as do other societies, global outreach programs ( These kinds of programs highlight how local science initiatives can have a global impact (and with a relatively small set of carbon footprints!).

Another New York institution that aims to foster collaboration between local researchers is the New York Structural Biology Center (NYSBC, In addition to housing NMR and EM facilities that can be used by researchers, the NYSBC also organizes courses as well as meetings and talks to bring together investigators in different areas. This again highlights the potential benefits of local cross-pollination between fields and institutions.

Such groups, societies and forums are present in many places across the world, and wherever they are found, they have the potential to nurture young scientists, provide crucial input into developing scientific projects and foster interdisciplinary research. If you have such a local society, community or forum, it's worth continued support and attendance over the coming months, even as the big meetings and symposia draw you to more distant climes (after all, these local communities were there for us through the winter, which tends to be sparser in terms of global meetings). And, if you do not have such a forum, why not find like-minded people and start one? Think global, act local!