Not long ago I listened to a Famous Scientist give the exact same talk that I had heard him give at a conference a few years ago. The talk was not an invited review in which it would be reasonable to expect a summarizing of previous work. He was speaking in a session in which it was reasonable to expect to hear results of new research, not a rerun.
When is giving the same talk OK and when is it not OK?
From what I've seen, a common scenario for talk repetition is when the talk is first given at a small conference, then repeated at a large conference, especially if the two conferences are not separated by a substantial amount of time (delta t < 1 year?). If you happen to have been at the small conference, you see the talk twice, but most of the people in the audience at the big conference are hearing the talk for the first time. I suppose that is acceptable, although if the speaker anticipates quite a bit of overlap in audience (i.e. most people from the small conference are also at the big conference), it would be good to make the second talk a bit different.
What is less acceptable is to give the exact same talk in different years at the same annual conference. In the most recent example of this that I saw/heard, the Famous Scientist was also the former professor of the conference session convener. So I suppose the decision to let him talk about the same old stuff was based on sentiment and/or on the desire to have a Famous Scientist speak in a session.
If, however, the session convener had reason to know in advance that Famous Scientist would present the same old stuff, would it be so bad to give him a poster and give a talk slot to some up-and-coming scientist with new results? I am sure not every single person in the audience had seen the talk before, but does that justify a rerun talk of research published a few years ago; research to which nothing new had been added?
If there are plenty of talk slots to go around, maybe; if talk slots are in short supply and highly desirable, I'd rather hear something new, even is the speaker is a not-famous professor, postdoc, or student. I would be less harsh on Famous Scientist (who is actually a colleague I admire and like quite a lot) if he had been asked to give a review talk or some kind of overview of his work or a particular topic. It bothered me that he gave a total rerun talk as a regular research talk.
It can be good to have Famous Scientists in a session if it attracts an audience for the less Famous Scientists (as long as there isn't a mass exodus after the FS talk), and of course some (many?) Famous Scientists have interesting new things to say. And some people may want to hear the old classic work in a talk. I suppose I got annoyed in this particular case because there were some interesting early-career scientists who did not get to give talks at that conference.
Sometimes I give similar talks at conferences that are not too far apart in time. Talk 1 will focus on a research project at whatever stage it is at during Conference 1, and Talk 2 will be an update, presenting the newest results of that project. Ideally, there will be substantial new results, but some updates are more significant than others, depending on how the research progresses. In that case, even those of us who intended to give different talks might find ourselves giving talks that are more similar than we wanted.
Some of that is to be expected when you are working on a long-term project in which amazing data and discoveries are not ideally spaced relative to conferences, but typically you can say something new about what you've done and where you're going with the work.
Or at the very least you can change the background designs of your slides.
What do you think? When is it OK to give the same talk at different conferences with similar audiences and when is this proof that you are a slacker-scholar who just wants to justify a desire to jet around to different conferences?
If you have nothing new to say and are invited to give a talk, do you agree to give the talk (assuming that people will be fascinated to hear about your old, published work) or do you decline because you don't have anything new to say?
6 years ago