22 JANUARY 1972, Page 17

Scientific motion

Sir: Dr Bernard Dixon's picture of the 'itinerant scientist' (January 15), is no doubt a well-meant attempt to prove that the natural sciences have now finlly replaced theology as the Queen of Studies, and that the research worker jethopping the world is the true spiritual descendent of the mediaeval wandering friar. However some of his exaggerations cannot go unchallenged.

First of all, any research scientist who attempts, like Dr Dixon's friend, to remain in perpetual motion between conferences, is likely to find that not only has the organisation which supports his research discovered its ability to survive without him, but that the only subject on which he is eventually qualified to deliver a paper is 'Space-time Disorientation Effects of Super-Absorption of Nutriment and Alcohol in Melton and at Rest" (how about that for another conference, preferably to be held somewhere on the International Date Line?).

However Dr Dixon's serious charge, that such international conferences are a succession of previously published results, does require an answer. It is a condition of many such congresses that the substance of a paper to be presented must not have been published before. Also there are so many scientific journals now being published that it is physically as well as economically impossible for any worker in a particular field to cover all of them.

International conferences are usually held at intervals of about four years, and during that time it is more than possible for a particular field of study to have been changed out of all re--tnition. In such circumstances " meeting the boys" does indeed become "the creative international exchange of scientific information between research workers." I am sure that you, Sir, would agree that at (e.g.) party political conferences there is often more to be gained by discussions over a few drinks in the bar than by actual attendance at the sessions. Perhaps politicans might be able to learn something at scientific congresses — could I tentatively suggest " Gas Discharges," or for admirers of the Prime Minister " super conductivity."

R. A. Jones 36 Avonmore Gardens, London W14