MONTREAL—A major AIDS conference held here last month left top scientists complaining that the sheer number of attendees, along with the noise they generated, prevented the scientists from exchanging ideas.

Scientists present at the vast gathering—11,638 registrants from 87 countries, buzzed by 1,320 media people from 47 countries—say they were overwhelmed by the army of social workers and public health officials on the scene. Corridor talk of macrophages and CD-4 receptors was forced to compete with placard-waving AIDS activists. Protesters disrupted plenary sessions with speeches, demonstrations, and heckling.

One leading AIDS scientist attending the conference, Robert C. Gab of the National Cancer Institute, suggested afterward that the size of the event overwhelmed scientific discourse. According to Gallo, scientists may refuse to attend future AIDS conferences if the problem is not solved. “We need meetings that are smaller, so we [scientists] can find each other, and interact better,” says Gallo. “The...

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