A conference at which no one reads a single paper may seem a contradiction in terms. In fact, Dahlem Konferenzen, which this month reach 50 in their unique series of highly successful gatherings in West Berlin, are of exactly that sort. Dahlem conferences generate their prestigious state-of-the-art reports through a sensitively structured five-day program of group discussions and feedback. They contrast starkly with the type of congress at which fragments of worth are lost among a phalanx of predictable material. Having attended the 49th Dahlem just six weeks ago, I'm surprised that this remarkably productive format has not been copied elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps the reason is finance—met in Berlin by the City's Senate, the Stifterver-band fur die Deutsche Wissenschaft (a foundation supported by German trade and industry), and the Deutsche For-schunsgemeinschaft (the German Science Foundation). Add up the costs of planning meetings by an international program advisory committee...

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