Dispatches From the Field
AAAS 2000 Annual Meeting

Behind the Scenes
Session Withdrawn: Unravelling a Mystery - Feb. 21, 2000

By Lisa Strong

I was immediately curious. The sign in front of Congressional Room A at the Omni Hotel read: Session Withdrawn. Why had this Sunday afternoon session - "Separating the Men from the Boys: The Changing Border of Criminal Punishment of Adolescent Offenders" - been withdrawn? It was supposed to have been centered around the contentious issue of trying juvenile defenders as adults. Since we're in Washington, I figured there might be a political reason for the last-minute cancellation. Did someone get cold feet? I decided to ask around.

I went to the official source first: the AAAS press office. Press officer Ginger Pinholster was very accommodating, but she didn't have any answers.

She offered to call the other AAAS office, the one tucked away down a tiny twisted corridor of the hotel, the one journalists were discouraged from finding, the true command center for the conference. "Sure, that'd be great," I said. She picked up the receiver of a phone at the back of the room and started to dial. After a few moments, she came back. The story was, some speakers had canceled, so the session had been withdrawn. A likely story, but I decided to dig deeper.

I asked her why the speakers cancelled. She didn't know, but offered to go to AAAS command center to find out. I cooled my heels with a cup of coffee in the press lounge.

A little later Ginger was back, a small pink message slip in her fist. She handed it to me: "2 out of 4 panelists - cancelled. It only left 2 presentations." At the bottom was the name of the organizer and a number. I looked up at her. "Two speakers canceled," she said, "It would have been imbalanced, so they withdrew the session. You can call the organizer if you want." I found a phone and punched in the numbers. A woman's voice answered the phone - an answering service. No, no message, thanks.

After nearly an hour of digging, I still had do answers. Who canceled, and why? Looks like I wasn't going to find out. Then I overheard someone talking about the big winter storm blowing in the Midwest. Seems it was causing a lot of trouble for people trying to get to the conference. I guess it could have been cold feet - cold from the snow dumping in Chicago.

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