Tuesday, March 04, 2014

raging RASCals

I watched, with some dismay, the kerfuffle with the tickets for the Dunlap Prize Lecture with Neil deGrasse Tyson. And frankly I was surprised at the remarks made and anger displayed by of some of the RASC members.

Many people were interested in attending the lecture. Within our ranks there was a great deal of interest. And many, rightly, expected that the event would be very popular.
  • 20 Oct: It all started. Members started sharing that Dr Tyson would be in Toronto in March 2014 to receive the Dunlap Prize from the Dunlap Institute. He would also deliver a free public lecture. Registration was required.
  • 21 Oct: The Dunlap Institute issued a press release. 2014 would see the inauguration of an international award recognising individuals making remarkable achievements in astronomy and astrophysics. The prize ceremony would take place on the afternoon of Friday 21 March 2014 at the University of Toronto with invited guests in attendance. After the ceremony the free lecture would take place in Convocation Hall.
  • December: RFP issued for medal, a tangible trophy, made in glass.
  • Winter: 4500 people signed up for notifications.
  • 2 Jan: A member invited me and many other RASC members to attend the DI event.
  • 11 Feb: The DI began issuing their Event Horizon updates.
  • 21 Feb: A member reminded friends on Facebook that registration would open on 1 Mar at noon.
  • 28 Feb: A member reminded all that tomorrow was the date to register for tickets. Registration would open at noon. A registration was restricted to 2 people. The DI Facebook page reminded interested parties to review the "small print." They also made a point that they were not accepting group bookings.
  • 1 Mar: There was a lot of excitement and buzz in the morning. And then, just after 12:00 PM, members shared their results. Some obtained tickets; some did not. Some shared that they saw the status change before their eyes, in the moment it took for the page to load, or reload, to select the quantity, and hit the Register button. Many went immediately to the Wait List.
  • 2 Mar: A member shared notes from the Dunlap Institute Facebook page.
  • 3 Mar: A member shared that Tyson would be speaking at NEAF. A couple more pointed out that Tyson would be Winnipeg on 13 Mar.
  • 5 Mar: Some people on the wait-list received tickets (often singles).
  • 19 Mar: The DI stated the lecture sold out. They noted all tickets were released and no additional tickets would be made available. The event would not be streamed. On their Facebook page, they recommended people line up earlier. And were cautious. "We do not anticipate that large numbers of rush seats will be available." The warned that people arriving late would be turned away.
Many people were disheartened. Some very upset. Frustrated. The first remark I saw was: "How disappointing." A prominent member protested: "Humbug!" One was perplexed, "How can it 'sold out' when the event is free?" Many "couldn't believe [it]." Another prominent person opined, "I think they messed up big time." Lots of sour grapes.

Some people expressed anger at not getting tickets. Many lashed out at the university, the DI, and the ticket agency Eventbrite. Some were rather unkind. Conspiracy theories quickly developed. Some accused the DI of hoarding or pre-allocating tickets. Of mismanaging the event. Not choosing an appropriate venue. I was very surprised at these accusations and suspected people were speaking out of turn and without considering the issues. And subsequent responses, while they came across with a slightly defensive air, from the DI explained a number of matters.

The Eventbrite system did not fail; in fact, it worked very well at processing a couple thousand requests in a couple of minutes. They had not restricted the majority of tickets. They reserved 300 of the 1500 seats. They wanted as many people from the public as possible to attend. They wanted to have the event on their property. They wanted to use a venue that was free for them. They wanted to keep costs down. "Larger commercial venues would have meant charging admission." They were, as much as anyone, surprised by the response. "By the time the sign-up list exceeded the capacity of the hall, we were already committed to that venue."

So then, to me, it became clear. It was simple. First come, first served. A free event for a popular person in a metropolitan area with 6.1 million people. The process was fair.

There were only a few reasoned voices above the din. "Selling out Convocation Hall in a matter of seconds is a great accomplishment for the DI." And another excellent point was made: "This puts them on the map again." Think about it.

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