A well-planned meeting is among the more gratifying social events to organize. I bet Mike Travisano, Matt Herron, and Will Ratcliff were really glad to see their catalysis meeting actually taking place. We were the little figures they got to move around on the stage. Largely we cooperated. The chemistry/biology party Bob Blankenship and Liz Dorland held last Saturday had some of the same elements. They were delighted to see us biologists interacting with chemists, just as they had planned.
These events work best with a carefully selected blend of people representing diverse interests, ages, and universities. The multicellularity meeting would have suffered greatly had even one of the fossil people cancelled. The organizers knew this, but they are vulnerable to an increasingly common occurrence: the no show or last minute cancellation.
There will always be some cancellations, because we are human. We get sick. People we love and care for get sick. We may occasionally simply mess up and double schedule. So I don’t hold a hard line on legitimate cancellations. But some people seem to have decided that it is simply all right to cancel at the last minute, or to back out of one commitment if a more enticing one comes along. This is frustrating for all concerned, so don’t do it! For organizers, I recommend moving on down your list when you are inviting if you come on a name of a frequent last minute canceller.
It is fine to say no at the beginning. It would be even better to say no and recommend a couple of more junior people who would be great to invite. Standing by your commitment is something you should have learned a long time ago, maybe not in kindergarten, but not long after. So say no often, but when you say yes, stand by it. We are counting on you!