Social media and scientific conferences: the discussion continues

There has been some very interesting online discussion in a number of venues today about the topic of social media and scientific conferences. For those who missed my post yesterday, the discussion was sparked by an article in ScienceInsider reporting that Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory had produced a new policy on the use of social media at its conferences, which essentially states that attendees should ask permission from presenters before discussing their work online (it's worth noting that this policy is one that CSHL has long applied to affiliated reporters). The policy release was triggered (at least in part) by my blogging of talks at last month's Biology of Genomes meeting.

The use of social media - e.g. Twitter and blogs - to report from scientific conferences clearly raises some challenging issues about the boundary between blogging and traditional science reporting and the role of scientific presentations. As a result, the online discussion sparked by this issue has been particularly vibrant: many bloggers and regular readers are (predictably) wary of policies that constrain scientists from reporting from conferences, but there has also been some nuanced discussion about the occasional need for less open policies to allow scientists to discuss their work without fear of being scooped or quoted out of context. 

Anyway, without further rambling, here are some links to discussion of these important issues - please feel free to add any that I've missed in the comments.

A good place to start is the comments on my post - including a much-appreciated clarification from GenomeWeb's Bernadette Toner.

There's a FriendFeed discussion involving several of the most widely-respected advocates of open, online discussion of science. I thought this comment from Neil Saunders summed up the best way forward: "The onus is on conference organisers to (a) be aware of social media, (b) have a clear policy for their meeting, (c) make sure all attendees are aware of the policy."

Andrew Maynard on 2020 Science has a balanced and detailed discussion of the key issues to weigh up before blogging from a conference, followed by useful input from commenters.

My fellow ScienceBloggers have their say: DrugMonkey weighs in defending the need for openness in conferences, while Razib at Gene Expression argues that "updating pre-internet protocols is just a band-aid solution".

Genomics blogging comrade Anthony Fejes has a lengthy post hashing out the issues and lending me his support (thanks, Anthony!), while my occasional sparring partner Steve Murphy argues that "In order for personalized medicine to progress, we all need to be in constant contact to let the flow of new ideas move" (but can't hide his delight at my "slap down").

GenomeWeb's Daily Scan has a brief run-down of the controversy, followed by a bizarrely hysterical over-reaction by me to their choice of quotes; I have no excuse.

Finally, as you might expect, there's been a lively but chaotic and basically untrackable discussion on Twitter.

Thanks to everyone for their commentary. This isn't the way that I would have chosen to start this discussion, but I think it has been a very useful conversation to have - I'll certainly be altering my approach to conference blogging as a result, and I hope that at least a few conference organisers have been inspired to consider a social media policy for their own meeting.

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Awwwwww Daniel, not delight, just laughing that you took 2 weeks off and end up getting picked on the moment you return. At least it wasn't a cease and desist letter. I have been the recipient of those.


As someone who is at a scientific meeting right now, I have not seen a policy on anything except photographing posters and presentations....
I will ask someone and see if they have even thought about it yet (I'm betting no). I will be tweeting @PHLane.
I will log on later tonight and comment here as well. If I haven't had too much fun (AKA alcohol) in New Orleans.

Thanks, Daniel. I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion (and that of Neil Saunders, above, as well) that the onus is on conference organizers to develop a clear policy.

It's also important that the policy, once developed, be communicated not only to participants (the would-be bloggers and twitterers) but to the presenters as well. I fully expect that a majority (perhaps a vast majority) of scientific presenters, once aware that attendees will be restricted from reporting on the content of their talks unless they provide express permission to do so, will come up with an appropriate, efficient manner of authorizing the free discussion of their presented ideas and data.

As you say, this is an important conversation to have, but I think that the tweeting is on the wall: one way or another, openness shall win out.

I'm just back from the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions. While they forbid photography (without permission) and videotaping, they had no social media policy. In fact, they were providing schedule updates via Twitter! I guess they figure there is a limit to how much you can spew about a presentation in 140 characters or even via a blog. However, with a photograph or a recorder, one can pretty much take presentations home (without paying for the organization's recordings of plenary sessions).