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.
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.