Genetic Future

The rather contentious result of my live-blogging of the Biology of Genomes meeting last month made it very clear to me that the scientific community needs to do a better job of communicating in advance whether a presentation is off-limits to audience live-bloggers. I’ve since been involved in a number of discussions about this issue both on- and off-line.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (the host of the Biology of Genomes meeting) has clarified its own position, stating that potential live-bloggers (or tweeters) need to explicitly seek permission from speakers before writing about their presentations. This fits with CSHL’s policy of encouraging the presentation of unpublished data by preventing unauthorised reporting of results, but it puts potential bloggers in an awkward position: it’s not always clear in advance which talks will be interesting enough to discuss online, and finding speakers before their presentation to ask them for permission can be both logistically challenging and socially awkward (especially in the cases where it requires explaining to the presenter what this “blogging” business is all about).
Far better would be a situation where presenters stated in writing whether they were happy for their work to be live-blogged in an official format: ideally, stating a preference would be part of the registration process for all attendees, and every entry in the conference abstract book (whether presentation or poster) would indicate explicitly whether the presenter was happy for their results to be freely discussed online. I hope that any conference organisers reading this consider setting up something along these lines for their next meeting.
In the interim, it strikes me that there is room for a more individual approach for speakers who are happy to have their work live-blogged: some sort of standard icon that could be added to a title slide or the corner of a poster, quietly indicating that the presented data is “blog-safe” – i.e. can be blogged/tweeted freely. Such an icon would obviously only be used by the small sub-set of researchers web-savvy enough to know about it, but it might nonetheless help to raise awareness of the issue among the broader scientific community.
The question is, what icon can we use?


I’ve put this question forward on Friendfeed and Twitter to get some initial suggestions and hopefully get the ball rolling. If anyone has other suggestions for icons (or even the graphic design skills to create their own), or arguments for which icon they prefer please add them in the comments below.

The suggestions so far are:
1. Some variation on the Creative Commons icons available here (suggested independently by Neil Saunders, Dan Vorhaus and Laura Kilarski).
2. The RSS feed icon (suggested by Rich Meisel):

i-cc4d2010edc28839991a84abe69a2664-rss-icon_small.jpg

3. Two variations on the “wi fi” theme. Firstly, this image (suggested by Nash):
 i-e4eec0824980c8fd9c630ee971537cf5-wifi_icon_by_spremi.jpg
And secondly, this image (suggested by Daniel Mietchen):
i-edb9b2afd76001f046059cf2e51e6c17-public_scientist.jpg 
Update: Kenna Mills suggests this icon:

i-0829bf69d781d1d4676aa637f5935039-blog_icon.jpg

I personally like the last two the best so far; they come closest to capturing the message in an intuitive way, although they’re still not quite perfect. There’s also the question of whether any icon should incorporate words explicitly spelling out its purpose (e.g. Blog Safe). Any further comments/suggestions?
It would also be interesting to think about whether it would be feasible for presenters to seal off specific sections of their presentations (e.g. gene names) while still making it clear that the remainder of their talk is freely bloggable.
I also have some thoughts on the creation of a sort of generic and voluntary code of conduct for conference live-bloggers that conferences could cut and paste into the registration process, but I’ll save that for a separate post.

Comments

  1. #1 Kenna
    June 17, 2009

    I’m more interested in the question of the best format for this “permission” to occur and not so much the design of the icon itself. My fear with deciding that permission should occur at the time of abstract submission is that this time is significantly too premature for a decision to be made. Most often at the time of abstract submission, results are preliminary and are reflective of data that is 6-9M before the actual conference presentation itself. Data/stories can change in that time, making the decision very difficult to make so early. I might even suggest that the decision made that early could be detrimental in many cases since individuals might blog about the abstract itself without the benefit of additional context and data. The icon or disclosure/permission needs to be made at the time of presentation either on the poster or on the first/second slide of a talk. That said, I might suggest the live blogging icon that is available:

    http://tr.im/oOxD

    (it’s similar to these above but already exists re: live blogging)

    [edited to trim very long URL - DM.]

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    June 17, 2009

    I think people at conferences should wear hats that tell everyone else that they are members of the 21st century and are thus comfortable with … other humans communicating stuff.

    Because, after all, the weird fetish of having things scientists are saying to each other not leave the room (a side effect of the elitist closed conferences such as CSH and Werner Gren) applies as well to any conversation happening anywhere at such a conference.

    Any one of the symbols you suggest could be printed on the hat, or perhaps the hat could have Saturday Night Live bee antennae. Over time, more and more people would wear the bee antennae hats until almost everybody but the most curmudgeonly will be wearing them, and at this point, everybody, including journalists, can simply participate openly in the extended multidimensional conversation that the ret of us are busy having.

  3. #3 Rev Matt
    June 17, 2009

    I would prefer something like a big thumbs up icon. Those who want to ensure their content isn’t discussed can use a different digit…

  4. #4 Daniel MacArthur
    June 17, 2009

    Hi Kenna,

    I agree that the lengthy delay between abstract submission and presentation makes this more difficult – but I wonder what fraction of the reluctance to be live-blogged comes from specific data vs general philosophy? My suspicion is that there are people who would be happy to have everything discussed online, and others who are constitutionally suspicious, and in general both classes will maintain their attitude regardless of the data being presented.

    The first-slide icon solution would resolve any issues with timing, but the problem is that it’s unlikely to be widely adopted unless conference organisers encourage it in some way.

    Rev Matt,

    Very funny, but the notion of having two icons is a good one – I guess the ideal conference is one where the default state is open blogging unless someone has an icon indicating otherwise.

    Greg,

    Yes, we’re all advocates of open science here. But in the outside world not all scientists are blog-savvy yet, and we need to come up with realistic ways to ease the transition into the “extended multidimensional conversation”.

    If you’re keen on the hat idea, though, please feel free – and do post some photos.

  5. #5 Daniel MacArthur
    June 17, 2009

    After further conversation with Kenna on Twitter, I’ve changed my views a little on the “attitude to Tweeting = general philosophy rather than specific data” front – as Kenna has pointed out, if the data you were planning to present at the conference suddenly became Nature-worthy, and you were concerned that Nature would consider tweet coverage to violate their embargo, there’s every reason to change your mind.

    I think this is one area where journals need to clarify their policy fast: would specifically allowing people to tweet your presentation constitute an embargo violation? My understanding is that such a violation would only occur in the case of traditional media if the researcher was seen to be actively promoting the work (e.g. doing interviews) – would a more passive “Tweet Me” icon also qualify?

  6. #7 Andrew Yates
    June 17, 2009

    I think it’s a mistake to assume that access is restricted unless granted.

    Unless participants are bound by a non-disclosure in advance, existing copyright and fair-use applies without qualification.

    It’s fair to grant special media rights to an event, but it’s the event organizer’s responsibility to communicate those rights to the participants —NOT the responsibility of each participant to query the event organizers about exceptions to universally assumed rights.

  7. #8 Andrew Yates
    June 17, 2009

    oh: I like the last icon with the “b”

  8. #9 Dan Vorhaus
    June 17, 2009

    I agree with Daniel and Andrew’s comments that the responsibility should rest with the conference organizers to set – and to publicize – a default position on live-blogging/tweeting.

    Rather than worry about how to indicate that coverage is permitted it would be better to simply have a default rule that coverage is permitted unless presenters otherwise specifically indicate. For instance, at the Consumer Genetics Show I live-tweeted nearly every talk I attended with the exception of those talks – mostly from venture capitalists – where the slides were marked as “Confidential.” Without the opportunity to request permission in advance, I simply refrained.

    Although I think a “Tweet Me” icon is a good idea for those conferences, like CSHL, that go with a no-blogging/tweeting default rule, I would hope and expect that the default rule in a majority of cases will be permission-granted, in which case the onus will be on those that wish to restrict their information to come up with a creative and convenient way to publicize that fact (a la Rev Matt, above).

    - Dan

  9. #10 Daniel MacArthur
    June 17, 2009

    Hey guys,

    Yes, it’s clear that such an icon would be most useful in conferences such as CSHL where the default policy is don’t tweet unless told it’s OK (which are fortunately in the minority). However, in other conferences where the default policy is unclear or non-existent the icon would at least indicate that the speaker is aware of social media and approves of their use, and also hopefully improve awareness of this type of coverage within the scientific community.

    I do like the idea of a second icon indicating an unwillingness to be tweeted, but to be honest I can’t see it catching on (especially when a simple “confidential” would do the job). A “Tweet Me” badge is something that presenters could wear with pride, whereas asking people not to discuss your work always has a mild sense of embarrassment attached to it (at least in academic circles).

    Summing up: while I agree with Drew and Dan that conference bloggers can safely regard the default as open-blogging unless told otherwise, I still think this badge could be a useful tool for consciousness-raising regardless of the formal conference policy.

  10. #11 cariaso
    June 17, 2009

    The RSS alone will only lead to confusion.

    The ones that seem most intuitive for me are an RSS icon with a large green checkmark on top, or a red circle with slash.

  11. #12 Bob O'H
    June 18, 2009

    Summing up: while I agree with Drew and Dan that conference bloggers can safely regard the default as open-blogging unless told otherwise,

    It’ll depend a bit on the meeting (ha! Nothing’s simple!). For most conferences I would agree, but for small more intimate workshops it might feel like breaking confidentiality. YMMV, I guess.

    I like Kenna’s suggestion too. It’s simple, and will only need to be explained once or twice before it sticks in people’s memory.

    Actually, this is a subtle way of advertising micro-blogging. Just raising awareness is a big step.

  12. #13 Mike Spear
    June 18, 2009

    It is indeed awkward and challenging to figure out the best sessions to cover and write about. A challenge that has faced journalists and reporters since the first broadsheet ever appeared. Life can be tough but the logistics of covering a story or event come with the job. Especially those that love the title ‘citizen journalist’. If you’re going to use the handle that belongs to a profession, then behave like one. If people want to cover an event or talk for their blog then arranging logistics is up to them.

    However I believe the whole question can be nipped in the bud when conferences are organized. Figure out the policy (I’d suggest that bloggers and media follow the same rules and it be the same rule for ALL sessions ) state it up front, in the program, on the website and in the registration package. Done. Finished. Put it to rest.
    But pullleeze … no more icons.

  13. #14 Daniel MacArthur
    June 18, 2009

    Not much time to reply tonight, but I’ll get back to this thread tomorrow.

    In the meantime, those who haven’t seen it should check out the continuation of the discussion over at Dr Isis’ place.

  14. #15 Misha
    June 18, 2009

    How about a big old Rolling Stones-ish tongue? Or a giant mouth with a large vibrating uvula?

    You’re welcome ;-|

  15. #16 zayzayem
    June 18, 2009

    How about something similar to the green fork “share this” button (it is found at the bottom of your post).

  16. #17 Daniel MacArthur
    June 19, 2009

    Gee, thanks Misha…

    Bob – advertising micro-blogging is definitely one of the explicit aims of this exercise; I think this would definitely be as much of a consciousness-raising expedition as anything else.

    Mike – I agree that these are issues that would be best addressed at a formal level by conference organisers. In the meantime I think it might be useful for presenters who are happy for their work to be blogged to have some way of demonstrating that; but I’ll take your “no more icons” request on board. :-)