Genetic Future

Geoff Brumfiel has done a great job in this article for Nature News on the promise and perils of conference blogging. On the promise side there is discussion of the wildly successful FriendFeed coverage of last year’s ISMB meeting, which ended up being aggregated into a journal article; in the perilous direction, I get a mention for my mildly disastrous foray into conference blogging at the recent Cold Spring Harbor Biology of Genomes meeting.

Brumfiel does a good job of conveying the currently chaotic state of conference policies towards the use of social media by participants:

Conference organizers contacted by Nature had a wide range of policies on social networking. Many societies have banned digital photography in talks and poster sessions and some consider bloggers to be members of the media and subject them to certain reporting restrictions. However, almost nobody has developed a policy on when twittering is fair play. “This has not come up in the past but it may be something we consider in the future,” says Kevin Wilson, a spokesman for the American Society for Cell Biology in Bethesda, Maryland.

Nature also takes the opportunity to reiterate its previously stated position on the possibility of presentation live-blogging violating its embargo policy – basically, unless the presenter is doing something that could be seen as “actively promoting” their work, it’s fair game. It looks like the same will be true for Science:

Nature generally supports social media tools, says Philip Campbell, Nature‘s editor-in-chief. And as long as it’s not a deliberate attempt to hype a new finding, he says that researchers should feel free to talk to colleagues who blog or twitter. Ginger Pinholster, the director of public programmes for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the publisher of Science, agrees. As long as the scientist wasn’t trying to promote his or her work to the public, it wouldn’t be a problem. She adds that blogging unpublished results is a problem that “we just haven’t run into yet”.

It would be good to see these policies more explicitly stated, and to see similar statements from other journals. Clarification from journals on the embargo issue would relax one of the major sources of wariness coming from researchers about the notion of having their presentations discussed online.
Finally, it’s good to see that the ISMB is actively embracing the use of social media to cover the presentations at its meeting next week:

Although Cold Spring Harbor has opted for control, the organizers of the Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology meeting are choosing total openness. When this year’s meeting opens in Stockholm later this week, they are planning to fully embrace social networking tools. FriendFeed entries will be created for each talk at the meeting, and the entries for the keynote sessions will be posted directly to the meeting’s main website.

As I’ve noted in previous posts, while I have no problem with Cold Spring Harbor’s decision to enforce stricter controls over social media at its meetings (requiring that bloggers obtain permission from speakers before covering their work), I hope that the default policy for most meetings will be free blogging unless presenters request otherwise. Meetings that actively engage with social media – as ISMB is doing very well – will benefit from increased exposure, and will also promote the free dissemination of scientific information.


  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    June 27, 2009

    Dude, you’re famous!

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