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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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June 5, 2009

Live-Blogging A Conference: Trouble?

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Posted by Derek

There’s a report over at Genetic Future of some problems stemming from blogging a scientific meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. The organizers have a rule that reporters have to obtain permission from speakers before writing up a story on any given presentation, but no one thought about whether this covered bloggers. This caused a dispute between the blog's owner, the conference organizers, and Genomeweb about what was going on, and whose rules applied to whom.

This is a particular case of the larger blogs-versus-journalism question. I think it’s being resolved the right way: Cold Spring Harbor Labs will apply the same rules to people blogging, tweeting, or what have you as apply to people writing up stories for more conventional outlets. That makes sense to me, because in each case, there's a report for public consumption on what’s being presented. What sort of medium it appears on (newsprint, glossy paper, or pixels) shouldn’t matter. Neither, actually, should the issue of whether the piece will earn the writer any money or whether that's the writer's full-time job.

In any of these cases, the writer has an obligation to present an accurate report, of course. That’s one factor where science journalism (be it amateur or pro) has a potential edge on, say, politics. In the end, science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) so much a matter of opinion, of who yells the loudest or who has the most persuasive speaking style. The ideas and the data should speak for themselves, and conference reporting should, ideally, help them to do so.

I think that conference organizers should first be aware that people could be live-blogging. But after that, I think that they should be encouraging it. Information, as they say, wants to be free. And scientific meetings are one of the ways that it takes wing.

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Press Coverage


1. PAC on June 5, 2009 11:39 AM writes...

Since the bastards at CSH are using my tax-payer money to fund their research, I'd expect to write anything I want if attending. It's time to put the noose around the necks of these stuck up academics who are really public servants. They are not, I repeat not a series of private businesses.

I've never met a bigger group of elitist low lifes than those at CSH. Keep them away from your children!

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2. bad wolf on June 5, 2009 3:59 PM writes...

There were already problems at ACS conferences with people flash-photographing every slide in a presentation, or the entire poster. Now we have an instant delivery system for the instant storage of all your data as well.

It looks like the days of presenting anything thats not already published are effectively over. Why would anyone show anything that they're not prepared to be electronically copied and distributed, in total, before they even finish talking?

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3. Z on June 5, 2009 8:58 PM writes...

I'll never understand the expectation of privacy that some people have about things they present at public scientific meetings. If you listen to these people, it is as though they want to give a talk, but don't want anyone to actually listen to it, or, gasp, learn something. Why are you presenting it then? If the data is that sensitive, you shouldn't be publicly talking about it. Period. When you give a talk, you should, for all intents and purposes, consider the work to be published. Nobody seems to mind the folks scribbling down notes (or who have a great memory), who are going to go home, write a report, and forward it to their colleagues who are working in the same area. In fact, many of those direct competitors are in the audience of the talk anyway. You are telling it to them to their face, and even fielding questions. But if someone posts it to the web, it is suddenly a bad thing?

I understand that cameras in the presentation are disruptive, and that you may not want some slides published out of context. That is fine. People shouldn't take pictures or reproduce the actual slides without permission. But if someone presents a balanced view of what you said, that should be great. It means people were actually paying attention and actually care about what you did. And that's why you're presenting it at a meeting, right? And about posters, they are designed to provide all the necessary context and stand up to as much scrutiny as someone wants to give them. Why not let them take a picture? I keep a stack of handouts at my posters, so if someone wants one, they can have it.

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4. whatstheproblem on June 6, 2009 10:06 AM writes...

What are they afraid of?

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5. Martin Stoermer on June 6, 2009 5:15 PM writes...

interesting thread. I do fear that conferences are beginning to fade a bit in their scientific content. As previous posters have noted the pressure is now firmly on to not divulge anything that's not in press or at least accepted. And given the increasingly short windows of publishing online, what with ASAPs and direct TOCs etc, people are finding stuff faster than ever. Conferences of course do more than just provide the scientific content (the evil "networking" word), but this seems to me to be a bit of a last-ditch attempt for the conference organisers to force attendance (and pay the fees of course!) to see the "hot new stuff", or at least slow down the dissemination of info out, as normally happens anyway. I well remember the old days when people would be phoning home new stuff from the hotel lobby. And then email from conference booths came in, and now Twitter just makes it even easier/quicker

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