About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

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

Chemistry and Drug Data: Drugbank
Chempedia Lab
Synthetic Pages
Organic Chemistry Portal
Not Voodoo

Chemistry and Pharma Blogs:
Org Prep Daily
The Haystack
A New Merck, Reviewed
Liberal Arts Chemistry
Electron Pusher
All Things Metathesis
C&E News Blogs
Chemiotics II
Chemical Space
Noel O'Blog
In Vivo Blog
Terra Sigilatta
BBSRC/Douglas Kell
Realizations in Biostatistics
ChemSpider Blog
Organic Chem - Education & Industry
Pharma Strategy Blog
No Name No Slogan
Practical Fragments
The Curious Wavefunction
Natural Product Man
Fragment Literature
Chemistry World Blog
Synthetic Nature
Chemistry Blog
Synthesizing Ideas
Eye on FDA
Chemical Forums
Symyx Blog
Sceptical Chymist
Lamentations on Chemistry
Computational Organic Chemistry
Mining Drugs
Henry Rzepa

Science Blogs and News:
Bad Science
The Loom
Uncertain Principles
Fierce Biotech
Blogs for Industry
Omics! Omics!
Young Female Scientist
Notional Slurry
Nobel Intent
SciTech Daily
Science Blog
Gene Expression (I)
Gene Expression (II)
Adventures in Ethics and Science
Transterrestrial Musings
Slashdot Science
Cosmic Variance
Biology News Net

Medical Blogs
DB's Medical Rants
Science-Based Medicine
Respectful Insolence
Diabetes Mine

Economics and Business
Marginal Revolution
The Volokh Conspiracy
Knowledge Problem

Politics / Current Events
Virginia Postrel
Belmont Club
Mickey Kaus

Belles Lettres
Uncouth Reflections
Arts and Letters Daily
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

« The Basics of Phenotypic Screening | Main | Mass Spec Continues Its Conquests »

April 8, 2013

Scientific Posters, Heads on Platters, and Lawsuits

Email This Entry

Posted by Derek

Yep, these all tie together. Have a look at this post at Retraction Watch for the details. It's about Colin Purrington, who has a web site on designing posters for conferences. I hadn't seen it before, but it's attained quite a bit of popularity (as it should; it seems to be full of sound advice). Purrington himself has put a lot of work into it, and has decided to protect his copyright.

That means that you have to police these things. I do a little of that myself, when I come across cheapo content-scraping blog sites that are just ripping off my posts, one after the other. What's silly about that is that I almost always grant permission to reprint things if someone goes to the trouble of asking. Colin Purrington seems to have had his hands full with people helping themselves to his work, and the latest example was from the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research. He sent them a please-take-this-down notice, and his notices apparently lean towards the colorful. It included a request for the head, on a platter, of whoever it was that decided to rip him off without attribution. He did offer to pay for shipping.

That didn't go over too well. He's received one of those the-sky-shall-fall-upon-you letters from CPBR's expensive lawyers, quoting copyright law to him and accusing him of taking his information from them. (There are archives of Purrington's material going back to 1997, so that should be fun to dispose of). And he was also informed that the staff took his head/platter request as a physical threat, worth contacting authorities about if repeated.

I'm sure there will be more to this story. But so far, I think that we can conclude that no matter how expensive your legal counsel, you're going to have to pay them even more if you expect them to exhibit a sense of humor.

Comments (22) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Scientific Literature


1. p on April 8, 2013 11:30 AM writes...

1) I really like that he asked for a head on a platter - I think the world needs more of that kind of stuff.

2) Lawyers (and bureaucrat/politicians) who run the world clearly don't think the world needs more of that stuff and writing such letters is going to get you in trouble.

3) Thus, we need more lawyer's heads on platters. QED.

Permalink to Comment

2. Hap on April 8, 2013 11:59 AM writes...

Perhaps he should compromise - if they send him the head of the person who copied his material, he will email a sense of humor and a sense of proportion to their legal department.

Permalink to Comment

3. Another Derek on April 8, 2013 12:01 PM writes...

Check Popehat ( for a little more on the story if you're interested.

Permalink to Comment

4. SP on April 8, 2013 12:32 PM writes...

I agree with most of what he says- I previously came up with the "attach an iPad movie using velcro" myself- but this made me double take:
"Handmade posters are far superior to anything that you could make with a poster printer and they can be the highlight of a meeting if you know what you are doing."
Um, what? He likes the "I can't afford anything beyond a letter-sized printer" professionalism of stitching together small sheets? Or am I misreading that, since most of the example he shows were printed on a large format printer?

Permalink to Comment

5. Henning Makholm on April 8, 2013 12:51 PM writes...

I'm afraid he lost my sympathy in the initial quote where he tries to claim there's such a thing as a copyright on ideas.

Permalink to Comment

6. ClutchChemist on April 8, 2013 2:19 PM writes...

#4 - to me it seems that he is talking about a large format poster, but hand-made. You'd need to hand-write all of the text and draw any graphs, which would take incredible amounts of time to do in a professional manner, but I could imagine that a chemistry student with some artistic ability and tons of time could pull it off.

Permalink to Comment

7. Oldnuke on April 8, 2013 3:42 PM writes...

There is a Special Place in the infernal regions for these cheap attorneys who do no fact-checking.

You know society is in trouble when there are more attorneys than plumbers in the local phone book.

Permalink to Comment

8. SP on April 8, 2013 3:50 PM writes...

#6- Yeah, that's pretty insane.

Permalink to Comment

9. TFox17 on April 8, 2013 4:41 PM writes...

@SP - I saw someone who spent her time at the poster session painting in oils a full-size version of her poster. The plan had been to do it before hand, but by not finishing, she had a showy activity and something to do while waiting for people to turn up and ask questions. She had small versions of the poster ready for people who wanted to see the results now, and take them home.

Permalink to Comment

10. lazybratsche on April 8, 2013 4:56 PM writes...

#4: My previous adviser preferred hand-pieced posters, I think because Something Bad happened to her poster roll many decades ago. I made one poster like that; basically I printed text and figures on ordinary letter paper, and then pasted that to cardboard matting. Each figure panel or text box was a separate piece. It has some virtues: you can transport it flat, swap in a new result into your standard poster without reprinting the whole thing, fit it in nonstandard spaces, etc. Frankly though it sort of struck me as a slightly improved version of the poster presentations I did in elementary school. But with really professional design and matting, perhaps with interesting textures and matting materials, such a poster could be truly outstanding.

Permalink to Comment

11. Petros on April 9, 2013 2:19 AM writes...

I remember 2 posters at one meeting which comprised two sheets of typerwritten A4 which contained just a little more info than the meeting abstracts.

he culprit was an Academic from a high quality university. His submissions were doubtless used to justify using grant money to give him a free trip to Florence

Permalink to Comment

12. Colin Purrington on April 9, 2013 6:10 AM writes...

Wow, that sounds fun. If you remember her name, can you hook me up so I can ask for a photo?

Permalink to Comment

13. Colin Purrington on April 9, 2013 6:12 AM writes...

Sorry -- forgot to say, "#9". The painter post by TFox17

Permalink to Comment

14. p on April 9, 2013 8:31 AM writes...

The "best" poster I ever saw was a paper reprint tacked to the center of the space.

I do think too much time and energy goes into making posters. It is the data and work that counts. I'd rather read interesting chemistry on a bunch of 8x11s than a pretty picture of a palladium coupling I first saw 10 years ago.

Permalink to Comment

15. eyesoars on April 9, 2013 8:40 AM writes...

I know of two instances like this:

(1) AT&T charged BSD w/ stealing a bunch of their source files for UNIX, and called in the lawyers. Oops -- the ones they had complained about turned out to have been written by BSD, and someone at AT&T had stripped off and replaced the original copyrights. It went to court, and IIRC the ultimate resolution was that it was negotiated out of court and the agreement sealed once it was clear AT&T didn't have a leg to stand on.

(2) Happened to me, working for a major computing company working with IBM. IBM stripped off the copyrights and inserted IBM ones. Our lawyers were notified; my employer's lawyers just took copies of the files (before and after) and (AFAIK) stashed away a copy of it for "just in case". The company is now part of Oracle...


Permalink to Comment

16. fuelair on April 9, 2013 9:01 AM writes...

Hap: I am of the opinion that no individual has enough wealth to be able to send sufficient sense of humor and proportion to affect a legal department inthe smallest way. Though a small vial of some of the items Derek has herein discussed re: not working with might be perfect for them!!

Yrs. in Chemistry, fuelair

Permalink to Comment

17. Kent G. Budge on April 9, 2013 9:15 AM writes...

"But so far, I think that we can conclude that no matter how expensive your legal counsel, you're going to have to pay them even more if you expect them to exhibit a sense of humor."

Blustering, on the other hand, apparently comes with the basic package.

Permalink to Comment

18. DeusEtV on April 9, 2013 9:43 AM writes...

I think Colin should drop a line to these guys..

Federal funding to CPBR (1989 - 2010)
U.S. Department of Agriculture $15,630,000
U.S. Department of Energy $40,316,000
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency $5,716,000

That is a whole-lotta US $$$ to throw around.. so guess those agencies should think about what the CPBR spends their tax payer $ on in the next round of funding (a.k.a. organisation on a platter)

Permalink to Comment

19. DeusEtV on April 9, 2013 9:54 AM writes...

@18 :^) ..did I break the law - copy and pasting that off the CPBR website.. I will have to await the "the-sky-shall-fall-upon-you letter" too :D

Permalink to Comment

20. Colin Purrington on April 10, 2013 5:36 AM writes...

@18/19 Thanks. I actually have contacted multiple people at USDA, DOE, and EPA. Everyone is uninterested in my situation.

Permalink to Comment

21. OV on April 10, 2013 4:48 PM writes...

Colin I saw someone painting a poster at a SynBio conference a couple of years back. It was pretty cool and I asked her if I could take a photo...perhaps I can help connect you...

Permalink to Comment

22. Colin Purrington on September 29, 2013 10:48 AM writes...

Please help me battle the dark lords at CPBR by signing this petition:

I _know_ it's futile, but it makes me feel a little better.

Colin Purrington

Permalink to Comment


Remember Me?


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

The Last Post
The GSK Layoffs Continue, By Proxy
The Move is Nigh
Another Alzheimer's IPO
Cutbacks at C&E News
Sanofi Pays to Get Back Into Oncology
An Irresponsible Statement About Curing Cancer
Oliver Sacks on Turning Back to Chemistry