Discussion on tweeting unpublished data from conference

by Alexey Bersenev on June 21, 2014 · 2 comments

in conferences, open science

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International Society of Stem Cell Research’s (ISSCR) annual meeting just finished in Vancouver. This is the most prestigious conference in stem cell research field. I did not attend it, but I was following all live updates on twitter and blogs. I’d like to thank especially a few individuals for the great live tweeting – @SnarkyScientist, @SonjaBabovic, @lenovere and @TesarLabCWRU. What was especially interesting to me as “a social media guy” – a discussion on live coverage of unpublished data, presented on conference. And, if position of most societies and attendees on photo taking is clear (it’s prohibited), live tweeting of unpublished data is a tough one.

First, ISSCR has an official position on photos taking and videotaping:
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Second, seem like ISSCR was not making official statements on tweeting unpublished data, but something happened and discussion was triggered:

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Then ISSCR was trying to clarify its position on tweeting of unpublished data:

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ISSCR “was trying”, but they didn’t clarify, because:

  • who and how would define “general findings” versus “specific data”?
  • who said that tweeting unpublish data is disrespect to presenter? maybe presenter wanted it to be tweeted? who would judge?

Basically, ISSCR is leaving people to decide for themselves what to tweet and what to not tweet. And here is some reactions of ISSCR2014 attendees:

tweetISSCR14_5
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You can see my positing from these discussions, but I’d summarize it here as following:

  1. The whole point of live tweeting/ reporting conference in social media is: (i) sharing exciting unpublish data with your peers around the world and (i) citing opinions of key leaders on controversial topics. See – “high value tweets“.
  2. Any prohibition of live tweeting/ reporting conference in social media is pointless. It’s the past and should be obsolete.
  3. There is no basis for such policy or prohibition, since there is no evidence that (i) attendees do it all the time, giving juice details of experiments away, (ii) it could lead to unwanted data leak and eventually papers scoop.
  4. There is no way to police/ control information spreading from public event, such a scientific conference. So, why bother with policy?
  5. Nobody can define what to tweet and what not to tweet. The decision made by individuals, not by societies/ communities.
  6. Every attendee can tweet/ report in social media anything by default. This is public event – (i) attendee paid for it and can decide how to share new data that they have heard, (ii) speakers and presenters know and acknowledge it.
  7. Society or community can recommend something in these cases, but not impose any rules. In order to recommend something, society must poll their members. Recommendations could be suggested only by consensus of members.
  8. It could be disrespectful only in one case – if presenter asked audience for not spreading it.

I even not sure how paper could be scooped by somebody who is taking pictures of your slides/ poster. Do you know any examples? Most of so-called “unpublished data” are submitted already by the time of presenting it on conference. If it’s not submitted, why fear if somebody can take a picture of your graph, run to lab, perform the same experiment in a rush during 1-2 months and bypass you in a race of publishing it first? What are the chances? I don’t get it.

I can go on and on about this issues, but I’d like to hear your opinions and discuss it in comments. Please express yourself!

Finally, I’d like to finish by my favorite tweet from ISSCR2014:

tweetISSCR14_11
I think, everyone in the next ISSCR meeting should put the same note on a poster and call it “Richard’s stem cell flashmob”

Read summary of tweets about live coverage of unpublish data from ISSCR2014 here.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Richard Pearse June 26, 2014 at 9:58 pm

I’m so glad to see the support from an overwhelming majority of scientists for sharing information. There is a pervasive tendency to react to the most cautious position even when its only supported by a vocal but vanishingly small proportion of people. Rather than strengthening and enforcing rules against bad behavior it’s easier to block well-intended people from collegial activities when there’s any possibility that someone, somewhere, will abuse that access to the detriment of well meaning scientists. I.e. No sharing public presentations because someone may take the information aggressively publish a paper that undercuts the presenter’s story. It’s a problem not just for posters and talks at meetings but for scientists at the bench as well. Repositories are extraordinarily cautious about releasing genotyping/exome data for fear that the patient could be identified from that data. So, rather than police the bad behavior of insurance companies, etc. its easier to prevent translational scientists from accessing a wealth (literally if you consider the cost of collecting human specimens) of information. I hereby give you full rights to the use of “Richard’s stem cell flashmob” and suggest we expand by joining PGP and emailing our genome sequences to insurance companies. Cheers -Richard Pearse

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Sonja B July 17, 2014 at 2:25 am

Great post, Alexey – apologies that I’m somewhat late to the discussion, but I wanted to chime in with one more thought. I’m not going to get into the debate of whether or not societies should allow taking photographs of posters, live-tweeting of specific findings, etc, as others have brought up excellent arguments already, many of which are quoted above.

I will point out, though, that when they don’t, the effect isn’t a blanket ban of sharing of data; rather it results in the exclusion of people *who did not attend the conference* from hearing about the exciting findings presented. Overwhelmingly, conference attendees tend to have strong institutional/grant funding support, but many scientists around the world are not so privileged, and social media could perhaps fill part of the gap they experience in terms of not having access to the latest discoveries as they are presented.

I also don’t really understand why people are so afraid they’ll be scooped by someone who learned about their work through e.g. Twitter, compared to a conference attendee, who is probably more likely to come from a large lab with lots of resources, including the ability to send people to conferences. I suppose norms around using social media in a professional setting are constantly evolving, and it’ll be interesting to how they change over the coming years.

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