A number of people thanked me for my coverage on the World Conference of Science Journalists, saying it was useful to have a summary for those who couldn’t make it. I’m not the only one who blogged the conference – see here for a more extensive list.
All wonderfully Web2.0 then, but whilst journalists want people to hear about their work, scientists sometimes don’t. An editorial in this week’s Nature asks whether the closed scientific conference can survive in the face of blogs and Twitter.
Traditionally conferences allowed scientists an arena to share incomplete work with colleagues, with the understanding it would not be further disseminated. Work could be discussed without fear of being scooped, or finding themselves unable to publish because the journals see it as old news. With the rise of blogging scientists this has changed, and Nature describe a clash of cultures between the online and the offline.
Some institutions are now explicitly warning bloggers, with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York announcing that anyone wishing to publicise a session should ask permission first. Another proposal is for speakers to place a “not for publication” logo on their presentation slides.
It’s a difficult issue. When people see something interesting at a conference, they are going to want to write about it. If the speaker doesn’t want that information shared, then why are they talking about it in what is essentially the public sphere? Perhaps scientists with preliminary results should also go online, but discuss their work in private, password-protected forums. I’m not sure that is an approach that will take off!
Scientists should be able to share ideas freely without worrying about where they might end up, but Nature’s answer of separating conferences in to “open” and “closed” just won’t work. Someone will always bend the rules, thinking perhaps one small Tweet won’t hurt, and then the information is out on the internet forever. Unfortunately I don’t have an alternative solution, so for now scientists will just have to trust their blogging colleagues to know when to keep quiet.