We need clear policy on tweeting from academic conferences

November 10, 2014

When Susie Maidment presented her in-progress research at SVP in Berlin last week, someone came in late, missed her “no tweeting, please” request, and posted a screenshot of the new work (since deleted).

On the back of that, Susie started an interesting thread in which it became apparent that people have very different assumptions. She, and Marc Jones, and others, were assuming that if you don’t tell people it’s OK to tweet, then they’ll know not to. Meanwhile, I, and Björn Brembs, and others were assuming the opposite: unless someone says not to tweet, you’re good to go.

Obviously this state of affairs is a recipe for disaster.  We’re all going to find ourselves giving presentations where we assume the audience will be doing one thing, but at least some audience members are assuming the other.

So the first thing to say is that we should be explicit about our expectations. My talk at SVPCA this year contained this slide:


I’m going to get into the habit of including something like this every time. Similarly, people who don’t want material from their talks appearing on Twitter should say so.

The second thing is that conferences should state their default policies (always of course allowing individual authors to override them). Someone at, say, SVP, should know from the registration material either that it’s OK to tweet unless told not to, or that it’s not OK to tweet unless told that it is. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that different conferences would lean in different directions on this.

The third thing is in the absence of other guidance, it’s better not to tweet. I feel a bit uncomfortable about this because it goes against my pro-open tendencies, but it’s a matter of failing safe. If I want you to tweet my talk but but I forget to say so and there is no conference-wide policy (or the conference policy is No Tweeting), then you won’t tweet it, and that is a missed opportunity –but I’ll live. But if Susie doesn’t want you to tweet but forgets to say so, and you do, then she will be unhappier. (For example, in the present case, Susie is hoping for a media splash, which could be diluted if knowledge of the new finding is already leaking out.

To summarise:

  • Individual presenters should say what they want.
  • The conference should provide a default policy
  • If the absence of both, fail safe by not tweeting.

That’s what I think, anyway. What do you think?

55 Responses to “We need clear policy on tweeting from academic conferences”

  1. Charles Oppenheim Says:

    Eminently sensible approach. Tweeting could also conceivably damage the author’s chances of getting a patent if they are presenting as yet unpublished results at certain technology-related conferences (special feature of some countries’ patent laws).

  2. Carl Says:

    Perhaps it is a difference between disciplines, but I have essentially the opposite opinion. I have always thought one should assume that a presentation at an academic conference makes the material known to the general public, even when the audience is small and there are no media present, What is the purpose of a conference if not to disseminate results to the public?

    To be a little polemic, isn’t the speaker trying to have her cake and eat it too – present the material at a conference, but still pretend that nobody has heard about it before publication? It makes no difference whether the material is “published” if you go ahead and talk about it in front of an audience… does she want the audience members to also sign a non-disclosure statement before they come into the room?

  3. brembs Says:

    Call me completely boneheaded and socially inept: I have no idea why one would go on stage at a scientific conference with potentially thousands of listeners and then expect everyone to keep it to themselves. That’s like Nixon announcing his Watergate plans to the entire WH staff and then expecting nothing to leak out.

    It’s very simple: you don’t want anybody to know, well, don’t tell anybody.

  4. Susie Maidment Says:

    Thanks for summarizing this Mike, although you’ve conflated two separate accounts of mine here. I asked people not to tweet my talk, and they didn’t, except for one person who came in late, tweeted, was told off by someone else on twitter, and deleted her tweets. I subsequently saw two people tweet a slide of someone else’s phylogeny and tweeted them to tell them not to without permission. I think there needs to be a policy where you tick a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box to tweeting your talk at submission, and then that is advertised during your talk.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for the correction, Susie. A checkbox at submission is fine, but often you don’t really know what you’re going to be saying at the conference until nearer the time (especially at SVP, which asks or abstracts to be submitted ridiculously early). I think that stating it in the talk is probably clearest and safest. (Doesn’t need to be a whole slide, of course: it would be good if it became conventional to have a statement on the title slide, so people could see it while the session moderator is introducing you.)

  6. brembs Says:

    Carl said it quicker and better than me :-)

  7. Indi Ghangrekar Says:

    I tweeted an idea to this discussion – on each slide (say in the top right corner) have a Twitter bird with either a tick or a prohibited symbol – that way, even late-comers or those who don’t read the policies (which is bound to happen) can see on each slide what is/ is not ok to mention on Twitter.

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Indi, that would work. But in general I dislike boilerplate on slides — I hate it when people waste 1/3 of their real-estate on university and conference logos and authors names and affiliations. I like to use all of my slide to convey my story.

  9. Carl said: ” What is the purpose of a conference if not to disseminate results to the public? ”

    One point may be to discuss preliminary results with a wider audience of experts before “going public”. I still don’t see what the harm could be if, in addition to the experts at the conference, others get a glimpse of your work. If you’re concerned about competitors running with your idea – then better don’t talk at all, because for sure they are in the audience already (or have their “spies” sitting there).

    But nevertheless, whatever the reason, if the speaker says “don’t tweet”, then you don’t tweet. It’s a bit like in the old days, when people used to smoke in seminars. If the speaker says “please don’t smoke”, then you just don’t.

    (I may seem very old to you now to bring up this example…or very european….)

  10. Susie Maidment Says:

    I agree that saying you don’t want your work tweeted is the best thing to do, and is what I did. Why I did that is really irrelevant to the discussion, and is my decision. I like Indi’s idea of a twitter bird with a cross through it. And I’m fine with tweeting opinions, general pieces of information, the title, even the conclusions. But it’s the high-density tweeting of the results at SVP that I thought was too much. So for example, I saw a tweet on Paul Upchurch’s talk which said something like ‘Upchurch has a new sauropod phylogeny, there are some changes at the base of neosauropoda’. That’s fine. i also saw tweets that said ((((A, B) C) (D,E) F)) with the letters replaced by taxon names. That’s not fine.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    That seems like a very fine and difficult-to-judge line, Susie.

  12. This issue blew up recently at a Royal Society conference on Arctic sea ice. The meeting had a twitter tag #RSArctic14 that was advertised. One speaker gave a talk that many in the audience felt was unduly alarmist and unscientific. His talk was vigorously criticised, even ridiculed, on twitter. Not being a twitter user himself, he learnt about this some time later, and then sent furious complaints to the heads of the Royal Society and Depts of those who had criticised him,

    Blog post here with more details and links and a long discussion.

    This example illustrates the point in your headline, that clear policies are needed – not just on whether to tweet but how to tweet.

  13. Andy Farke Says:

    I’ve a few thoughts on this, based on personal experience, discussion with others, etc.

    First, and above all else (as Mike said, and others said): Respect the presenter’s wishes. Unless what they are requesting is unethical (and I can think of few cases, if any, where it _would_ be unethical to request no tweeting), just listen to the author.

    Second, in my reading of various journal-specific embargo policies, etc., it seems that as long as the authors aren’t actively soliciting interviews or participating in interviews, or live-tweeting their own talk, they’re probably in the clear in terms of publication priority and non-publicity clauses. Heck–most of these journals allow you to post the ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT WITH FIGURES on a preprint server.

    Third, in the case of SVP, the abstracts are published and publicly available, so there is usually (generally?) very little that’s in the talk or could be live-tweeted from the talk that isn’t already publicly available in a more official format. This is not always the case, of course, but I think it’s important to keep in mind.

    Finally, it is important to remember the case of Deinocheirus. There was an _immense_ amount of “unauthorized” (i.e., independent of the authors) chatter about this thing on social media (including Facebook, Twitter, etc.), internet discussion forums, blogs, piles of artwork, etc., after SVP last year. The thing still got into Nature, and it still made an appropriately huge splash in the press. This makes me seriously inclined to think that Twitter is probably a relatively minor “threat”, in most cases.

  14. Eli Rabett Says:

    As far as patents go, if you talk about something at a conference that is disclosure. The only difference is that if it goes to court the talk at the conference might be harder to find

  15. Andy Farke Says:

    One thing that is really missing from the whole discussion–and probably requires some serious reflection–is the _why_ of all of this. This applies to both edges–_why_ should we be tweeting from meetings, or _why_ should we restrict tweeting from meetings? This needs to be discussed and explicitly outlined prior to establishing policy. [that’s more of a note relevant to SVP–I know that lots of blog posts, etc., have discussed this, but I think a field-specific reflection is in order]

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    I’m not sure I agree with Andy here. I think that the “why” on both sides is pretty clear: pro, to share knowledge, which is what science is all about; con, to manage sharing for publicity or career purposes. I also don’t think it’s particularly important that SVP has a reason for choosing whatever default it lands on: the important things for me are (A) that it has one, (B) that it clearly communicates what it is, and (C) that it allows authors who prefer the opposite policy to choose their preferred option.

  17. Susie Maidment Says:

    That’s a good point Andy. I for one find conference live tweets fairly dull. You don’t really get to understand the talk or what’s going on. Often you get bits of info out of context. What’s the point, then?

  18. Andy Farke Says:

    I agree with your points on pros and cons, Mike, but I think we could expand them more broadly and deeply. Plus, sometimes exploration can highlight where fears are founded or unfounded, or where hype exceeds hope. In any case, I would hope that any SVP policy is well-reasoned and weighing the benefits/costs. Ironically, this will all be moot in 10 years, when Twitter is in some other form altogether (if it exists at all) and social/scientific norms have changed. Remember how electronic-only publication was once this horrifying thing?

    Re: Susie’s comment: The best tweets I saw were short, pithy descriptions of talks I couldn’t attend (but I agree that there was much that was less valuable). It was helpful for me to see what colleagues perceived as interesting/important in their sessions. I know a few colleagues who were not physically in Berlin who valued seeing the social media stream. Perhaps the most value is when tweets provide links to more information or requests for collaboration–e.g., researchers who are looking for relevant specimens, or researchers who are talking about a piece of software that is now publicly available. For cases when I’ve followed conferences that I couldn’t attend in person, that kind of stuff is invaluable.

  19. kieranbreen Says:

    I have no problems with tweeting, given that it’s only 140 characters, so there’s not room to say much. My problem is people using mobile phones to photograph all of your slides and, in one case, subsequently using them in another talk without source acknowledgement.

  20. brembs Says:

    Actually, if we are going the route of displaying a no-tweet button on our slides, I’d much prefer this one to be used:

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    kieranbreen, re-use of slides without source acknowledgement is clearly plagiarism by academic social norms; and if the slids have not been declared as in the public domain, it’s also copyright infringement. (It would also be very poor image quality, if the captured images are from phone photos of projected slides.)

    If this has really happened, I would like to see names named and evidence presented.

    (I also note that this is nothing to do with Twitter, which is where we came in; but it’s important in its own right, and well worth pursuing.)

  22. Interesting discussion.

    Although Mike’s proposed solution sounds very pragmatic, there may be unintended consequences. For example, in order to save their backsides conference organisers might opt for a no tweeting policy by default.

    This would be a big loss to everyone (presenters included). No-one can afford to go to all conferences. For some, live tweeting of events is the only way to attend.

    I really don’t see the point of no twitter rules. Presenters at meetings are there to share their results what does it matter if it’s to tens of people or hundreds/thousands?

    I think it’s better to make it clear that twitter is a fact of scientific life and if you don’t want people to tweet your talk then don’t give it until you’re ready for them to do so.

  23. Michael Richmond Says:

    I understand why people are focusing on tweeting, since it’s a very easy way to disseminate information, but why restrict the discussion to tweets?

    I go to a conference at which Prof. Elk presents exciting new results about the Brontosaurus. Prof. Elk says nothing like “please don’t tweet” during her talk. Which of the following is “unacceptable?”

    a) I send a tweet about the results 10 minutes after the talk ends

    b) I send E-mail to one colleague about the results 10 minutes after the talk ends

    c) I post a message to a blog/bulletin board about the results 10 minutes after the talk ends

    d) I talk about the results that day at lunch with other people who were not able to attend

    e) I talk about the results with colleagues back at my home institution several days later

    Apparently, some people think “a” is not acceptable. What about these other possibilities?

    If Prof. Elk HAD requested that no one tweet the results at the start of her talk, which of the actions above would still be acceptable?

    (My own opinion: if you don’t want people to know what you are doing, don’t talk about it)

  24. I really enjoy live-tweets of certain things, like football matches or political debates. It is fun, interactive, and it spreads enthusiasm. “Fellaini is great at heading but not so great at using his head! Or his feet!” “Drink when he says ‘now let’s be clear’!”

    That said, I personally don’t see the point of live-tweeting conference presentations. I’ve heard the “sharing” perspective, but is that really useful sharing? Of knowledge? Many (most) of the #2014SVP live-tweets, which I read from home, were about as valuable as a blurry iPhone shot of a match in progress — they don’t say much more than “I’m here, and this is happening!” (Which leads me to the question of how one really participates in something while simultaneously selfie-ing it…) Multiply that by multiple accounts simultaneously tweeting similar things about the same talk, often inter-threaded by tweets about talks in concurrent sessions, and it’s just a mess. If there is a sharing rationale, I’d say that excitement is being shared, which is good, but that isn’t the same as sharing knowledge. And it doesn’t require the same level of detail that a few of the tweets had.

    This isn’t to say I think that live-tweets are completely benign. I think that people who don’t want their work tweeted should have their wishes respected. I also think the default should be in favor of the presenter, not the tweeter, because there are some folks who don’t think to say this up front, or don’t know about it.

    I’d hate to see this get to the point where researchers shy away from presenting new or in-progress work … I don’t think anyone wants a conference where people report on already published research.

  25. Charles Oppenheim Says:

    In response to Eli Rabett re patents. In some countries’ patent laws, it is OK to give a presentation at a technical conference, apply for the patent within 6 months (I think) of the conference and the prior conference disclosure does not invalidate the patent application – but a Twitter account of the talk might well invalidate it.

  26. Seems like you could just put a little ‘no Tweeting’ icon in the corner of each slide if you wanted to discourage Tweeting for your talk. Similarly, you could put a little ‘please Tweet’ icon if you wanted folks to chat about your work on teh Twitters. In the end, I agree, a ‘no Tweeting’ default, but with permitted overrides, would be best. IIRC, the American Society of Mammalogy prohibits all Tweeting at their meeting, much to the chagrin of many sci comm folks.

  27. David Marjanović Says:

    I have always thought one should assume that a presentation at an academic conference makes the material known to the general public

    At such conferences as SVP and EAVP meetings, “the general public” does not attend. Few people know the conferences are happening; of those, few can afford the travel and, in the case of SVP, the ridiculously high price of admission; and few of those who have no problem with all that are going to sit through an avalanche of people who try to cram as much jargon as possible into less than 15 minutes. At such conferences you are very much among insiders, among your peers. There are students, yes, but there are very few amateurs.

    SVP meeting abstracts are only available to registered participants till the meeting actually happens. EAVP meeting abstracts are only put online several months after the conference as people find the time to do that.

    I don’t think anyone wants a conference where people report on already published research.

    It does of course happen that the paper comes out between submission of the abstract and the conference; and it also happens that people present papers that came out shortly before they submitted their abstract, in the hope that more people will read and cite it if they’re told about it at the conference.

  28. If people say they don’t want Twitter/Facebook/etc. coverage, one should respect it. But I am not convinced the default is that one should not tweet about this. A conference is public and anybody can come (unlesss it is an invitation-only conference). It is not apparent why one should not tweet things said at a conference. What about blog posts? Am I not allowed to blog about a presentation? In my eyes, this runs against the essence of science. The default therefore should be that tweeting etc. is possible. It might be different with taking pictures of slides because copyright issues come into play here.
    As far as I know, in Germany the copyright of what you say and show in class belongs to the instructor, e.g., you are not allowed to record a lecture and put it online without consent. But it is allowed to tweet about it.

  29. David, it might be the case about highly specialized research being presented to the room at SVP, but journalists were also invited.

    As a blogger, I received a press invitation to SVP, and live tweeting would absolutely have been part of my behaviour if I had been able to attend. (Would I have defied a particular request at a single presentation? Probably not.) I guess from now on I’ll be asking before I attend a conference what percentage of live tweeting is going to be acceptable.

    “We are glad you enjoyed this exhibit on Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits. Please refrain from telling anyone who didn’t also have a ticket.”

  30. Liz Freedman Says:

    I agree exactly with where Susie draws the line in her example (quoted from her comment above):

    “So for example, I saw a tweet on Paul Upchurch’s talk which said something like ‘Upchurch has a new sauropod phylogeny, there are some changes at the base of neosauropoda’. That’s fine. i also saw tweets that said ((((A, B) C) (D,E) F)) with the letters replaced by taxon names. That’s not fine.”

    Tweets giving a one-sentence plain language summary are fine, and alert readers to keep an eye out for interesting new research that will be published soon. Tweeting information that is present in the abstract is fine, because the SVP abstracts are published and citable (most places).

    However, tweeting very specific data or results (like that exact sauropod phylogeny), or images of someone’s slides is NOT OK. The presenter is kindly sharing unpublished results and figures to her colleagues for the purpose of keeping them up to date with her research, and getting feedback to improve the research prior to publication. It is shocking that some people think it’s ok to take photos of powerpoints and post them online without the presenter’s permission.

    And what about posters? Many posters at SVP have images of unpublished specimens so the presenter can have a good discussion with other researchers working on that taxon. If there is a chance (and we know this happens, so it’s an almost certain chance) of someone taking a photo of your whole poster during the day when you are not present, many people would be cautious and put less information or photos on their poster to protect their unpublished research.

  31. Mike Taylor Says:

    Apologies to all those who had comments held for moderation (Edward Byrd Davis, Ingo Rohlfing, Glendon Mellow, Liz Freedman). I’ve been out for the evening, and only now returned. Now that you’ve had one comment accepted here, you should find all your future comments go straight through.

  32. Mike Taylor Says:

    Liz, the problem with the “line” that Susie draws regarding what is and isn’t acceptable to tweet is that it’s not really a line, but a whole fuzzy area.

    A. “Upchurch has a new sauropod phylogeny, there are some changes at the base of neosauropoda”
    J. “((((A, B) C) (D,E) F))” with the letters replaced by taxon names.
    We are told A is OK and J is not OK.

    But what about the following?
    B. Interesting news about Camarasaurus in Upchurch’s new phylogeny
    C. Camarasaurus turns up in an unexpected place …
    D. Camarasaurus is a basal diplodocoid …
    E. Camarasaurus is the most basal diplodocoid …
    F. Camarasaurus is a more basal diplodocoid than rebbachisaurs …
    G. Camarasaurus is the sister to Diplodocimorpha …
    H. Camarasaurus is the sister to the Rebbachisauridae-Flagellicaudata clade …
    I. Base of Diplodocoidea as (Camarasaurus, (Rebbachisauridae, Flagellicaudata)) …

    I think that wherever you draw the line, a case can be made for either previous or next position instead.

    I don’t have a solution to this problem, by the way. I’m just noting its existence.

  33. Josef Stiegler Says:

    The problem is not with policy, it’s with enforcement. SVP has a very clear policy on the prohibition of photography, but I’ve seen someone taking a picture in virtually every session at every SVP I’ve been to. Unless SVP is going to track down the owners of twitter accounts and reprimand violators somehow, adding policy is worthless because they’re not going to enforce it. I think people should be allowed to tweet results so long as the tweet could have also been derived from the abstract. If you couldn’t get the information in your tweet from the abstract, there’s a good chance that the author doesn’t want it in print until publication.

  34. Mike Taylor Says:

    Josef, I think that very few people would photograph slides if they knew that the author didn’t want them to do it. It’s much easier to ignore the preference of a conference, which is an abstract thing, than than of an actual human person.

  35. Josef Stiegler Says:

    I agree Mike, but those human persons wrote those abstracts knowing the guidelines under which they were writing them: a specific embargo of the abstract until the conference and an embargo on collecting or distributing images during the conference. I like the idea of your slide at the beginning of this post, but without such a slide, people in the audience shouldn’t assume that the author is ok with them taking photos. That action is specifically prohibited by the conference that they are attending, so err on the side of the prohibition rather than an assumption about the presenter’s preferences.

  36. Liz Freedman Says:

    Hi Mike,

    Yes, these sorts of “lines” are usually fuzzy and opinions will vary. I’d be fine with most of your example tweets, but start getting uncomfortable around H or I.

    Of course these things are hard to define, but I’d say it’s more like “summary of results” vs “reporting the exact evidence”. Giving a summary like “Camarasaurus is a basal diplodocoid” would interest a reader, who might then read the abstract. But that tweeted statement would never stand on its own; no one could cite it in a paper or use it in their own research, because there is no data to back it up. Giving the detailed nodes of a specific phylogeny, or tweeting a photo of an undescribed fossil, puts data out into the world. The researcher has spent a lot of time and money getting that data, and wants to make sure it gets published accurately and in the right context.

    Tweeters, just use this quick rule – Is your tweet saying the same information as the title? You’re safe. Is your tweet saying something a person could conclude just from reading the abstract? You’re safe. Is your tweet saying something new and special that was only mentioned in the talk? Try editing it to a more cryptic teaser.

  37. Something has changed. In the past you could be reasonably sure that you were just talking to your colleagues, except at very large conferences. Now with twitter and blogs it has become possible that preliminary results become front page news. Now even at smaller conferences, you might see your work discussed in public.

    Personally, I do not only go to conferences to disseminate my results. I am not begin perfect, nor omniscient, I also go to conferences to get expert feedback. Especially when it concerns topics with which I am not too familiar yet.

    While I do not know whether the results were presented only at small internal meetings, at workshops or conferences, a good example for the dangers of early publicity are the faster than light neutrinos. The researchers were forced to organize a press conference because the blogs started writing about it. They were very clear about it, that it was still very likely a measurement error, However, when it was found that it was all just a lose cable the group leader lost his position. That is something which would have been much less likely in the past.

    Not all science is just of scientific interest. Nor is every idea already ready for publication. Imagine someone with very preliminary or maybe even conflicting evidence. Or someone who is not sure about the strength of the evidence because part of it lies outside of his or her area of expertise. If this person thinks that the Greenland icesheet will disappear within a few decades (flooding most coastal areas). Or if this persons results indicates that some microbe will become a major epidemic.

    Do we really want to produce a panic because of such a result? Or in a less dramatic cases, produce problems for someone’s career. Wouldn’t it be better if people can first discuss this among colleagues? Colleagues that understand how preliminary the results are. At least it should be clear to everyone that the rules have changed and that you no longer communicate with purely scientific audiences at conferences .

    For people who know that, the alternative would be that they start discussing their preliminary work only with their most direct and trusted friends. Feedback from a broader community is often helpful in spotting problems and would then unfortunately be missing.

    A somewhat longer version of this comment can be found on my blog.

  38. For those who are asking about why you would present data at a conference but don’t want people to talk about it, here’s why I present unpublished data at SVP:
    1. To indicate to my professional community that I am still around and active in research.
    2. To present things that I’m working on that I’d like feedback on. Perhaps someone in the audience will have information that could lead to a better result for my project, or a future collaboration in a new direction related to the presented work.
    While I’m a big fan of public science communication, I do not consider SVP technical sessions to be one of my science outreach venues.

    Last year I presented (along with my coauthors) a poster on Ziapelta, the New Mexican ankylosaur that I just published a few weeks ago. At the conference somebody took a picture of the poster without my permission and wanted to use illustrations (from said photograph) and data from the poster in one of their papers, before ours was published. I wasn’t entirely sure that wasn’t going to happen, even though I and my coauthors strenuously voiced our disapproval of this. This has made me much more nervous about presenting certain things at SVP in the future.

    I realize that tweeting is not the same thing as photographing someone’s poster, and you can have unethical people in the room and unethical people via twitter. But twitter broadcasts to a much larger audience than a person in a room at SVP would normally, and so I think the reason I feel uncomfortable with detailed live-tweeting is that it magnifies the opportunity for potential scooping of results.

  39. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Liz Freedman wrote- “tweeting very specific data or results (like that exact sauropod phylogeny), or images of someone’s slides is NOT OK. The presenter is kindly sharing unpublished results and figures to her colleagues for the purpose of keeping them up to date with her research, and getting feedback to improve the research prior to publication. ”

    But why only the colleagues that had the resources to attend the meeting? Shouldn’t other researchers around the world be kept up to date too, and available for feedback? Indeed, I just blogged on SVP abstracts (as I couldn’t afford to attend), and one of the authors commented and is sending me their MS for feedback.

    “If there is a chance (and we know this happens, so it’s an almost certain chance) of someone taking a photo of your whole poster during the day when you are not present, many people would be cautious and put less information or photos on their poster to protect their unpublished research.”

    I don’t get this issue of protection (in paleontology- technology conferences and such could be different). If someone’s going to steal your ideas from your poster, they can do so just as easily by reading it at the meeting. They don’t need your exact quotes, photos or data, and indeed if they used your exact data that would be an easy plagiarism case. The people competent enough to have a chance at using your research are very capable of being there at the conference. Hiding it from the amateurs and public around the world isn’t going to matter.

    “Tweeters, just use this quick rule – Is your tweet saying the same information as the title? You’re safe. Is your tweet saying something a person could conclude just from reading the abstract? You’re safe. Is your tweet saying something new and special that was only mentioned in the talk? Try editing it to a more cryptic teaser.”

    But both of the former tweets are useless. We all have the abstracts, why would we want to re-read data from them in tweet form? The third tweet is actually interesting and useful, something that I’d want to know if I couldn’t attend the conference. Editing it to be a teaser is just annoying- “So you know the information but just won’t tell me even though I could have known it myself if I had the resources to travel to Berlin? What a ****.”

    “But that tweeted statement would never stand on its own; no one could cite it in a paper or use it in their own research, because there is no data to back it up. Giving the detailed nodes of a specific phylogeny, or tweeting a photo of an undescribed fossil, puts data out into the world.”

    I don’t get the difference. A given phylogeny isn’t data any more than a statement about phylogeny is. The data in that case is the character-taxon matrix, which is basically never shown in presentations and only very rarely in posters, since it’s pretty boring looking. Similarly, a photo is just a lot of descriptive potential, and authors often describe a lot of features in their abstracts. Also, don’t you WANT your abstract cited and used in research? Then people reading the research will know to look out for your publication and be able to contact you about it.

  40. My guess would be that the reason detailed tweets are seen as worse than vaguer tweets is that the details are more likely to be wrong.

    If everything is immediately in the public eye, we lose a space where we can bounce fresh ideas and get valuable feedback. I do not immediately think in publishable quotes. I make mistakes. That should be possible.

    I guess almost everyone acknowledges that, I know of no one who publishes his email online. On the other side, results from the peer reviewed literature is open game. Personally I would say with all the code (if interesting) and data (if legally possible) possible.

    The question is how much space do we give new ideas. Where do we draw the line between internal communication and publication. Now that line is shifting and we did not talk about that beforehand.

  41. Simon Dixon Says:

    There is some value in exploring the *possible* conference/tweeting scenarios and speculate on how people might feel in those scenarios (patents/scooping/etc). However it is important to note that in this case the researcher was exclusively worried about controlling the PR message.

    From Twitter:
    “I expect there to be a big media thing. It dilutes that if everyone knows about it already.”

    I think a useful comparison is to artistic media. If your conference talk is a film, is the talk: the world premier, the exclusive screening a Caen or a closed audience test screening? Only in the later would the director be upset if people tweeted plot spoilers, which could harm the film’s release and critical reception. I would argue that a conference talk is (and should have) parallels with the former two.

    Of course speakers are free to ask people not to tweet their talk, and this should be respected. However there is no logical basis for presuming a talk at a public conference should be privileged to the audience by default. Or indeed to set this up as a default position. It’s important to note that conference cost/distance are irrelevant, if the conference allows members of the public to pay and attend (as every conference I’ve been to does), then it is a public meeting and should be treated as such. Indeed many medium/large conferences are attended by international science journalists. Many of the smaller ones are on campuses and have no checks on who is walking in/out of the venue in any case.

    It is perhaps challenging in this environment to utilise communication avenues to maximise both the scrutiny/respect of ones colleagues as well as concentrating popular media attention for new findings. I can understand the frustration if researcher feel interest arising from a conference talk is jeopardising their chances of the resulting paper being picked up by Nature News and Comment or the BBC. However I think the onus is very much on the research team to choose where/when/how to manage the release of their PR message, and have realistic expectations of how people will discuss it.

    As with making any guidelines/regulations/laws it is usually a bad idea to base them on unusual cases, and thus any guidelines on tweeting conferences should probably not be exclusively proposed based on experiences of researchers seeking to maximise media interest in their research, as this can tend to be only a small sub-set of the scientific community.

  42. Having helped write the Twitter etiquette for ECCB12 (computational biology: http://www.eccb12.org/twitter) and the upcoming ESEB15 (evolutionary biology, will be more or less the same), my opinion is that:

    – yes every conference should have an explicit policy, and communicate it clearly;

    – in big conferences (like ECCB and ESEB: >1000 people), tweeting by default makes the most sense to me, because anyway everyone who counts and could be there is there or will hear about it from someone; basically I agree with Simon Dixon;

    – in small targeted conferences (typically less than 100; yes I realize that I just created a grey zone between 100 and 1000), and even more so in workshops, no tweeting by default makes sense to me, since this is much closer to a personnal communication with a select group of people.

  43. David Marjanović Says:

    I agree with Mickey that a phylogenetic tree is not data and cannot be scooped.

    The last publication I know of that presented a phylogenetic hypothesis and characters that supported it, but no matrix and no analysis, is from 1993, and IIRC that’s a book chapter, so it probably took several years till publication. It would be completely impossible these days, in tetrapod paleontology at least, to publish such a thing.

    A good photo of an unpublished specimen is different; if some accompanying information is known, it could be described and published (in some journals anyway).

  44. RoyMeijer Says:

    Reblogged this on wetenschapper20 and commented:
    Discussion long overdue apparently. Nice comments!

  45. […] followers, add your own commentary to the speaker’s, and share related papers and websites. Just make sure you have the presenters’ permission to tweet about their talk; some would prefer to keep their findings off the internet until they have published on […]

  46. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    David Marjanovic wrote- “A good photo of an unpublished specimen is different; if some accompanying information is known, it could be described and published (in some journals anyway).”

    There are hundreds if not thousands of vertebrate fossils photographed in the literature, with lists of their distinctive features, that are left unnamed. If someone wants to be a jerk and describe a taxon they haven’t studied personally, they already have plenty of chances to.

    The same philosophy is true of people who fear they’ll lose a ‘media splash’ due to tweets. Anyone can get the SVP abstract books, go to page 174 and read the Maidment and Bertazzo abstract. That gives more than enough information to write a non-technical media article about. Google Image search “dinosaur blood cells” and you have a photo to attach. You don’t need tweets or photos of the talks/posters to write an article. Not that the media would ever do that, because I highly doubt they write any paleontology articles without a press conference and/or media kit in the first place.

  47. lizgmartin Says:

    I just wanted to point out that a lot of the picture taking I saw at SVP was not for scientific purposes, but more as a “here’s my friend giving a talk” kind of purpose. Just because you see people taking pictures doesn’t mean they are doing it maliciously or for any scientific purpose.

  48. Zen Faulkes Says:

    What may be the biggest scientific conference in the world, the Neuroscience, has a clear policy. In my view, it’s also a dumb policy.


  49. Mike Taylor Says:

    That really is a sensationally tone-deaf policy. It looks like SVP might be heading towards a no-tweeting-by-default policy, but with a clear expectation that many individual authors will want to allow their work exposure.

  50. […] asked the audience not to live tweet her talk and a late-arriving audience member did so. See here, here, here, and here. I don’t have much to add, except that this seems to me to be one more […]

  51. […] “Let’s have a conversation about life-tweeting academic conferences” and “We need a clear policy on tweeting from academic conferences” and “Live-tweeting at academic conferences.” Tweeting is banned from the […]

  52. As somebody who can rarely attend SVP conferences (very expensive), I greatly appreciate any Tweets I read from people who are there. They tend to only give minimal information, but it’s enough to give me the gist, which is really all I want. Until there’s a way to attend SVP remotely, Tweeting is the best way to “be there” without having to be there.

  53. […] can all think of ways to avoid this scenario and even the words policy-making have been uttered. Click here for another great […]

  54. […] this is a big one – the use of Twitter at conferences is not without its controversy. Read here and here on discussions that highlight the concerns with live-tweeting at a conference. Another […]

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