Friday, August 22, 2014

Live Tweeting SFN2014 vs data protection

There has been a lot of chatter last night and today on Twitter about the SfN2014 embargo policy to hold communications about presentation until the end and it got me thinking about what the SfN meeting is for, since I'm dealing with issues of identity this week.

I'll start from the fact that I don't live tweet because I find it distracting and I like to listen and take notes, but if someone live tweeted one of my talks I would be fine with it, so I have nothing against live tweeting. As far as tweeting in general I just went to a conference where I tweeted about cool talks and posters I saw and to one that was completely embargoed (top to bottom) where as instructed I didn't tweet.

The first was the European neuroscience meeting FENS which is similar to SfN: large, with tons of posters, with large plenary/presidential lectures and whatnot. The second was a subfield Gordon Research Conference for 200 people where almost everyone apart from the paranoid usual suspects presented completely unpublished work. At FENS I presented a story that was already accepted and coming out within 2 weeks, at the GRC I presented a whole bunch of brand new unpublished data. At SfN we will present a story which will hopefully be submitted before the meeting. Why? Because SfN is too big and scary and most people, like at FENS, only present accepted or ready to go data. I would be happy if someone tweeted about my SfN poster, but I wouldn't have been fine if someone had tweeted about my GRC poster.

So the issue is "What are the large society meetings for?". I would not necessarily send a postdoc to SfN with the intent to learn about our field, I would (and I did) send them to a smaller meeting where they can meet people and see what is happening at the cutting edge. I would instead send an undergraduate or grad student to the SfN meeting to learn about the breadth of neuroscience and see what lots of people are doing. SfN is also great for networking and looking for all kinds of jobs. I go to SfN myself every few years to catch up with friends and get a general feel of what people have been interested in and what trends are emerging. With 30,000 people symposia are mostly impossible to attend and posters absolutely insane, so after I have seen the greatly curated posters in my itinerary I just stroll down the A-D lanes and pick up key words.

And that's the conundrum, you can live tweet presidential lectures all you want, but in reality you just need to say "PubMed Prof. X about Y" and there's the content of the talk. You can also live tweet the posters, but what that is going to do is that people will make sure not to put any critical new data in it unless the paper is in the can. That is still very useful, because the audience will know in advance what are the cool things coming out. You just have to realize that with an abstract submission deadline 6 months in advance you are really seeing last year's data.

As a hybrid between a geneticist ("Do not say a word. They could scoop us tomorrow.") and a cell biologist ("Don't worry. It'll take them 2 years to catch up.") I understand both feelings, but I really appreciate sharing. I think that science will move much faster if we share openly and distribute credit appropriately and I've been doing my best to push geneticists terrorized by the advent of next-generation sequencing into doing so. Yet scientists always have a little bit of Gollum in them ("My preciousss data"), so the question behind all this is not really whether you can live tweet SfN, which you can, who's really going to stop you? There is really no reason to get that incensed. SfN is last year's data, what should we do about today's data? Are you ready to put what you have out there right now?

1 comment:

  1. Any rule that stifles freedom of speech is a mistake, and a sign of weakness.