No Twitter at ASCB

An anonymous source has informed me that the ASCB has banned “replication of data” by visitors, but has presented Twitter as the poster child of conference data leaks. No word on whether ASCB attendees will be subjected to memory scans upon exit. The sign says:

Twittering and other forms of communication involving replication of data are strictly prohibited at all sessions, in the exhibit hall, and all poster sessions.

Twittering and other forms of communication involving replication of data are strictly prohibited at all sessions, in the exhibit hall, and all poster sessions.

14 thoughts on “No Twitter at ASCB

  1. Other prominent signs read:
    “Sharing images and/or text of data is prohibited. Respect the willingness of presenters to share their data at the meeting and protect their publication opportunities”

    And cameras were banned in the meeting rooms and exhibition halls (hard to see how that could work, given that it’s nearly impossible to buy a phone without a camera these days).

    It’s tough to reconcile though–you want to see fresh data at a meeting, it makes things so much more interesting, and I wonder how much these instant methods of spreading information are going to inhibit speakers from talking about things that aren’t yet published. Could put a real damper on meetings.

  2. I find the whole thing to be quite literally bizarre.

    1. “Sharing images and/or text of data is prohibited.” Presenting in front of hundreds of people isn’t “sharing images and text of data”? Are they saying someone can’t put their own slides up on slideshare if they’re presenting at the conference?

    2. “protect their publication opportunities” They have to give the presentation or put up the poster before anyone can tweet about it, so how does this hurt anything?

    If the conference organizers said “We’re concerned that attendance will drop if details about the conferences were to leak out onto social networks” at least they’d be making a coherent argument, though a poorly reasoned one. The statements on the signs, however, are actually nonsensical.

    They may as well be asking people to not wear purple pants to the opera.

  3. I agree that it’s very clumsily done. But it’s a real problem, and the finger should be pointed more at researchers than it should at the meeting organizers. Attendees want speakers to give talks on up-to-the-minute unpublished data. Speakers are hesitant to do so if they know that data and their preliminary results are going to be spread worldwide in a permanent searchable form instead of just openly discussed in a private forum. So the meeting organizers are trying to best meet the needs of their customers (the attendees) and their invited speakers. Realistically, meeting organizers love publicity and would probably have no problem with blogging and twittering if it didn’t interfere with what attendees and speakers want. The attitude change would need to come from the community, not those running the meetings as they’re just reacting to what the community wants.

    I don’t think what they’re doing is effective though, and either communities will evolve their own etiquette for what’s acceptable or meetings are going to become a lot more boring and lose much of their purpose for existing.

  4. Yes, you mentioned before that your impressions are that scientists are the ones who’d like to keep things from being online, but it’s hard to know how your experience translates. Survey writers have to work very hard to ensure they’re not leading respondents with questions and, likewise, we can’t really know to what extent your experience has been colored by what you expected to find.

    From my perspective, the conference organizers have suffered from this problem too. Did they even poll the attendees on their preferences at all?

  5. I would think that the number of scientists who regularly post unpublished data on their own websites would be an indication of how this attitude pervades science.

    As for attendees, I’ve never met a single scientist who prefers meetings that only include data that has been previously published. It may just be my subjective experience, but it seems like common sense to me. The best meetings are those where you learn what’s currently happening at the cutting edge of science, not what happened a few years ago.

  6. The number of scientists who publish data on their blog is just an early indicator of a nascent practice. You can’t claim it’s unpopular until a representative sample of people have tried it and quit because they didn’t like it or didn’t find it useful. People claimed Firefox wasn’t popular, until it was.

    Tweeting about results during a conference has nothing to do whether people bring unpublished results to the conference or not, unless it’s found to be true at some future point in time that scientists don’t bring new results to a conference if people are allowed to discuss it online. What seems obvious to me is that this will not be found to be the case.

    Rather, it’s quite possible that if people are easily and effectively sharing information with distant colleagues on a daily basis, conferences will lose some of their importance. For anyone except a conference organizer, this is an unmitigated good.

  7. Well, good luck with that. Just because the people you hang out with online all agree on something, that doesn’t make it inevitable. The vast majority of scientists work in industry, and open science is not an option for them (70% according to the NSF):
    For those in academia, the vast majority are more interested in doing actual science than in studying and changing the way science is done. They’re also very interested in paying their employees and feeding their families, so unless you work out the whole “limited amounts of funding” and “limited numbers of jobs” thing, that’s going to be a problem. And for the record, Firefox is hovering at around 25% marketshare (

    Sorry for the rant–to get back to the subject. Scientists are already hesitant to bring unpublished results to meetings. If you think widespread dissemination of their talks is likely to decrease this hesitance, then we’re not living in the same world of scientists. Most that I’ve met would be unhappy seeing someone else publicly displaying and interpreting their preliminary data–one example here:

    And a good conference goes well beyond just sharing data. Call me old fashioned, but in-person interactions can provide things that online communication can’t.

  8. I think we are living in separate worlds, David.

    In my world, the open science idea is only fully accessible now to academic scientists, but even industry scientists can release some of their work for reuse by their peers.

    In my world, open source has done quite well in the business environment. Even employees of large corporate enterprises are releasing parts of their code as open source.

    In my world, 70% of my traffic uses the open source browser Firefox. Is the correlation among blog-reading scientists and firefox users mere coincidence?

    In my world, not being interested in something could be because they’ve tried it and didn’t find it useful or simply because they haven’t had a chance to explore it yet.

    In my world, most scientists have not tried it and decided they don’t like it, so the blanket assertions you make every time this issue comes up don’t justify the certainty with which you assert them.

    In my world, the trends are quite clearly towards more openness, from Facebook privacy settings to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    My world could be a weird little niche dimension of it’s own, with no greater importance, or it could be a world where the future has arrived a few years earlier. Past experience suggests the latter.

  9. I agree that we’re moving in very different worlds.

    My job entails creating new products that serve the needs of the research community. As such, I spend a lot of time with the community talking about what’s important to them. I attend around half a dozen off-site major meetings a year. Since I’m at a conference center, I spend time at most of the 25-30 CSHL meetings each year, and drop in on several of the invitation-only Banbury Center meetings offered. My primary job right now involves a methods journal, so I spend lots of time with the instructors and students of the 30-odd courses offered at CSHL. I run a journal that published around 300 articles in the past year, each with its own set of authors who I’ve been in contact with directly. I’ve got around a dozen book projects in the works, which range from having single authors to having hundreds of authors. Suffice to say, I think I’m getting a pretty decent survey of the biological community.

    This community is passionate about doing scientific research. They are not generally passionate about publishing business models, about questions of access, about web 2.0 or twitter or blogs. Those things are all peripheral to their main pursuits. They’re much more interested in planar cell polarity or branching morphogenesis than in FriendFeed. They want to spend their time doing research and discovering new knowledge, not talking about doing research or playing around with tools that allow you to talk about doing research. If you’ve got a tool that does something useful and doesn’t interfere with their real interests and goals, they’re certainly open to using it. If it doesn’t provide an obvious benefit, or if it puts them at a distinct disadvantage, they’re unlikely to waste their time with it.

    I don’t think scientists “don’t like” open science or “open access” at all–in an ideal world, that’s how things would work. I was recently interviewed for a magazine and asked if I could point the author to opponents of open science. I responded that I don’t think there are any. Everyone I’ve met thinks it’s a great concept, but very few can see it being implemented in the real world. The near universal response I get is more of an eye-rolling, a realization that it’s impractical and not something they care enough about to risk their careers and responsibilities over. As you note, it’s something most haven’t tried, because it is impossible for them to do so and continue to build the careers they want. They put the responsibilities toward their students, toward being able to pay their employees and to feed their families over the idealism being offered here.

    Open science is particularly problematic because it favors the unscrupulous. Unless every single lab in the world buys in 100%, then those who conceal their data have a distinct advantage over those who are open with their data. In a system with limited funding and limited numbers of jobs, most are unwilling to cede any advantage to those competing for the same funding and jobs. If you can come up with a system of unlimited funding and universal employment, then perhaps it’s a possibility.

    Linux, which you mention, is a good parallel. For the last ten years or so, every year we’ve been told that this is the year of desktop Linux”. Each year, the world shrugs, then moves on with its real business while the zealots and evangelists change their prediction to next year. Linux has found its place, to be sure, where it’s an appropriate tool that makes sense. But it has never caught on with the mainstream public on the desktop and is unlikely ever to do so, despite the fact that there’s a strong, vocal community who see it as the way things should be. Is the Linux community just ahead of everyone else, or do they have different priorities than the mainstream?

    To use your other example, looking over my mainstream biology journal’s server logs for the last 4 weeks, Firefox (Mozilla based browsers) makes up around 18-21% of our traffic. That’s actually high compared to our other journals where Firefox is running around 10-12% of requests. Does the fact that 70% of the traffic you’re seeing comes from Firefox tell you something about how representative your group of bloggers is with the behaviors of mainstream scientists?

    I’m a firm believer that many of the behaviors and attitudes of online and social tools will indeed slowly trickle into mainstream activities in science. But those that successfully integrate must also be of obvious benefit, of increased efficiency, must not interfere with doing research or consume large amounts of time and effort, and must be practical and compatible with funding and career building. Most of what’s being proposed by the science 2.0 community has a long way to go before it can meet most of those criteria.

  10. Thanks for the lengthy and detailed response, David.

    I think we’ve mostly both said what we’re going to say, but just two quick points: open science is neither impractical, impossible, nor does it favor the unscrupulous.

    It’s extraordinarily practical, especially in this era of system biology and large data-driven experiments.

    It’s not only possible, but easy. Lots of money has been spent to capture this market, so that should speak for something.

    It doesn’t favor the unscrupulous because large collaborations can often do things labs working in isolation can’t. It does tend to favor the early-adopters, though, so I’m not surprised that some people dismiss it. Microsoft, for one, has used the “dismiss until we can get our own efforts up and running” strategy to great effect.

    I know I sound unapologetically boosterish. I recognize as well as anyone that many of the tools haven’t yet reached mainstream acceptance. Our views are actually quite similar; It’s that word “yet” that distinguishes us.

  11. I tend to agree with Mr Gunn on this one, especially on open access and open source. About 60% of my blog traffic comes from Firefox, most of the rest from IE6 (pharma companies on exchange servers are often still on IE6).

    The no Twitter policy expounded by the ASCB is absolutely devalued by the fact that any many of the public can search the ASCB site for the meeting abstracts, without being members. The data is therefore published and available as open access to the public, which kind of shoots the policy in the foot.

    Compare with most major cancer meetings such as ASH, AACR and ASCO, all of whom actively encourage Twitter and some have even held impromptu tweetups. The difference is they realise it’s a great way for scientists, researchers and physicians to collaborate and interact, as well as providing free PR for their organisation. In short, it becomes a great marketing too when used effectively.

    The only other scientific organisation I’ve come across that doesn’t allow Twitter is the CSHL meetings after the row exploded on the same issue in the past. The question is, what do they have to hide by banning Twitter when they publish abstracts? This is the 21st century not the 1800’s and some dinosaurs need to adapt or become extinct.

  12. When we wrote up the guidelines for meeting reports for the Node (which are all the way at the bottom of this page: ) we went by what Keystone and CSHL had as their guidelines: they both said that you have to ask speaker permission to write about any data, so when someone is covering a meeting that doesn’t *have* any rules, I contact the meeting organizers and ask them if it’s okay that someone is writing up the meeting by Keystone/CSHL rules (ie with asking speaker permission for data) and that has always been fine with them. (I hadn’t heard of the Twitter ban at CSHL that Sally mentions, but don’t deal with coordinating other people’s tweeting – just their blogging – so that hasn’t been relevant to me yet.)
    So without looking into the full details I would be surprised if the ASCB is really saying NO, and is actually saying the same thing and allowing speakers to override the decision. That seems to be the common ground for most meetings. As a blogger (and as cat herder trying to make sure other bloggers don’t break meeting rules), I prefer blog policies of meetings like the ISSCR meeting, where the embargo ends at the start of each talk, allowing for live blogging/Tweeting. It looks to me like the ASCB was expecting their audience to treat the meeting as an “anything goes” one, and is just bringing it back to the “ask permission” level. Annoying, but perhaps some speakers asked for it and this was the easiest way for them to deal with that?

  13. I’m not sure what was going on behind the scenes, all I know is that the sign said “Twittering is not allowed”. If they wanted people to ask permission, they didn’t indicate it. Parse that how you will. Hopefully they’ve a bit more of a clue this year.

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