21 August 2014

Conference embargoes at Society for Neuroscience 2014

I used to wonder what this logo was supposed to be:

I’m renaming this logo, “Slug is disappointed by SfN’s social media policies.”

Erin McKiernan pointed out this section of the Society for Neuroscience’s conference policies:

Information and data included in abstracts presented at the SfN annual meeting are embargoed until the conclusion of the presentation or SfN press conference. Coverage of an abstract, poster, lay summary, data, or supplemental material, is strictly prohibited until the embargo is lifted.

The SfN has consistently been tone deaf when it comes to the scientific community online and social media. Their choices for official conference bloggers have repeatedly been baffling (see here from 2010 and here for 2011).

Their policies about “no photos from the poster session floor” are both unenforced and unenforceable, and people tweet pictures of their poster all the time. (I wrote this post over at Better Posters using pictures that members tweeted.)

The main conference page has this big heading about “Protecting Your Science at Neuroscience 2014.” This raises the question:

Protecting the science from whom?

What are the “wrong hands” that SfN is worried about conference results falling into? What nefarious individuals must be kept away from new neuroscience information? And how is someone’s research “protected” by an embargo that only lasts until the end of a presentation?

Let’s say that I was giving a talk at Neuroscience, and someone breaks the embargo with a tweet. How will SfN enforce their communication policy? What will be the consequences? I suspect the answer is, “None.” This makes this policy toothless and subtly encourages rule breaking.

I used to think that a reason for being a little circumspect about distributing conference materials outside the walls of a conference was to avoid running afoul of the Ingelfinger rule: journals won’t publish results that have already been published elsewhere. This tweet from SfN implies this.

Letting someone snap a photo of your poster might seem harmless, but it could hurt chances of being published.

But I have never, ever heard of a single case of a researcher who got burned and had their manuscript rejected because information from their conference presentation was mentioned online.

Here are just a few articles on the advantages of tweeting from conferences. There are many more that I know I am missing; let me know of others and I will add them!

With all the advantages these articles outline, what are these deep dark disadvantages SfN apparently sees that we don’t, that are so bad to warrant stopping up the flow of conversation?

Additional, 22 August 2014: Ivan Oransky has a post describing social media embargoes at another conference, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory meetings. It is interesting to compare CSHL to SfN in this regard.

  • The motivation for CSHL’s policy is up front. SfN’s reasoning is obscure.
  • CSHL’s policy is “transparent and clear.” SfN’s is confusing (“Wait, can I tweet now?”)
  • CSHL’s policy “tries to evolve.” SfN’s seems to be completely top down and unresponsive.

Related posts

Who are the Society for Neuroscience bloggers?
The official SfN neurobloggers, 2011
Critweets: Neuroscience 2013

External links

Society for Neuroscience annual meeting 2014 communication policies
Can you tweet from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory meetings?


Anonymous said...

I thought this was funny - I emailed them to ask, since I don't have funding for SfN, would they let me attend for free if I were an official blogger (ie, don't make me pay to be one). They're response was:

Thank you for contacting the Society for Neuroscience (SfN). SfN accepts blogger applications with the understanding that applicants have secured membership, and are registered to attend the annual. SfN offers bloggers the prestige of being an official blogger for the annual meeting, and an opportunity to increase their blog’s audience. Bloggers do not receive compensation for expenses associated with attending the annual meeting (ie. housing, travel, registration, etc).

Which I love because it's just hilariously tone deaf, though not at all surprising


Linus Schumacher said...

We also wrote a short post on tweetcasting on our group blog: http://wcmb-oxford.blogspot.com/2014/06/on-tweetcasting.html