Should Twitter be Restricted at Scientific Meetings?


This NCI Cancer Bulletin article on the use of social media at this week’s American Society of Clinical Oncology is worth reading.  It showcases how a major medical organization sees social media unfolding at a national meeting.  I’ll be following #ASCO11 closely where some sources predict the Tweet count could reach 10-15,000.

What caught my eye was discussion surrounding the speaker-imposed restriction of Twitter at scientific presentations.  Apparently some meetings such as the Biology of Genomes Conference at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, presenters have to grant permission to allow the use of Twitter (this apparently will not be the case at ASCO).

This is a quote from the meeting media policy at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Often, during the course of a meeting, a scientist will present a discovery, method, or current project that is not yet complete or published. Therefore, to prevent the premature release of confidential information, we require all media attendees to obtain permission in advance from the relevant scientist prior to reporting any spoken or printed information gleaned from the meetings. Media attendees are encouraged to approach scientists out-of-session (e.g. during coffee breaks, poster sessions, wine and cheese parties, etc.) for informal discussions, formal interviews, and/or permission to report sensitive information at the appropriate time.

While It’s hard to be critical of Cold Spring Harbor Labs, this policy illustrates the disconnect between the past and the present.  The reference to the media ignores the obvious reality that we are the media.  Communication tools like phones have become tools for publication.  Or, as Jay Rosen has put it, we are ‘the people formerly known as the audience.’

Clearly scientists need to protect data prior to publication.  But a dated system of review that stops doctors from talking will hold us hostage to the constructs of the 20th century.  Until this is sorted out, citizen journalists need to be respectful of information and how it is used.  Recipients of that information need to understand the context of scientific dialog.  And we need to understand that legislating the use of a platform will not stop the conversation.

h/t to Brian McGowan (@CMEadvocate) for directing this story into my stream.  Image via Lazy Crazy.