This article originally appeared on Next Generation Science (NGS) on June 23rd, 2009. It has been re-posted here to maintain an active copy on the Web. A group blog, NGS was set up to follow emerging technologies and discuss tomorrow’s science, and was active from January 18th, 2009 to May 16th, 2010.
I am an ardent supporter of Open Access (OA) and believe that scientific research articles published in scholarly journals should be accessible online for everyone to read, redistribute and reuse without cost. However, leveraging digital technologies to make research transmittable, distributable and accessible to the world is contingent on the research being formally published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, not simply presented on a slide or poster.
I was at a conference last week and noted that several participants were taking pictures of data being presented. In fact, someone had the audacity to take pictures of slides during the keynote presentation. The keynote speaker had to pause during his presentation and ask the individual to stop taking pictures. I observed another attendee brazenly taking a picture of a poster during a poster session right in front of the woman presenting the poster. The individual presenting the poster asked the photographer to stop taking pictures.
Now, I’d like to think that these scientific shutterbugs are simply making an accurate record of things they see and are not trying to steal data. I don’t have a problem with someone taking notes or memorizing the data that’s being presented. However, making a digital record of unpublished intellectual property is different because the information being recorded is an exact copy that is easy to transmit and distribute.
Presenting unpublished data at a meeting is not the same as publishing it.
Much of the work presented at conferences and documented on posters is unpublished. In fact, the whole idea of a conference/poster is to share with other researchers current projects and data before it’s published. The intention isn’t to enable widespread distribution of the information, but rather controlled circulation and localized discussion. If the trend to photograph and digitize unpublished data from scientific research conferences continues unabated, researchers are simply going to stop sharing unpublished data. Scientists already worry about showing too much unpublished data in a presentation or on a poster – if they stop discussing unpublished work altogether, it will clearly have a negative impact on scientific communication and progress.
My advice? Add a copyright symbol to each of your slides or on your poster, or use this symbol to indicate that you don’t allow recording of any kind. State at the beginning of you talk that you’re presenting unpublished data and would appreciate the audience refrain from taking pictures. If you see someone taking pictures without asking the presenter, tell them they should ask permission first.
Cameras are great for recording events in life that you want to remember. However, they have no place at scientific conferences or poster sessions where unpublished data is being presented.
UPDATE: June 26th, 2009
Cameron Neylon posted some nice images that can be used to display Presentation rights.
Walter Jessen is a digital strategist, writer, web developer and data scientist. You can typically find him behind the screen something with an internet connection.