Hangwringing about conference blogging from Nature

Lav pointed out this article in Nature on concerns over blogging about talks at conferences. It contains gems such as:

“I could take pictures of every slide and it would be on the Internet within seconds.” — Lars Jensen


MacArthur’s comprehensive postings were read by many scientists but they irked journalists attending the meeting. The meeting rules stated that reporters had to seek permission from speakers before publishing material on their work…


This kind of direct-to-web exposure creates problems for many industrial and applied researchers. In the United States, patent applications must be filed within a year of any information becoming available to the public. The exact date of that ‘public disclosure’ used to be difficult to nail down, but no more, says Michael Natan, chief executive officer of Oxonica Materials, a nanotechnology company in Mountain View, California. In the Internet age, time-stamped photographs of a talk can let competitors know the exact minute a researcher presented a patentable result. Consequently, “people in industry will be much more circumspect about what they present in public”, he says.

So I know I don’t work on Science (with a capital S) and that a I’m not the most knowledgeable guy out there. I do know from talking to friends that there is sometime shady behavior involving scooping of other labs by stealing ideas and fast-tracking a paper, but this article is a bit too paranoid.

  • Industry is already circumspect about what they present in public. I don’t think blogging is going to make them any more paranoid — patent firms already hire PhD engineers to comb the conference proceedings and literature to prove ideas were disclosed publically or invented too early in order to limit the scope of patents.
  • Who the hell would take pictures of every slide? Lars Jensen himself thinks it’s ridiculous (see the comments on the article) and the reporter here is definitely ginning up the controversy.
  • Going to a conference and talking publicly about your research is public disclosure. Sorry dudes, but we should not indulge in Clintonian verbal acrobatics.
  • If Cold Spring Harbor wants to force journalists to abide by ridiculous disclosure rules, then they should do what MILCOM does and have classified sessions.

2 thoughts on “Hangwringing about conference blogging from Nature

  1. I was recently asked by one of the PIs in my office if I knew how to generate a version of some graph such that if she handed out paper copies at a talk, it could not be photocopied by people who might want to steal it.

    I just stared at her for a second before saying no.

  2. Oh nooo, my public talk might be made public!

    Weird, in my corner of academia we actually want more people to see our work, so maybe they’ll cite it. I’m glad I don’t work on anything patentable.

    But then, I guess we don’t exactly present the lesson plans for our curricula or anything like that at conferences, so it’s not 100% different…

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