Scientific meetings need more bloggers

In one of my first blog posts (before I joined Nature Network) about a year ago I wrote about the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2007 Meeting. I was surprised that only a handful of blogs reported about the event, one of the largest and most important meetings for clinical cancer research.

One would think that blogging and scientific meetings would be a natural combination. Those that can't go to a meeting need a filtered summary, and a blogging scientist would be a perfect person for the job. The experience with blog posts about technology meetings also says that this should work. In the Field is Nature's blog about conferences and events and there is the occasional blog post about a meeting.

So why are there not more bloggers at science meetings? I think that this is simply a problem of critical mass. 1) there are still not enough science bloggers around and 2) most science blogs (including this one) don't write about research results, but rather about other aspects of science. This could well change in a few years and I expect to see an increasing number of science blogs reporting from meetings. And I will try to blog about the most interesting sessions in the fields of leukemia and lymphoma when I go to ASCO 2008 in Chicago at the end of the month.

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22 Responses to Scientific meetings need more bloggers

  1. Nicholas Wigginton says:

    The problem is, who is supposed to do the blogging? Scientists that also happen to write blogs will be busy running around networking, visiting with old colleagues, exploring a new city, and preparing for their presentations. In short, conferences are already crazy enough as is. Professional science bloggers, on the other hand, would essentially be acting as journalists there, and would presumably need someone to cover the costs of such an endeavor (registration, travel costs, etc). I always thought it would be a good idea for a society to ‘hire’ (i.e. pay for registration) students to do the live blogging of the conference. It would work of for both the students and society.

  2. Bob O'Hara says:

    I blogged the ESEB last year, and I intend to blog the two meetings I’m going to in July. So I’ve been a good boy.
    I suspect the lack of bloggers is the main problem, and perhaps many of us who are bloggers haven’t blogged enough meetings for the idea to become fixed.

  3. Maxine Clarke says:

    I think it may be discipline-specific, in part. Those chemists seem to do quite a bit of conference blogging. And of course, the bioinformaticians.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    As we have discussed “elsewhere”:, _you really only need to believe that we’re not yet making the most of the web in scientific communication_. Conference blogging has a lot of unused potential in this regard – another interesting topic for our “upcoming science blogging conference”:

  5. Heather Etchevers says:

    I completely agree with Nicholas – that was exactly what I was thinking. I like to read live blogs from meetings, though, so would consider the job much of a journalist job – but a science writer-in-formation kind of job, requiring someone already in the know. Bringing in students to do the job seems beneficial to the student(s), to the conference organizers and of course to the rest of us potential readers. And some of those students might find a new professional calling, to boot.
    This makes me think, in fact, of the daily newsletter that was printed overnight and disseminated at a Drug Information Association meeting I somehow ended up attending. That was definitely done by professional journalists. Anyhow, they went like hotcakes, even if the “articles” were kind of puff pieces. A blogger would have perhaps a more critical and personal view. One would hope.

  6. Martin Fenner says:

    Bruno Giussani and Ethan Zuckerman have written a little brochure called “Tips for Conference Bloggers”: One important suggestion: you should usually liveblog and post shortly after the session is finished. This tries to solve the time problem mentioned by Nicholas and gives you time to network during the breaks.
    I would have to go to blogging school before I can start liveblogging. And liveblogging certainly would still be an awkward sight at a science conference.

  7. Bob O'Hara says:

    My strategy was to blog the following morning: I could decide which talks to blog about (usually the plenary and whatever else was interesting). It gave me time to work out what to write: live blogging can lack the personal touch and end up looking like a re-written abstract.

  8. Martin Fenner says:

    There are several strategies on how to blog at a conference, some of them are listed “here”: I still have to figure out what works best for me.

  9. Cameron Neylon says:

    To me the thing is to treat it like taking notes for yourself. What do you want to be able to remember and go back to? Where I have done it I have taken notes in the talks and then tried to organise them afterwards for my own benefit. If you try to do anything else then you end up being a journalist as Nick suggests above. Nothing wrong with that, but its not the reason most of us go to me meetings.
    There was also an editorial on the use of blogs, wikis, and such for conferences in “Nature Reviews Microbiology”:

  10. Nicholas Wigginton says:

    Do fellow scientists who blog on the research of their colleagues cross some sort of line? Who is the audience these blogs are trying to reach? To me it would seem that it would be a bit precarious for individual researchers to blog specific talks (to maintain objectivity) than say a representative from the scientific society or conference. I am not asking to be a pest, I am just curious as I think it would be fun/instructive to blog a conference but I’m just not sure of the context in which to frame it.

  11. Maxine Clarke says:

    Thanks for mentioning the _NRMicrobiol_ editorial, which makes some good points about preprint servers, social networks and blogs – the editors would be very interested in comments by microbiologists and biologists in related disciplines, so please do “visit this link and comment”: (and tell all your friends!).

  12. Jean-Claude Bradley says:

    There may be more people blogging than you think – sometimes people are not consistent about using tags. Often you have to use several keywords to get all the posts for an event.
    Everybody writes for their own purposes and those might change over time. I usually wait till I get back to integrate my thoughts and note things that affected me.
    Some people do live blogging and I admire them – that is a hard job!
    But ultimately the way to get people involved over time is to email your “unconverted” colleagues relevant blog posts that you and others wrote about at a recent conference and offer to help them get involved at the next gathering.

  13. Martin Fenner says:

    Jean-Claude, you raise an interesting point. How do we find all the relevant blog posts about a meeting? Is there a better way than “Technorati”: tags or simple “Google”: searches? I think that a “blog carnival”: would be helpful.

  14. Nicholas Wigginton says:

    In general, who is the primary audience for a live blog at a conference? Is it just the regular readership of that particular blog, or is it to communicate to the attendees and/or society members that could not attend? If the former, I don’t see a reason to have it so structured as some of the websites/guides linked above suggest (mostly because the readership of most science blogs is fairly low–a good exception to this argument would be the discipline-specific blogs like the “Skeptical Chymist”: However, if it’s the latter, wouldn’t having such a blog linked to the conference website be best?

  15. David Crotty says:

    Before blogging from a meeting, it’s very important to understand the policies of that particular meeting and probably to obtain permission from the speakers before publicly broadcasting their results. Most meetings are considered “confidential”, and the talks are considered “personal communications” (this is certainly the case at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory). You wouldn’t publish a paper with a personal communication from someone with out asking their permission, right? Most people will be happy to receive the attention, but it’s bad etiquette to not ask permission. As a journal editor, you want to be particularly careful, as you don’t want to alienate any potential future authors from publishing with you, or upset any advertisers. Bora Zivkovic had “a discussion of this”: on his blog recently.

  16. Martin Fenner says:

    The “ASCO Policies”: are fairly strict and do not specifically include blogging. Perhaps I should have my first liveblogging experience at a more appropriate venue, e.g. “Science Blogging 2008 London”: The best solution would be to register as press, but that is (still) difficult as a blogger.
    ASCO is a special meeting, as some of the presentations will mean fortune or failure for biotech or drug companies. As inside trading was common in the weeks preceeding the meeting, (almost) all abstracts were this year made “available”: to the public on May 15.
    Nick, I don’t think that many readers of this blog care specifically about cancer research. They would probably rather go to a blog like “this one”:

  17. Cameron Neylon says:

    David, that conversation over at Bora’s is very interesting. I have to say I’d always taken the attitude that any talk (departmental, seminar, conference, plenary, whatever) is public. If you don’t want it out there don’t talk about it. But it’s clear other people have different views. So I think the safe course is to ask permission.
    It’s also slightly grey in terms of whether it is prior disclosure for the purpose of publication. I believe (and someone will correct me if I’m wrong I’m sure) that e.g. NPG’s view is that a talk is ok, as long as you don’t discuss it with the press afterwards (as it is not peer reviewed). Is having the talk blogged the equivalent of talking to the press (particularly if it is later picked up by the press)?

  18. David Crotty says:

    It always pays to check the policies of the meeting itself. I’m speaking at a meeting later this month and received paperwork stating that the organizing body plans to publish all talks, and that I’m required to provide copyright permissions for any images that I use in my talk. Other meetings are different, for example Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory specifically states in the abstract books, “These abstracts should not be cited in bibliographies. Material contained herein should be treated as personal communication and should be cited as such only with the consent of the author.” I assume the idea is to encourage people to talk about unpublished data.

  19. Maxine Clarke says:

    As far as NPG policies are concerned, yes we have no objection (indeed, encourage) communication between scientists before submission to a journal, via preprint server, blog, meeting abstract, talk. What we don’t allow is communication with the media.
    However, David and others are right that (1) not all publishers have similar policies; (2) the meeting organisers may have reporting restrictions as a condition of attendance; and (3) people whose work you are discussing may like it if you asked their permission. I don’t think there is any legal requirement to ask permission from speakers(assuming you aren’t being defamatory), but it would be a courtesy, in some people’s (or many people’s) eyes.

  20. Maxine Clarke says:

    Just to clarify that, blogging a meeting is within our policies, so long as the blogging is for your personal blog and not for a journal (media) blog. Certainly, if you are giving a talk at a scientific meeting and a member of the audience blogs about your talk and that blog gets picked up, we (NPG) are not going to hold you responsible for that.
    If you then agree to talk to the media about the work (if a journalist has read the blog, for example) that would be against our policies, if you are thinking of submitting that work to a Nature journal.

  21. Martin Fenner says:

    Many presentations at scientific meetings only contain data that are either published or accepted for publication. This is understandable, but often rather boring. The interesting discussions usually happen in the hallways. I very much enjoy the occasional speaker who doesn’t care about this, and some meetings (e.g. Cold Spring Harbor) are much better than others in fostering talk about unpublished data.
    Most of the time it is probably safer to restrict conference blogging to the stuff that is already public, e.g. in the meeting abstracts. The different issues mentioned in the comments above (meeting policies, journal policies, speaker privacy issues) can otherwise create a mess that is rather difficult to handle for an independent blogger.

  22. Maxine Clarke says:

    My two comments above about our (Nature journals’) policies on conference blogging are our *editorial* policies, concerning whether our journals would or would not consider a contribution submitted for publication that had previously been blogged.
    My comments did *not* refer to an NPG blogging policy about its own conference programme. So far as I am aware, NPG does not have a policy about people blogging at the scientific and medical “conferences it organises”: I suggest that if anyone reading this thread who is going to an “NPG-organised scientific conference listed on this web page”: and wishes to blog about it, checks first with the conference organisers.