I stumbled across this a week or two ago, and have had it sitting tabbed waiting for a response since, because it really got my goat!

The basic thesis of the writer is that it’s a bad idea for someone to wander round a poster session at a (scientific) conference, snapping away at the posters using a camera. Leaving aside the issue that I thought I was the first person to think of doing this with a camera phone (obviously not), like I say, it got my goat!

His justification of his position comes down to the fact that he sees “taking” (information) without “giving” (feedback) as not keeping up with the takers part of a two-way process. He’s also worried about what he calls “espionage”, and data getting discussed before it’s peer reviewed.

Oh please!

Firstly, as to the taking without giving: In some communities, presenting is the price of attendance, the feedback is incidental. In all communities only a tiny percentage of attendees ever give feedback. Does not giving feedback mean I can’t/shouldn’t listen (to a talk)? Can’t read (a poster)? Given how much it costs (in time, money, and emissions) to go to a conference shouldn’t we make damn sure we get as much as possible. I could never engage with (or often even read) all the posters at many conferences.

As to the “discussion” before peer review. What’s the point of putting an idea into the community if you don’t want it to be discussed? (Risk of the data being analysed by someone else I hear him respond? They can’t publish it without credible provenance, so what’s the issue, the idea was out the moment you took it to a conference?)

Finally, in my opinion, the best conferences make sure the posters (and the presentations if you’re really lucky) are on a memory stick and/or in a repository, so I can have access later. If they don’t do that, how is not better for me to at least take a copy so I can read it later?

Science is about communication. Anything that hinders communication hinders science. Attribution is important, but a camera copy of a paper doesn’t make attribution any less likely than publication, in fact, if we extrapolate from the open access experience, it’s likely to make attribution more likely.

Ba! Humbug!