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The ridiculous SVP embargo is back again

August 23rd, 2012 | Posted by rmounce in Conferences | Open Access | Palaeontology

Sometimes you just have to laugh…

The year is 2012, we have the internet, we have blogs, and a huge variety of other tools to enable free, efficient and rapid communication of information and yet the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology annual meeting rules still insist that all information within this year’s abstract booklet remain a big secret until the day of the event.

Many others have justly written to complain about this before.

Here’s the 2012 version I just received in my inbox today:

SVP Embargo Policy Regarding Content in the Program and Abstract Book

Unless specified otherwise, coverage of abstracts presented orally at the Annual Meeting is strictly prohibited until the start time of the presentation, and coverage of poster presentations is prohibited until the relevant poster session opens for viewing. As defined here, “œcoverage” includes all types of electronic and print media; this includes blogging, tweeting and other intent to communicate or disseminate results or discussion presented at the SVP Annual Meeting. Content that may be pre-published online in advance of print publication is also subject to the SVP embargo policy.

So I think I can tell you I’m giving a talk there in the ‘Phylogenetic and Comparative Paleobiology — New Approaches to the Study of Vertebrate Macroevolution’ symposium.

But can I tell you what the title of my talk is, or the abstract I submitted (a rather long time ago, which is another bugbear I have with this particular conference)? Well, given the quote above, probably not!

And therein is part of the ridiculousness of the embargo. By submitting a (subsequently accepted) talk & abstract to this conference – I’m banned from communicating about my own research on that subject until I give the talk. Not even a tweet about it.

It also seems to me that they’re preventing their own members from effectively promoting the event with this policy. Wouldn’t it be great if all speakers could blog and tweet: “Hey, I’m giving a talk on new dinosaur XXXX and it’s unusual anatomy (further details of which are in my abstract here) at a meeting in Raleigh, NC. Come along, tickets still available here” Isn’t that 100 times better than “Hey, I’m giving a talk at this conference – I can’t tell you what the title is or the subject, sorry” ?

This policy strikes me as a massive and unjustified own goal. I appreciate some of the science glamour mags don’t take kindly to press reportage of science before it is published in their glossy pages BUT I think we’ve got to remember that science talks & posters are NOT papers, and they should not and are not treated as such. The abstracts for SVP are only minimally peer-reviewed before acceptance and the talk content itself is completely unreviewed. Therefore if a journalist/blogger/tweeter did report on the abstract booklet (and btw, it would take tremendous journalistic spin to make good, interesting copy from most talk abstracts I’ve ever seen – they’re rather short!) they’d be reporting non-peer reviewed discussion, that may or may not be related to unspecified future peer-reviewed publications. So I don’t buy [what I presume is the justification for all this?] the argument that reportage of talk abstracts jeopardises the publication of peer-reviewed papers. The two may be related, but are also very distinct from each other.

I think it’s only a matter of time until this policy changes. SVP have being doing reasonably well with respect to openness recently. They’ve reduced their hybrid Open Access fees, and instituted new editorial policy encouraging data archiving so that data published in their journal is more transparent & re-usable (=better science). But it seems there are still improvements to be made. Will there be an abstract embargo in 2013 I wonder? I for one hope not.