At a recent meeting at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York state, Daniel MacArthur from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, United Kingdom, brought into focus how fuzzy the line between journalist and scientist is becoming. In addition to reporting on genetic variation in a gene that is active in fast muscle fibers at The Biology of Genomes meeting, MacArthur wrote several on the spot blog posts covering advances discussed by the participants. Francis Collins also mentioned results on his new Web site.
A specialized Web-based news service, Genomeweb, complained. To attend CSHL meetings, reporters agree to obtain permission from a speaker before writing up any results. But MacArthur didn’t have to click that box when he registered and was free to report without getting any go-ahead. Several other participants were twittering, says CSHL meetings organizer David Stewart. “They weren’t held to the same standards” as the media, says Stewart.
That is about to change. Stewart is revising the meeting registration form such that all participants will agree that if they are going to blog or twitter results, they need to let CSHL know in advance and get the presenter’s okay. “We don’t legislate what [the scientists] write in an e-mail” to lab or consortium members, says Stewart, but CSHL is concerned about communications that reach out to anonymous third parties. “We need to ask them to abide by the same rules.”