Science - January 30, 2020

‘No tweeting at conferences’

Text:
Tessa Louwerens

While she was working on her PhD, Astrid Bos went to several conferences. She noticed that it is difficult to be open about provisional results if you are afraid they will be used out of context in a public debate. So her proposition is: “Twitter thwarts truthfulness at scientific conferences.”

PhD candidates have to include a handful of propositions with their thesis. In this feature, they explain their most provocative proposition. This time it’s Astrid Brigitte Bos, who got her PhD in Environmental Sciences for her study on the best way of monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of your anti-deforestations initiatives.

‘During a conference I attended a few years ago, somebody tried to get a discussion going by making some rather oversimplified statements. That discussion was then continued on Twitter, causing the scientist to be bombarded with tweets because of something that was not actually intended for the general public.

You could at least check with the speaker before you put a statement online

A conference is a place for sharing results with fellow subject specialists. You are often talking about research that has not been published yet. In that situation, it is very good to focus on what didn’t go so well during your research, and the problems you ran up against, because then you can learn from each other. As a young scientist, in particular, you are often unsure about your results. But if that is shared publicly, you’ll be less inclined to talk openly about your doubts. Especially if that is then taken out of context in a public debate. It’s not easy to give the full context in 280 characters.

It’s impossible to ban twitter, but you could at least check with the speaker before you put a statement online. Especially if it concerns sensitive information. I have seen scientists appealing to their audience on their slides not to share the information publicly. Actually I think that should go without saying. Twitter is a way of provoking discussion, but tweeting during a conference is detrimental to openness.’ 


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