Ethics of copying unpublished data

You might remember that some time ago I expressed some concern about whether or not I should report on the papers given at the Entomological Society Annual Meeting.  The other ESA (Ecological Society of America) just published a paper on that very topic!

Patrick C. Tobin, James L. Frazier (2009) A Slide Down a Slippery Slope: Ethical Guidelines in the Dissemination of Computer-Based Presentations. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America: Vol. 90, No. 1, pp. 39-42.
doi: 10.1890/0012-9623-90.1.39

The authors argue that  downloading and publishing the data or figures from a presentation is off limits.  Since the Entomological Society now records and stores online the Annual Meeting presentations, this is not an unlikely issue.
Their guidelines:

“In particular, we specifically ask if the appropriate ethical behavior associated with the dissemination of scientific information, and particularly unpublished information, during scientific meetings, workshops, and other related events currently dominated by computer-based slide presentations is being handled in a manner consistent with the norms of printed materials….

1) All presentations are the intellectual property of the author(s); hence, computer slides shall never be downloaded by anyone else without the prior and explicit consent of the author(s).

2) Meeting organizers should accept formally and unequivocally all the responsibilities of hosting a scientific meeting, which includes ensuring that proper security protocols are in place to prevent unauthorized downloading to protect the integrity of the research process and uphold an ethical code of conduct.

3) Meeting organizers are encouraged to examine the use of modern computer-based tools to improve security measures during meetings….

4) If meeting organizers wish to develop a web site to host presentation files, then they must ask speakers to provide consent prior to the development of the web site and posting of slides. For example, this could be obtained from authors by asking them during the abstract submission process. In the absence of any written consent, however, then the assumption shall be that the posting or sharing of presentation files is forbidden.

5) We call upon Universities to require their students to perform coursework in ethical scientific conduct, and to ensure specifically that new or existing coursework is relevant to today’s technological tools.”

What do you think?

I know that some of the folks I’ve seen at meetings leave crucial bits of info off their talks–a talk about EAB pheromone, which is likely to be both lucrative and a hot paper–discussed techniques and results, but omitted the crucial chemical structure of the compound in questions.

How about posters? Is providing a printout of your poster implicit permission to write about it?

3 thoughts on “Ethics of copying unpublished data

  1. The way I see it, once you start disseminating research to your peers at a conference, you have to be prepared for it to take on a life of its own. I presented a poster at ESA on a non-earth-shattering study, and I provided print outs of the poster in a folder hung below. I hope that anyone who chooses to talk or write about it would talk to me first, not because I want to reign them in necessarily, but because I would welcome the discourse.

    That said, I too leave things out.

  2. I had to take an ethics class last year and it was totally worthless. That part above about ethics courses being ‘relevant’ is spot on.

  3. If you choose to put it out there, as far as I’m concerned the only right you retain is the right to be accurately credited on it. I don’t know why there should be an expectation that data presented on paper would be fair game, but data presented on a poster or a slide would be magically off-limits.

    I think there are concerns from the other end, though–if you present some one else’s work that hasn’t been peer reviewed, then you ought to be sure you can trust the source to do quality work. If you were attempting to use the unpublished data as a critical part of a theory you were trying to publish, I think a lot of reviewers would see that as a major concern.

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