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March Conference Madness – Poster Publishing Dilemmas

Image credit: LuMaxArt, Flickr, CC BY-SA
Image credit: LuMaxArt, Flickr, CC BY-SA

It’s March and so naturally the upcoming whirlwind of large scholarly conferences is on my mind. If I was still in the USA, I might also be participating in a friendly Basketball bet!

I recently attended the 5th International Conference of the Flow Chemistry Society in Berlin. It was expertly organized by SelectBio and featured everything that we expect from a scholarly conference – top scientists as keynote speakers, a poster session for Earlier Career Researchers to present preliminary data and, most importantly, coffee breaks to raise our energy so that we can exchange ideas with other participants.

But one innovation struck me: each participating poster exhibitor had been offered the opportunity to publish their poster via e-Posters. Because ScienceOpen also offers poster publishing (now free of charge), I was interested to exchange experiences with them. I had a great talk with Sara Spencer about how poster publishing can support researchers by encouraging discussion of their work after the conference or with colleagues who were not able to attend. Publishing them on a platform that provides each one with a DOI, as we do here at ScienceOpen, also means that the author can be credited if the poster is, for example, photographed and shared on Facebook.

However, both Sara and I have also observed that scientists are sometimes hesitant to “publish” their posters at all which surprised us since the benefits seem clear. The two most frequent questions about poster publishing that we encounter are:

  1. What is the advantage of publishing my poster?

Some posters get hung in the department hallway but most end their lives rolled up under a desk somewhere. By making your poster digitally available beyond its physical presence at a conference, you can extend the discussion of your research and possibly even find new collaborators. Of course, you can also do this by posting it on your website or in a repository. But by publishing it under a CC BY license and with a CrossRef registered DOI, you also make it possible to track the impact it has by recording altmetrics such as downloads, social shares etc – making it a much more valuable asset for your CV.

  1. This is preliminary research, can I publish these results later as a research article?

Most publishers recognize that science cannot move forward in a communication vacuum and rules around sharing are changing with the rise of online discussion forums. No one is quite sure where the new lines on such issues will be drawn. Scientists regularly share their preliminary research at conferences in the form of talks and posters or on pre-print servers such as arXiv or BiorXiv. Early feedback can save a researcher time and funding dollars.

The scientific community understands that there is a big difference between preliminary results presented in a pre-print or a poster and a full research paper. Most journal editors also have no problem making this distinction. A list of the pre-print policies of major academic journals can be found on Wikipedia. A list of how different journals view F1000Posters (and most do not regard them as pre-publication) can be found here.

However, it’s important to know that some journals do still regard posters as prior-publication and these include some big names such as the journals of the American Chemical Society; Royal Society of Chemistry; American Physiological Society; American Microbiology Society and the NEJM. When we contacted some poster session organizers at a large society conference about the possibility of publishing this content with DOI on ScienceOpen, one of them checked back in with the Society for their view and received this ominous warning:

We would caution you, and we would ask you to caution your presenters, that intellectual property rights issues, such as patent or other proprietary concerns, may be implicated by agreeing to the publication of posters.

Our answer to the above statement is to ask “how so?” Whether the author retains copyright and grants a CC license to publish or gives copyright to the publisher, then how is the IP of a poster different from that of an article? If they mean, as stated on the F1000Poster list, that they consider the limited and often preliminary content displayed on posters from Earlier Career Researchers to be prior publication then we say “good luck with that view in the digital age”!

What seems more likely to us is that large traditional publishers are using the same IP “scare tactics” that we last saw in the early days of Open Access. What they are trying to do is discourage poster or pre-print publishing (per their restrictive policies on live tweeting at conferences) with DOI because they don’t want these citations to lower the Impact Factors of their journals.

The scientific community is beginning to experiment with the new tools for sharing and networking online and this is putting pressure on established structures and rules. To them we say:

Be sure to publish your posters or pre-prints with a DOI so they can be found and cited. Then publish your subsequent full article with organizations that have progressive policies on prior-sharing, preferably Open Access!