Appropriateness (was Re: NO.)

David Jones jones at
Sat May 6 08:16:33 EST 1995

Wayne R. Baker (baker at wrote:
> I think the issue is more a matter of what *this* forum represents.
> Discussing a seminar in small groups is a routine occurrence within
> departments, but this forum has much larger audience. And while a
> departmental seminar is certainly public dissemination, you don't put a
> reference to a lecture like that in a manuscript. It seems like we've
> hit upon a little gray patch in the area of suitability of
> topics/sources for discussion. Maybe this deserves some debate. 

There's no doubt that this is a grey area - doubly so because it raises
the question of what is or should be citable and what is not or should not be.

I don't think the size of the audience is the real issue here. A major
issue here is the common sense of the person giving the talk in the first
place. Basically, if you have something you wish to keep under wraps until
it is published then keep your mouth shut is the sensible advice. If you
are invited to give a talk at another institution or at a meeting and you
decide to talk about unpublished work - then that is your decision, and the
responsibility for the consequences rest on your own shoulders. Perhaps
a useful test of whether the meeting is public or not would be whether or
not you would be comfortable making the statement "These results are of
course preliminary, and I would therefore request that you do not pass on
the details to anyone outside this room" at the start of your talk. If the
meeting is intended for internal consumption only (a PhD student talk for
example - PhD students often _have_ to give talks on their unpublished
work at internal meetings) - then the above statement would not be
inappropriate, though it might well not need to be voiced. Conversely, I
would consider the above statement inappropriate if I was giving an
_invited_ talk somewhere outside of my own institution.

On a few occasions I have found myself sitting-in on an internal seminar at
another site (the subjects were of no interest, but that's not the
point) -  personally I considered the information I was presented with
in that situation as "privileged" - i.e. the same as if I'd received the
paper for refereeing. Of course this presents enormous problems if the
work overlaps with work of your own - I guess the correct thing to do
would be to leave the room as soon as this became apparent!

So the bottom line is really whether the information you have is
"privileged" or not. If the information is essentially non-privileged
to the 200 people who attended a particular meeting, then why shouldn't
the N-thousand bionet readers also receive this information if they
were unable to attend the meeting for some reason (geography, money,
politics or what have you). What is so different about mentioning
meeting talks on Internet from publishing abstracts or even more
from a journal publishing a report on a meeting? Is paper and ink
_that_ much different from electronic text? What about the new
electronic journals that are starting up? Are publications there
going to be treated differently?

The above opinion does not imply that I think people who discuss
unpublished results "deserve" to have their work scooped in print without
citation - that's not the case at all. The whys wherefores and buts about
how non-privileged but unpublished information should be cited in
derivative work is another matter entirely - and I'll leave that for
someone else to tackle.

This message was written, produced and executively directed by Dr David Jones
Address: Department of Biochemistry and |     Email: jones at
Molecular Biology, University College,  |       Tel: +44 171 387 7050 x3879
Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, U.K.     |       Fax: +44 171 380 7193

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