Oral research presentations can be a persuasive and powerful medium for scientists to share their ideas and latest findings with an audience. However, the reach and impact of presentation content is often confined to a single room. Rarely do academics share research presentations outside of the place in which it occurred. Some share slides informally among themselves and presentations may be recorded, but they are infrequently distributed or publicized for a wider audience.
Why not? In recent years, more researchers have started participating in social media. Many academics blog about their discoveries, thoughts, latest publications, and in so doing connect their research with broader audiences. Sharing has helped research become more transparent and added momentum to the open science movement, which aspires to create a fully transparent research process. Innovations in formal scholarly communication such as, electronic lab notebooks and open access journals have also made it easier for researchers to communicate their findings at various points in the research cycle.
In contrast, presentations have been largely left out of open science discussions. Presentation-specific platforms, such as , SpeakerDeck, and a multitude of others, have been used, for marketing purposes, in a range of industries from, healthcare to data analytics. Moreover, in some areas of research, TEDtalkshave become a key mechanism for presenting research findings in an engaging and entertaining fashion, which can then be amplified through social media. Academic researchers could adopt similar approaches to share their presentations quickly and easily, but to date this has not been the case.
Why aren’t research presentations shared?
Presentations come in many forms, from informal seminars to conference presentations. Accordingly, presentations can contain rudimentary first findings or a 15-year proposal for future research. So, why is this a barrier for sharing presentations?
Science is competitive
Many scientific fields have become crowded, with researchers competing for limited funding and prestigious publications. Research organizations often take a conservative and secretive approach to protect their graduate students, postdocs, and researchers. They only reveal unpublished findings to close confidantes. Sometimes not even them. Because even experienced researchers fear losing their time and money if someone publishes their results first, what is referred to as “getting scooped.”
So, it’s no wonder researchers are careful about sharing presentation data. There is a big difference between flashing a slide with some hot, new piece of data for 1 minute and putting it online for the competition to analyse extensively.
Lack of peer-review
Peer review has been criticized in recent years, but it is still considered the benchmark for determining if research should be shared with the larger field. Having this distinction can signal the difference between unsubstantiated results and solid, reliable data. Thus, without this step, data found in a presentation raises similar issues to unreviewed draft manuscripts: potentially promoting experimental and analytical errors and arguments that are unsupported by the data.
Researchers may sometimes choose to share experimental results that have not been repeated or internally validated during a presentation. This practice is related to the above point about peer review and is not done to deceive an audience, but more to spark discussion and engagement on what might be.
In these situations, presenters are typically clear that data is preliminary and no serious conclusions should be made. Sharing preliminary data from a presentation without these caveats could lead to the possibility of misinterpretation or the spread of misinformation to the larger research field or to the general public.
Opening scholarship through sharing presentations
The arguments for open science have been outlined in a number of places and while it presents certain challenges, it advocates that researchers share any and all data related to their research. Presentations should therefore be brought into the open science discussion and I outline below why this should be the case.
Publication is slow
The lengthy process of publishing a paper is a “necessary evil” of being in academia. For a variety of reasons, including the need for additional studies, rewrites, or additional rounds of lengthy review, it can sometimes take years. In these years, a lot can happen, including getting scooped. Preprint servers, like bioRxiv and SocArXiv, have helped researchers rapidly get their research out into the world, but presentations could also serve this purpose, with the added bonus of allowing researchers to use a format they are already familiar with.
Getting ahead of “the scoop”
Wouldn’t it be great, if at the beginning of a new project, you could know if someone else was further along in the same project? If researchers shared their research presentations and preliminary data more openly, competing groups might avoid project overlap, which might in turn increase efficiency, avert the heartbreak of being scooped and open up the potential for constructive collaboration between competing research groups.
Who owns science?
Nearly 50 percent of research in the US is government funded. Researchers who receive funding from the government, don’t “own” their data. Rather, it belongs to the funding organization and the taxpayers. Some publicly funded research will never be published and shared with the larger research community or general public, either because it doesn’t make sense or is a negative result. Funding organizations and taxpayers should therefore have a right to see how their money was spent, despite the result or format.
Change is the only constant
Science is constantly evolving, with old models being disproved or refined through the publication of new data. Presentation sharing could speed up the rate at which this evolution occurs by giving researchers access to important findings faster. Scientists are also by nature, skeptical, and should therefore be able to view the preliminary data and claims made with a discerning eye.
Presentations are engaging
Oral presentations give a speaker the opportunity to create a memorable, visually engaging, and entertaining experience that can be more fun than reading dry scientific literature. Sharing presentations could therefore provide a valuable alternative to disseminating research, beyond normal publication routes and audiences.
To share or not to share?
Open science is still developing, with some kinks yet to be worked out. For now, the degree to which researchers want to participate should be a personal one, left to individual researchers, their collaborators, and their research community. Alternatively, a change in the sensitivity that academics have about sharing early findings might be needed. Perhaps researchers should develop “fail fast” approach. Regardless, early findings and research presentations could be shared and discussed and their merits and faults evaluated in an open forum. Whether or not you decide to share, it is important to consider the data being presented in your research presentations: it can be a powerful medium for driving scientific progress, collaborations, and community engagement.
Elie Diner is the founder of SlideTalk, an initiative designed to help make science presentations better.