During a welcome reception organized by the Lindau Nobel Laureates meeting at an old museum in Lindau Isle in Germany, and as I was sitting with a group of journalists at the museum cafe having snakes and drinks and waiting to enter Picasso sketches' exhibition, Countess Bettina Bernadotte joined our table for a quick chat. As President of the Council for the Lindau meeting, the Countess kept asking if we have any comments or questions.
"If you may allow me" I said. "With all the great efforts, that has been done in the Lindau meeting, I think there should be a revision to the rule of banning journalists from attending the Laureates- young researchers afternoon meetings."
In her reply, Countess Betina said that they have launched a blog in collaboration with Nature in 4 languages English, German Spanish and Chinese to cover all what happens in the Lindau main events in addition to video and pictures services to facilitate the work of the media.
I told her that all these efforts are great and important, but forbidding the participation of the media in the afternoon session is not providing the expected freedom because there could be among the researchers one or more who are already bloggers and they could be tweeting all what is already happening in the closed rooms while we the journalists are reading they write.
Countess Betina kept silent for a moment then said that they will consider the issue.
I felt quite happy with what I have achieved. For 60+years, the organizing committee of the Lindau meetings had an orthodox rule in dealing with the media. As a journalist, you would get a kind invitation to attend the morning sessions but not to take part in most of the activities.
The uniqueness of the Lindau meeting is not in the Laureates morning talks but rather in the afternoon discussions between the young researchers and the Nobel Laureates and that is where the journalists are not allowed to be.
I always thought about the interesting talks that might happen behind the closed doors like a young researcher from Bangladesh talking about the impact of climate change on health conditions in is country or a Nigerian researcher pointing to the lake funding in pursuing her work while the Laureate listens carefully and gives his contribution to the discussion.
In an old interview with Prof Wolfgang Shurer Chairman of the Lindau Nobel Prize Winners' Meeting Foundation he explained one of the orthodox rules of the Lindau meeting by not allowing the journalists to attend the closed afternoon meetings between the young researchers and the Noble Laureates. He stressed that they are keen to offer a free liberal space to young researchers to talk and exchange their thoughts and ideas with the Laureates. He added that the presence of journalists might create a fear among young researchers that they will be quoted about their views which might cause them troubles in their countries. Prof Shurer also pointed that even if the media may help in bonding the gap between the researchers and the society it would be better to let the young researchers decide when they want or can to talk to the media.
Though I had a point in my talk with Countess Betina Bernadotte, I felt a bit uncertain. So I decided to prove that young researchers are blogging and tweeting and spreading all types of information from the closed rooms.
I started by checking the hash tags of the meeting (#lnlm11) and found that they were all written by journalists, Nature Bloggers and not a single tweet by a young researcher.
In a tweet discussion with @LouWoodley a blogger and Communities Specialist for Nature.com, she said that maybe researchers don't own smart phones or internet access or may be due to the lack of time they prefer to stay focus and listen to the talks. I replied that it s quite impossible because they are in their twenties and tweeting should be an addict for them.
In another discussion with @lucasbrouwers a science journalist from the Netherlands and blogger for Nature, he told me that most of the blogs they wrote during the conference were nearly with zero replies which proves that researchers don't read or even know about the Lindau blogs.
I decided to directly ask the researchers if they use twitter or facebook? According to Joanna Mackay Graduate student from University of California, she uses occasionally facebook for socializing with friends as this was the common social media doing her undergrad studies while she never used twitter and don't think she may need it. As for Nadia Haj Yasein a Palestinian graduate student at University of Oslo she used facebook rarely while she uses more a new social media website to read the papers of her peers. For Andrea Lima postdoc researcher from University of Chile, the researchers have quite limited time to lose it in following what is happening on the social media and for her if she has a scientific question she would send an email to the a colleague or a professor but never will use twitter or facebook for that reason.
Matthew Jones a Phd student at Northwest University explains that twitter consumes a lot of money as you may need a smart phone and to pay to receive every single tweet which is most of the time useless information. When I asked why as young researchers they are not following the trend of their generation, Phd student Melanie Klein from Institue of Immunology in Germany replied back by asking why should they? As for her trendy stuff are not always useful.
For a couple of days I interviewed about 60 of the 567 young researchers attending the event The interviewees were from all corners of the world and nearly they agreed that twitter and twittering was a waste of time and a source of distraction while facebook is just for socializing with old friends but for sure if they have some time they prefer to read a study talk with colleagues in the lab next door.
In short they prefer to be in the real world not the virtual one.