The forum that never happened

Recently, I keep seeing this on SEG meeting information:

Note: The mechanical recording of any portion of the [meeting] in any form (photographic, electronic, etc.) is strictly prohibited. Printed reference to the [...] presentations or discussions is not permitted without the consent of the parties involved. All participants are requested to omit public reference to the [...] proceedings in any published work or oral presentation. Only registrants are permitted to attend Forum sessions. Each participant agrees to these regulations when application is accepted [...]

Interesting! 'Regulations' about what a person can and can't say or write about a scientific meeting, a sort of gag order. It goes further: in an attempt to limit what is revealed to the outside world, abstracts are not required at some meetings, only short descriptions. There shall be no evidence of the talk even taking place.

I am convinced that meetings like this are unhelpful, unscientific, and unproductive. Here's why:

We are free. I am a professional scientist and I own my brain. If I want to talk about my field with other professionals, in public if I so wish, then I am entitled to do that. Of course I won't disclose proprietary information, but that's different — proprietary information hasn't been presented at a conference of my competitors.

Public is public. Here's how a forum should work: people should present things they wish to make public. When they're public, they're public, end of story. Asking for secret meetings is like asking for privacy on Facebook. If you want secret, pick up the phone or huddle in dark corners. Or consider the Chatham House Rule.

Ilya Repin, The Secret Meeting

Secrecy is a bug, not a feature. SEG is a technical society for the advancement of applied geophysics and those who practise it. It's not The Magic Circle. The difference between science and magic is that in science, we do things transparently whenever we can. I know industry is a bit different, but in the interests of innovation and excellence, we need more openness, not less.

No product? No point. If you organize a workshop and there is no tangible outcome — no abstracts, no proceedings (remember those?), no recording — then it's my conviction that there was no point in your workshop, except perhaps for the handful of people who came.

Down with elitism. Surely SEG stands for technical excellence among all of its members, not just the privileged few with the time and resources to write papers and travel to workshops? If you're using the resources of technical societies (their time, attention, and marketing clout) then I believe it's your duty to the membership, and to the science as a whole, to share.

An unsolved problem. Corporate secrecy was identified as one of the top unsolved problems of subsurface science in our recent unsession. So what are we playing at? Are we professionals and scientists or just industrial magicians, selfishly hoarding our ideas and data, and slowing innovation down for everyone? What do you think?