I am astounded by the audacity of someone photographing the presentation of another researcher and then publishing their data without the presenter's permission ('Physicists aflutter about data photographed at conference' Nature 455, 7; 2008). In what scientific forum, other than apparently the preprint server, is that permissible practice?

The implication in your News story that videorecording conference proceedings somehow justifies this unfortunate incident is misleading. The point is not that data are recorded through a particular medium. We all take notes at meetings in some form, whether physical or mental, and who hasn't had their poster transcribed nearly verbatim? Rather, the issue is whether the information is released in a fair and representative manner.

Although, as you note, videotaping conference proceedings is common in biology, we operate under an implicit, and often explicit, ethic that data presented at meetings are personal communications. As such, publication of personal communications by a second party requires formal approval from the originating researchers. This practice strikes a balance between the public good that arises from collegial sharing of preliminary results and preservation of investigators' rights to ownership of their intellectual work. Therefore, except under exceptional circumstances, scientists ought to obtain permission to cite the unpublished works of others. Sometimes investigators may unfairly withhold data that are so critical that they justify overlooking what is the norm in most academic communities. But any such putatively exceptional case of data release should require unequivocal justification.

Ethics aside, what exactly was the purpose of reporting incompletely vetted, possibly erroneous experimental results? Can the group who released the data provide assurance that the information gleaned during the presentation adequately represents the original data in all its potential complexity? If not, there seems to be little justification for, or value in, usurping the intellectual rights of the group that originally generated and presented the results. And it is doubtful whether all those who contributed to the project received proper credit.

This case violates the spirit of collegiality that most scientists hold as an ideal in our public discourse. We all accept that others may scoop our work. We should not have to worry about being scooped by our own data.