Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Science writers protest $675 fee for influenza conference

As reported in Jim Romanesko's column, the National Association of Science Writers has written a letter of protest objecting to an outrageous fee that the Options for the Prevention and Control of Influenza IV conference (Toronto, June 17-23.2007) is charging reporters for the privilege of doing their jobs.

In addition to the $675 fee (which clearly favors large mainstream-media organizations), reporters are being barred from covering some of the scientific sessions (what will they be discussing in those closed sessions, I wonder?), and in what seems like a juvenile display of petty spite, reporters will not have access to the scientific abstracts.

The organizer of this conference is Nancy J. Cox, Ph.D., an employee of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Cox was named Federal Employee of the Year in 2006. She is apparently unaware of the decades-long practice of allowing reporters to cover medical and scientific conferences without paying an admission fee. Or maybe she is aware but doesn't care. Or maybe the decision was in someone else's hands, and she'll quickly correct this mistake after receiving NASW's protest letter.

The letter was signed by NASW president Robert Lee Hotz, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and currently of the Wall Street Journal. I've reproduced his letter below. He makes the excellent point that much of this research was supported by public funds and deals with a subject of vital public interest. If you'd like to add your voice to his, you can reach Dr. Cox at nancy.cox@cdc.hhs.gov, phone: 404.639.2748, fax: 404.639.2334. Or you can reach CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding at julie.gerberding@cdc.hhs.gov, phone 404.639.7000.

Here's the NASW letter:

Director, Influenza Division
Director, WHO Collaborating Center for Epidemiology and Control of Influenza
National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases (proposed)
Coordinating Center for Infectious Disease
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

April 30, 2007

Dear Dr. Cox,

As president of the National Association of Science Writers, which represents 2,500 science and medical writers, I was surprised to learn that reporters will be charged $675 to attend and cover the Options for the Control of Influenza VI conference in Toronto, June 17-23, 2007. I was also dismayed to be informed that members of the press will not be given access to the conference abstracts and will be barred from some scientific proceedings.

For decades, it has been accepted practice for legitimate members of the press to be admitted to scientific and medical conferences without charge, in order to promote the timely dissemination of accurate scientific information to the public that funds such research. In this instance especially, which concerns matters so vital to public health, we would expect that you, as conference chair, and other organizers would actively encourage public dissemination of the scientific results to be presented, as a matter of sound public policy and professional conscience.

I join with our board of directors in urging the organizers of the Options for the Control of Influenza VI conference to drop their policy of charging reporters an admission fee and lift the other restrictions on open coverage of its proceedings.

I would be happy to discuss this matter with the conference organizers at their convenience.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Lee Hotz
President, National Association of Science Writers
New York, NY 10012

UPDATE 5/3/07

The conference organizers appear to have changed some of their objectionable
press registration policies. The $675 fee has disappeared, but the restrictions
on reporters attending some sessions and the ridiculous refusal to provide
reporters with abstracts still remain. See here. More to come later.

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