Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Did you know you could have bet on the NASA arsenic-based bacteria find?

with 2 comments

Bookie at Sligo, by John Pickens via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/pickens

In yesterday’s post about the NASA astrobiology embargo fiasco, I cited one of my favorite scenes from Casablanca:

…in which Captain Renault is “shocked, shocked” to find out that gambling is going on at Rick’s, only to be handed his winnings by a croupier.

Turns out, unlike some of the speculation about what NASA was set to announce, I was much closer to the truth than I imagined. From an email sent out yesterday:

In a few hours, NASA will be holding a special news conference to discuss a scientific finding that relates to the hunt for life beyond the planet Earth. What they will announce has the blogosphere buzzing.

CEO Mickey Richardson and his team at Bookmaker.com <http://www.bookmaker.com/> , one of the leading sportsbooks, has calculated the odds on the leading speculation surrounding what NASA might announce today.

WHAT WILL NASA ANNOUNCE?

NASA HAS DISCOVERED A LIFE FORM ON MARS                                   +200    33%
DISCOVERED EVIDENCE OF LIFE ON ONE OF SATURNS MOON           +110    47%
ANNOUNCES A NEW MODEL FOR THE EXISTENCE OF LIFE                 -5000   98%
UNVEILS IMAGES OF A RECOVERED ALIEN SPACECRAFT                   +300    25%
CONFESSES THAT AREA 51 WAS USED FOR THE ALIEN STUDIES        +500    16%

[The +/- Indicates the Return on the Wager. The percentage is the likelihood that response will occur. For Example: Betting on the candidate least likely to win would earn the most amount of money, should that happen.]

Bookmaker expert Mickey Richardson, CEO of Bookmaker.com, one of the largest sports books in the world, and his team of experienced odds makers, have put together lines for other Television shows such as Project Runway, Top Chef, Lost, and Dancing with the Stars.

I don’t know about you, but I was saying “wow!” when the University of Wisconsin’s Terry Devitt forwarded me this email. (And no, not because he had placed a bet and wanted to make sure I could get in on the opportunity.) I knew that online bookmaker Ladbrokes has had spreads on the Nobel Prizes, at least in literature. And the fact that Wall Streeters seem to act on embargoed studies before they’re public isn’t news to Embargo Watch readers.

Betting on scientific finds, however, was news to me.

Obviously, for reporters with access to embargoed information, this is insider trading on steroids. I’m not advocating it. In fact, I’m arguing strenuously against it. Although the EurekAlert embargo agreement doesn’t say anything about betting, even I wouldn’t argue that this was anything other than a huge violation. That goes for press ethics as much as it goes for embargo agreements.

But damn, this is a new twist.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

December 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

2 Responses

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  1. “for reporters with access to embargoed information, this is insider trading on steroids”

    Exactly – so I’m surprised they take the bet. I thought places wouldn’t take a bet if someone actually knew the outcome, it has to be uncertain (this might be UK thing, law even…? Way outside my area of expertise though)

    Wonderful extra twist to this whole story.

    alicerosebell

    December 3, 2010 at 11:24 am

  2. Yup, I got that e-mail, too. Laughed. Deleted.

    Bora Zivkovic

    December 3, 2010 at 10:33 pm


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