Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Catalyzed by Embargo Watch, AAS does away with “freely available but embargoed”

with 3 comments

Scientific societies must know that tomorrow will mark this week marked* Embargo Watch’s one-year anniversary. How else to explain the mad rush to join our honor roll?

OK, that’s a bit overstated, but forgive my feeling giddy. Here’s why:

Rick Fienberg, the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) press officer, got in touch today to give Embargo Watch some welcome news. Fienberg has been the society’s press officer since late 2009, working his first AAS meetings in 2010. As he wrote:

I recognized from the outset that the AAS embargo policy, which was the same as the [Division of Plantary Science's] DPS’s, was inconsistent with modern e-publishing reality, but I was too busy to do anything about it, as I had so much else to do to come up to speed in my new position.

Embargo Watch readers may recall that I, too, had problems with the AAS policy, because it went by “freely available but embargoed” rules. I tried to contact the DPS press officer — not Fienberg — for my October post, but never heard back. It appears that was a combination of his being busy with the meeting I was writing about, and his rotating out of his role as press officer, a voluntary position.

Fienberg explained how the AAS policy had come to be:

By way of background, the policy originated at a time when our meeting abstracts were published only in print, in an edition of the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (BAAS) that was distributed to attendees when they picked up their badges at the meeting’s registration desk. Apparently nobody thought to update the policy when we switched to publishing our meeting abstracts electronically and in advance of the meeting, a practice that is now several years old.

Then came the part that warmed my heart, even as a wintry mix continued to fall this afternoon in my semi-undisclosed location in Western Massachusetts:

Your blog posts motivated me to move this issue to the front burner, and I am pleased to report that a new policy has been put into effect for future meetings, beginning with the 218th AAS meeting in Boston, MA, in May 2011. You can review the new policy here: http://aas.org/press/embargo_policy. Note that it applies to the AAS as well as to our five subject-specific divisions, including the DPS, unless any of the divisions explicitly state otherwise.

I reviewed the policy, and I have to agree with Fienberg’s closing comment that “it is a lot more sensible than the old one.” For one, it starts with this:

When meeting abstracts are available publicly, either electronically or in print, they are not embargoed.

I love point three, too:

Some results to be presented at AAS or Division meetings are also the subject of papers whose manuscripts are available via preprint servers such as arXiv.org or that have already been published in scholarly journals. Such publicly available results are not embargoed.

And if, to paraphrase Jerry McGuire, the AAS had me at point one, they even go as far as to explain the policy’s history and say it no longer made any sense. After all:

…abstracts are online weeks or even months before the meeting, freely visible not only to astronomers but also to journalists and the public. Moreover, many results presented at AAS or Division meetings are also featured in online preprints or, in some cases, published papers. We cannot sensibly say that a finding is embargoed when the abstract or paper is already publicly available. Accordingly, in 2011 we revised our policy.

So kudos to AAS, which joins the unofficial Embargo Watch honor roll alongside the American Diabetes Association (ADA), American Thoracic Society, and the European Society of Human Genetics. As I noted in my post about the ADA:

I’m still waiting for the American Gastroenterological Association  (AGA), the American Astronomical Society, and the American College of Chest Physicians, publishers of CHEST, to see the light.

So, what should Embargo Watch do to celebrate its anniversary?

Updated, 5 p.m. Eastern, 2/26/11: The first sentence of this post was incorrect and has been edited, per the strikethroughs. For some reason, I had in my mind that Embargo Watch’s first post was February 26, 2010. But it was actually February 23, 2010, I was reminded by a line in this profile by the Association of British Science Writers’ Aisling Spain. Maybe I was just putting an embargo on the anniversary. In any case, apologies for being three days off.

SI was hired as AAS Press Officer in late 2009 and worked my first AAS meetings in 2010. I recognized from the outset that the AAS embargo policy, which was the same as the DPS’s, was inconsistent with modern e-publishing reality, but I was too busy to do anything about it, as I had so much else to do to come up to speed in my new position. By way of background, the policy originated at a time when our meeting abstracts were published only in print, in an edition of the Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (BAAS) that was distributed to attendees when they picked up their badges at the meeting’s registration desk. Apparently nobody thought to update the policy when we switched to publishing our meeting abstracts electronically and in advance of the meeting, a practice that is now several years old. Your blog posts motivated me to move this issue to the front burner, and I am pleased to report that a new policy has been put into effect for future meetings, beginning with the 218th AAS meeting in Boston, MA, in May 2011. You can review the new policy here: http://aas.org/press/embargo_policy. Note that it applies to the AAS as well as to our five subject-specific divisions, including the DPS, unless any of the divisions explicitly state otherwise.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

February 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Whip up some embargo-tinis. Thanks for all your excellent and hard work over the past year!

    Alex Witze

    February 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

  2. Well, how about drinks at another undisclosed Western Mass location?
    Congratulations, great work!

    Marya Zilberberg, MD, MPH

    February 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  3. Congrats! Looking forward to another year of this wonderful blog!

    Sarah Kavassalis

    February 25, 2011 at 6:49 pm


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