Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Archive for March 2010

Did you know The Lancet has two different embargo times?

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Keeping track of time zones when it comes to embargoes is tricky enough. But today I learned that the embargo for The Lancet may differ depending where in the world you’re sitting.

Colleagues of mine in the UK got a press release about a study coming out later today, embargoed for a minute after midnight tomorrow (Thursday) London time, or 7:01 p.m. Eastern today. My team got the same press release, but with an embargo time of 6:30 p.m. Eastern today.

I was puzzled, to say the least. When I asked Lancet press officer Tony Kirby about the discrepancy, he told me to go with 6:30 if I decided to cover the study: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

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AFP breaks European Heart Journal embargo on chocolate and blood pressure study

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The AFP broke an embargo yesterday on a study in the European Heart Journal suggesting that people who eat dark chocolate may have a lower risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. The study, whose press release took advantage of the seasonal timing and started with “Easter eggs and other chocolate may be good for you,” was embargoed until 5 minutes past midnight London time today, Wednesday, March 31, but the wire service’s version of the story went out yesterday morning, when at least one site ran it. (That site was in Belgium, known of course for its chocolate.)

In response, Emma Mason, who handles media for a number of Oxford University Press journals including the European Heart Journal, lifted the embargo in an email sent out at 5:43 a.m. London time yesterday, while the circumstances of the break were still unclear. This morning, she sent an email to her press list: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

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When did scientific embargoes start?

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Edwin E. Slosson, standing at left. Watson Davis is the other man, seated. The women in the 1920s photo are not identified. Source: The Smithsonian Institution http://siarchives.si.edu/findingaids/faru7091.htm

To those of us working in science journalism today, it’s hard to imagine a time without the embargo.  But it may also not be that surprising that the practice, at least for scientific research, appears to only date back to 1920s.

In 1921, with funding from E.W. Scripps, the not-for-profit news agency Science Service was born. Its founding editor, chemist Edwin E. Slosson, “had taught at the University of Wyoming for thirteen years until moving to New York to become the literary editor of The Independent,” according to the description of a collection of Science Service materials now at the Smithsonian.

Science Service, which was later renamed the Society for Science & the Public, publishes Science News and sponsors the Intel Science Talent Search. Those scientists and other advocates for science who bemoan editors’ feelings about science in 2010, and those reporters whom have ever interviewed an apprehensive scientist, may find something familiar in the story of how Science Service began. Civil engineer-turned journalist Watson Davis was one of the first hires in 1921, according to a 1997 Science News 75th anniversary retrospective: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

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How does a four-hour embargo give the media time to do a good job?

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One of the reasons you hear most often if you ask journals why they embargo papers is that reporters will have more time to write better stories. The New England Journal of Medicine is no exception. From their press kit:

The Journal embargo policy is designed primarily to ensure that physician subscribers have their copy of the Journal at about the same time their patients hear about new research through the news media. It also gives the media time to learn about a topic, gather relevant information, and interview authors and other experts so they can accurately report complex research findings.

Evidently, yesterday, four hours was enough time. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 25, 2010 at 9:00 am

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UK Parliament press officer apologizes for telling Independent on Sunday to break his embargo

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photo by ** Maurice ** via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/mauricedb/

Several days ago, The UK’s Independent on Sunday newspaper carried a story (link is to another version; Sunday story doesn’t seem to be available online) reporting that the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, led by MP Tim Yeo, had found that air pollution was causing 50,000 people in the UK to die early every year. The government, according to a report by the committee, wasn’t doing enough to solve the problem.

The report was incendiary enough, but what got Ben Webster, environmental correspondent for The Times of London, particularly irritated was that the report was embargoed until Monday morning. The Independent on Sunday — often referred to as the Sindy — seemed to have broken an embargo to which every other UK news outlet had agreed.

Ben called Nick Davies, the Parliament press officer who had handled the report, only to find out that the Sindy had broken the embargo with Nick’s permission. In an email Sunday morning to more than 20 environmental correspondents at various UK news outlets, Ben wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 24, 2010 at 9:26 am

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So who gets access to embargoed studies, anyway?

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Photo by B I R D via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/greatwork/

Last week, a blogger who goes by GrrlScientist applied for access to embargoed materials from EurekAlert!, the the press release clearinghouse run by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Within four minutes, she was denied.

GrrlScientist was angry, and in a blog post titled “Goddam, But I Hate Embargoes,” she spewed venom in a number of directions. She called the policy “stupid.” She had some choice words for the mainstream media, too, and wrote that “If a MSM reporter breaks embargo, their organization is almost never ‘punished’ by having their literature access revoked.” I’d have to take issue with that: See this example, this other one, and this third one all since Embargo Watch debuted in late February, and this one from 2007 that I referenced last week. (I should note that she later called this rant “mild by internet/blogosphere standards.”) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Are these embargo breaks?

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Two items caught my eye today. (Well, actually one caught my eye, and the other caught an Embargo Watch tipster’s eye.)

First, this blog entry from Merrill Goozner, in which he quotes a paragraph from an editorial he wrote that’s appearing in the Archives of Internal Medicine next week. The editorial is in response to this study about how the media covers cancer treatments. The study was released early, on March 16, but the editorial — as Merrill notes — is still embargoed.

Next, this tweet from USA Today’s Rita Rubin:

CDC to release report 3/23 on U.S. c-section trends. It’s embargoed until 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. I’ll tweet a link to my story that afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 19, 2010 at 3:49 pm

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AHCJ wants medical societies to stop conference recording and photography bans

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Feel free to use these at conferences, but don't dare use your camera or recorder. Photo by RogueSun Media via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/shuttercat7/

If you’ve ever covered a medical meeting, you’ve had some version of the following experience: You’re sitting in a crowded presentation, scribbling as fast as you can in a notebook, or typing into a laptop, as a researcher runs through PowerPoint slides at breakneck speed.

If you’re at most conferences, you’ve got a safety net: Whip out your camera, and take pictures of the slides to check later, or record the presentation so you don’t miss anything. Or do both.

But if you’re covering one of at least four medical societies’ conferences [see update below], neither of those things is an option. That’s because they prohibit recording and photography. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 18, 2010 at 4:48 pm

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World Health Organization embargo on multi-drug resistant TB data broken

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The embargo on a World Health Organization study of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis has been broken, according to an email from the organization today at 12:07 Eastern time. The news was embargoed until 11 a.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Geneva time on Tuesday, March 23 — World TB Day.

Sarah Boseley of The Guardian reported that a Swedish newspaper broke it. On April 1, the WHO confirmed that it was the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, whose reporters will be barred from the WHO media list for a month.

The WHO has taken a hard line against embargo breaks in the past. In December 2007, they suspended The New York Times from their media distribution list for two weeks after the paper accidentally broke the embargo on a study on measles. When the WHO sent out an email about the punishment, Slate‘s Jack Shafer noted said the Times was “publicly spanked,” and I called it a “public flogging.”

This post has been updated from the original, most recently at 9:20 a.m. Eastern on April 1, 2010.

Hat tip to Maryn McKenna

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 18, 2010 at 2:32 pm

About to post a story on a Nature study? Check that embargo time again

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Credit: Nature

Most weeks of the year, the embargo for the print issue of Nature would be lifting right now — at 1 p.m. Eastern — and many websites and wire services would be full of stories reporting on Nature studies. Today, however, anyone who posts before 2 p.m. Eastern will be breaking an embargo.

That’s because while the U.S. sprang ahead into Daylight Savings Time early Sunday morning, the U.K. doesn’t do so until March 28, 11 days from now. Every year, there’s a two-week window when the usual five-hour time difference between London and New York is actually four hours. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm

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