Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Biology Letters error leads to embargo break on paper about lizard with two penises

with one comment

OK, granted I’m pushing it with the headline of this post. (Hey, Embargo Watch has a sense of humor, too.) Those of you who know anything about lizards know that all of them have two penises — actually two hemipenises. More on that later.

Now to the heart of the matter:

A Biology Letters paper out this week on a new monitor lizard found in the Philippines was embargoed until yesterday (April 6) at a minute past midnight British Standard Time, or 7:01 p.m. Eastern.

At least two stories showed up before that, however: one in a Philippine paper, and then one by the AFP that ran in The Australian, among other places.

After an Embargo Watch I asked the journal’s assistant press officer, Daisy Barton, whether these were breaks. She sent this email:

A few news stories on the monitor lizard paper were published ahead of the paper’s publication (which as you state was 0001 BST Wednesday 7th April) but this was due to human error on my part rather than deliberate embargo breaks.

We sent a press release out with information about our forthcoming papers (including the monitor lizard paper) last thing on Thursday, mistakenly stating the embargo as 7th March (rather than April) 2010.  As our offices then shut for UK bank holidays, this error wasn’t picked up here until Tuesday morning when the office reopened.  Although our advance access site (which provides copies of the papers and other additional information) displayed the correct embargo information, one or two journalists went straight to the author instead and worked from the incorrect embargo date.  By the time we spotted the mistake on Tuesday morning it was too late for these journalists to pick up the correction that we sent out.  My colleague attempted to contact the outlets in question but unfortunately time differences made this impossible so we were not able to get the news stories taken down.

In summary, I’m afraid it’s a case of human error rather than any deliberate embargo breaking.

I assume there will not be any sanctions, although by the time I had a chance to look at this it was after hours in the UK and too late to follow up. Will update if I learn differently.

Moral of the story: It’s not only journalists whose errors lead to accidentally broken embargoes.

Now to the bit about two hemipenises: Charles Choi, in his LiveScience story on the lizard, lets Rafe Brown, a field herpetologist at the University of Kansas, explain:

“Lizards keep their male reproductive organs inverted inside their bodies like a sock turned inside out, and when it’s time to use them, they evert them, flipping them out of their body and filling them with fluid so they can rigidly protrude for reproduction,” Brown said. “We call this a hemipenis, and lizards have two of them.”

And you thought there was no link between the study of amphibians and reptiles — herpetology — and herpes. Just watch whom you’re calling a hemipenis, OK?


Written by Ivan Oransky

April 7, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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One Response

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  1. Thanks for the mention, Ivan! And if the reporters said they worked from that incorrect embargo date, that strikes me as very, very suspicious. I think you’d have to be a complete idiot not to recognize they made a mistake with March and figure out they meant April. It seems to me they were just looking for a technicality to squeak by on.


    April 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

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