Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Science Neanderthal DNA embargo broken

with 2 comments

At least two newspapers broke the embargo on last week’s study in Science that gave us lovely headlines such as “DNA proves we had sex with Neanderthals.”

That title came courtesy of The Daily Telegraph of Australia, whose story seems to have posted about 12 hours before the 2 p.m. Eastern embargo Thursday. The story was taken down at the request of Science, according to Natasha Pinol, senior communications officer at the AAAS/Science office of public programs.

Science also asked another paper in Ireland* to take down their story that went live before the embargo, Natasha told me Friday. Because of the various time differences, Science is still gathering information to decide whether there will be sanctions against the papers.

The Daily Telegraph, it should be noted, gave the world this headline last September: “Neanderthal man was a brutal cranivore (sic) who hunted and raped humans.” I believe a cranivore is an animal that eats heads, but maybe someone with more anthropology expertise can correct me.

Update, 7:30 a.m. Eastern, 5/12/2010: Natasha emailed me yesterday after the Science investigation was complete. Accidental break, no sanctions:

As a followup to your email query and after an investigation into the embargo violation matter, the Daily Telegraph Australia assures us that the premature posting of the Neandertal DNA information was the unintentional result of human error. They had made proactive efforts to remove the story as soon as they were contacted by the Science press office and so we concur with EurekAlert!’s conclusion today that this news outlet should be advised that any additional incidents will result in revocation of access to our embargoed content. The Daily Telegraph Australia posting apparently triggered two other instances of premature posting of this information; both of the media outlets in that case promptly removed their posts when contacted by us.

Hat tip to Carl Zimmer and Razib Khan

Correction (posted 5:30 Eastern, 5/12/10): The sentence with an asterisk in the third paragraph has been changed to remove the incorrect name of a paper that had broken the embargo. This seems to have been the result of a miscommunication. Here’s what happened: In an email to Natasha, I initially named a second newspaper site that had broken the embargo. In her response, she wrote that “Yes, these stories were taken down at our request.” I now understand that she meant “these stories” generically, as opposed to the stories in the specific papers I had named, one of which was The Daily Telegraph in Australia and the other of which I have now learned was incorrect. At the time, she seemed to be confirming breaks by the two sites I had named. Apologies for the confusion.


Written by Ivan Oransky

May 10, 2010 at 9:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. A cranivore is a creature who eats cranberries. (Head eaters end up with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.)

    Nancy Lapid

    May 10, 2010 at 9:56 am

  2. hopefully in the future someone at science will make use of “google alerts.”


    May 11, 2010 at 5:32 am

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