Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

AAS plays the “freely available but embargoed” game with its conference abstracts

with 3 comments

The American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences meeting will finish up today in Pasadena, California. It’s been the subject of lots of news coverage of the conference in many science-themed outlets. (One reporter, Science News‘ Ron Cowen, got Ingelfingered.)

But it turns out you didn’t need to wait until this week to read about the abstracts at that conference. In yet another example of “freely available but embargoed,” those abstracts were all online and open to the public at least two weeks before the conference started.

Emily Lakdawalla, who blogs for The Planetary Society, alerted me to the availability of the abstracts on Twitter on September 17.

I contacted the DPS press officer when Lakdawalla first let me know about the abstracts, but I never heard back. I was kind of hoping they’d change their minds, as the European Society of Human Genetics did. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

I know about at least two other meetings coming up in the next few weeks whose abstracts are freely available but embargoed. In keeping with an admittedly conservative Embargo Watch policy, I will not name those until after the “embargoes” lift.

I really doubt that Jonathan Leake will do the same. And I really couldn’t blame him.


Written by Ivan Oransky

October 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Online and open to the public but not journalists.

    Typical thinking of these journals. If you are clever or persistent enough you can usually find the information.

    david levine

    October 8, 2010 at 11:59 am

  2. Hi Ivan
    Of course it would be wrong to name the sites publicly but we are of course happy to pay the usual tip-off fee. …. 😉
    I cd even give you a byline…

    Jonathan Leake

    October 9, 2010 at 5:33 am

  3. From an earlier post on embargowatch

    My early years in newspaper journalism were spent covering political and health issues and these involved attending lots of meetings for which agendas would be circulated in advance. We would scour these agendas to hunt out the issues that made good stories. The aim was always to get these sorts of documents first and find the best stories first. Waiting for a press officer to issue an embargoed press release and then publishing on a date specified by them would have got you the sack pretty fast. The same still applies in most areas of journalism – except science. Why is that?

    My view is that science conferences are not that different from any other kind of meeting. And scouring the agenda of science meetings for potential stories is exactly what science journalists ought to be doing.
    Conversely, waiting for press officers to decide, on your behalf, what constitutes a story and when it should be published may get you a good showing, in science writing anyway – but it is not journalism. It’s an extension of PR. We’ve all done to some extent but we need to be clear what it is.

    The reality is that institutionalised embargo systems sit very uneasily with proper journalism. Journalism is not a concensual business – or shouldn’t be. Instead it should be highly competitive with writers striving for the best stories and striving to get them first. Embargo systems negate all that.

    The embargo system does have a place – I can understand why journals like Nature and Science might want to control the stories surrounding the papers they publish. If journaists want to sign up to that then fine. It brings a lot of constraints and compromises but it certainly saves writers all the work of finding their own stories and I can understand that too. I’ve used press releases myself of course.

    The real issue then is the not the existence but the scale of these institutionalised embargo systems. I suggest that in science the embargo system has expanded to the point where it has shifted the culture of science journalism away from inquiry and enterprise into one where writers are instead judged partly by how obedient they are to an arcane set of rules created by journals and others with vested, often commercial, interests.

    The fact that you send me these emails each Sunday morning asking these same questions (to which you already have generic answers) is a manifestation of that. A few years ago it would have been normal to congratulate journalists for their scoops and extraordinary to quiz or criticise them about their sources. Now its the other way round.

    Jonathan Leake

    October 11, 2010 at 6:55 am

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