Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

How not to embargo an announcement, ScienceOnline2011 edition

with one comment

That picture is me looking surprised.

It’s there because a public relations representative asked me to look surprised when some ninth graders from Staten Island, New York started talking about the fact that they were blogging for Nature.

If that sounds strange, please read on. But before you do, please let me be absolutely clear that this post is not a reflection on the terrific teacher or students the news release was about. That teacher, Stacy Baker, aka Miss Baker, and her kids, are great, and you should follow along as they blog from ScienceOnline2011 here in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. I’m excited as always to be at ScienceOnline, which was a big part of what got me to start Embargo Watch last year, and I’ll be following the kids’ posts.

Now for the silliness. Here’s the top of a press release that went out yesterday:

Press Release
Issued on behalf of Staten Island Academy
715 Todt Hill Road, Staten Island NY
By Joan Harrison Public Relations
718 xxx

High School Students Selected to Blog for the Prestigious Nature Publishing Group

Four Staten Island Academy Grade 9 Students have been selected to write blogs for Nature Education, the educational wing of Nature Publishing Group, with their on-line educational resource, “Scitable <http://www.nature.com/scitable> .” They are the first high school students
in the world to be given this opportunity.

I was a bit puzzled by that. I’d never seen an embargo for a range of dates before. Frankly, it made no sense. So I asked Joan Harrison, who’d sent out the release, to clarify. She wrote back:

Thanks for asking. The students are looking forward to announcing this news at their presentation on Saturday morning but I wanted journalists attending the conference to know about it ahead of time so that they could make plans to interview the students about it if they were so inclined. It’s fine to publish the news as soon as the conference is underway — please just look surprised when the kids bring it up!

Looking surprised: Done.

Well, now I understood Harrison’s intentions, which weren’t hard to suss out. The embargo time was only slightly clearer, however. I wrote her back:

I guess I’m still a bit unclear on when exactly the embargo lifts. What’s the precise time? And typically embargoes are so that reporters can gather information and interview key people ahead of time — are you saying by “look surprised” that you don’t expect people to do that?

Harrison responded:

The embargo lifts as soon as the conference is officially underway. (I’m just checking on exactly what time that is.). By all means interview the students and/or Stacy whenever the opportunity presents itself. Thanks for your interest and please let me know if I can provide any further information.

In a later message, Harrison wrote:

I just wanted to confirm that the embargo lifts at 7.30pm on Thursday, January 13th.  Now that I’m back at my desktop I’ve been able to read your blog – embargowatch – I hadn’t realized that this was such a loaded topic in the scientific reporting field.  I was simply trying not to steal the thunder from a group of High Schoolers!  Glad I got your attention though.

Well, yes, embargoes do seem to be a loaded topic.

This post is going live at 6:30 instead of 7:30 after some consultation with ScienceOnline2011 co-organizer Bora Zivkovic. He was apparently as confused about the time as I was, and he’s, um, running the conference.

So what did Harrison do wrong here? Two things:

For those reasons, no one needed to follow this embargo. (Then again, I didn’t need to look surprised either.)

But this news is about a bunch of stellar ninth grade kids, so I did, along with at least one other science blogger. Now that Dr. Oransky’s 6:30 p.m. Embargoes 101 class is finished, let’s get back to ScienceOnline2011. Did I mention you can follow along as Miss Baker’s kids blog at Nature‘s SciTable?


Written by Ivan Oransky

January 13, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Yes, yes they are loaded. Like a cheesy broccoli baked potato. With bacon.

    Dave Mosher

    January 13, 2011 at 11:51 pm

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