Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

How to demonstrate you’re not about transparency — and piss off reporters — as a PIO

with 171 comments

Ed Yong, courtesy Ed Yong

Ed Yong just wanted to look at the data.

This past weekend, he found an intriguing embargoed press release about mummy toes and prosthetics, and realized that the “study” to which the release referred was actually just a Perspective in The Lancet. When he emailed the press officer who’d written the release, he learned that the actual data weren’t yet published, but that the Perspective was “peer reviewed using the data.”

Readers of this blog are probably familiar with Yong, science blogger extraordinaire. He writes the extremely popular — and award-winning, for good reason — Not Exactly Rocket Science blog at Discover.

So it won’t be a surprise to learn that Yong wanted more information. He understood that there wasn’t a typical peer-reviewed study published yet, but he wanted to at least speak with the author, whose contact information didn’t seem to be anywhere on the web. So he asked the press officer for those details.

That’s where the ridiculousness started, as Yong relates on his Posterous. The PIO, the University of Manchester’s Aeron Haworth, responded:

I think you have all you need for a blog.

That seemed a bit unusual. Yong — who was too polite to name the PIO, which I just did — replied:

Interesting. Do you often tell journalists when you think they’ve had enough material for their reporting?

Haworth (capital letters are Yong’s redactions):

No, but I sometimes have to prioritise requests, particularly where academics are reluctant participants and I have already asked LEAD AUTHOR to do a number of interviews. If you want to email any specific questions, I’m happy to pass them on.

Yong was sympathetic — although I have to ask why academics are reluctant to talk about their work, and will cover this later — but got this “without any further prompting”:

For information, I was a journalist for 15 years, which included being a newspaper editor and a magazine publisher. I am therefore suitably qualified to advise journalists. Your blog articles are about half the length of my press release and certainly a lot shorter than the JOURNAL paper, hence why I wondered why you needed yet more information. Still, I’m willing to forward any specific questions you might have as per my previous email but please don’t try to patronise me. I’m a bit too long in the tooth.

Let that sink in for a bit. A PIO who considers himself “suitably qualified to advise journalists” is telling a journalist — and Yong certainly is one, by any definition — that he has all he needs for a blog.

Who’s patronizing whom? I believe the word you were looking for is projection, Mr. Haworth.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. But it fits with these:

  • The FDA telling reporters who agree to their embargoes that they can’t discuss the material with anyone for outside comment before the embargo lifts, suggesting they are actually interested in stenographers, not reporters
  • The executive director of the American Cetacean Society telling a freelancer he can only have a press pass if it’s a “mutually beneficial relationship” — aka quid pro quo
  • The editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery telling Embargo Watch sister blog Retraction Watch that the reasons for an opaque retraction were “none of your damn business”
  • The New England Journal of Medicine giving reporters just 24 hours with a study, prioritizing their weekly embargo time instead of finding a way to give journalists a galley proof version of studies so they could have more time to scrutinize the findings

What do these episodes have in common? They all give the strong impression that what press officers — and in one case, an editor — at various journals and institutions are looking for are boosterish stenographers, not journalists who apply skeptical scrutiny to findings and announcements. This, of course, from PIOs supposedly representing science, whose participants and advocates love to remind us all of how transparent the process is.

This is a great example of what embargoes hath wrought. They have given institutions the complete upper hand. I’m going to blame reporters here too: Journalists who don’t mind being infantilized have accepted these embargo policies without putting up a fight. There are exceptions, of course, Yong only the most recent.

But it’s time for this to stop. These policies simply aren’t consistent with the free flow of information, nor with transparency. And if they’re a government agency, or promoting publicly funded research, I think there are First Amendment questions. Today, for example, the Association of Health Care Journalists, where I’m treasurer of the board of directors, asked the FDA to re-evaluate its policy. And Denise Graveline, on the always insightful Don’t Get Caught blog, asks whether PR needs its own transparency.

How to fight on? Here’s an idea that might just gain currency in our more transparent world, where it’s never that hard to find out where information came from: Reporters should include a mention of the fact that the materials were obtained under an embargo agreement, and the conditions under which they accepted it, including how long they had to report on the story.

One news organization, MedPage Today, did something similar about a related issue, and announced that they would note whenever a PIO listened in on a conversation. As MedPage Today told AHCJ’s Covering Health blog:

“If a source’s comments are monitored by a press officer, then the person may not have been speaking freely,” said Peggy Peck, vice president and executive editor. “That’s information readers should have.”

Do I think reporters will embrace my embargo transparency approach? I’m reminded of John Rennie’s suggestion to limit “study of the week” journalism: That journalists agree not to publish anything about a particular study for six months. He called it untenable, but wanted to make people think.

Embargo Watch readers can tell me whether this peeling back the layers of the onion policy will make sense, or will help. But I feel strongly we have to do something.

By the way, Haworth was embargoing something for 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, February 13th that was published in the February 12 issue of The Lancet — which had gone live on the evening of the 11th Eastern time. So he was putting an embargo on something that was already freely available.

That’s two strikes that make me wonder about his claim that he is “suitably qualified to advise journalists.”

Update (12:40 p.m. Eastern, 2/14/11): Thanks to Maria Wolters (h/t Ben Goldacre), you can read Haworth’s advice for press officers, from an interview with Sense about Science.

Update (7:30 a.m. Eastern, 2/15/11): There has been a reasonable question from a number of people about whether the Aeron Haworth commenting below is the real Haworth. I emailed him last night to ask, but have not had any responses. He responded to Ben Goldacre, however, confirming that it is him.

Update (10 a.m. Eastern, 2/16/11): Yong and Haworth have both left what will likely be their last comments on this issue, at least for a while. Because of some formatting issues, and the length of the comment thread, I’ve called attention to those two comments in a new post.


Written by Ivan Oransky

February 14, 2011 at 10:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

171 Responses

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  1. Wow, this is getting to be just like dear old mother Russia…


    February 14, 2011 at 11:17 am

    • It’s really no wonder that science ‘sources’ such as this aren’t taken too seriously in the main stream. The absurd nature of the comments below regarding one individual and his comments are testament to that.

      It’s hardly science is it? It’s more of what an elementary school teacher should be dealing with. Put your energies to better use. It’s quite pathetic.

      Russell Lee

      April 28, 2011 at 10:53 am

  2. As another point of interest, one of the things I wanted to ask the lead researcher (aside from the actual details of her unpublished study) was why there was a three-year gap between announcing the plans (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6918687.stm) and the non-publication of the data. Just seemed a bit bizarre, especially since the sample size was two. I’m not crying foul – it just seemed like there might be an interesting tale there.

    Ed Yong

    February 14, 2011 at 11:21 am

    • Because PhDs tend to take three years perhaps? This was her PhD thesis.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 3:56 pm

      • Well, it certainly would have been nice if you had allowed the journalist – who is the only real advocate a reader has – to ask this question, wouldn’t it?


        JoAnn Wypijewski, Senior Editor
        The Nation

        JoAnn Wypijewski

        February 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

  3. The University of Manchester has one of the worst press offices in the country. It’s embarrassing to science – see the press coverage about cancer being a ‘modern invention’.


    February 14, 2011 at 11:40 am

    • That is a complete slur. We are one of the most proactive press offices in the UK and provide journalists with great stories daily. The article to which you refer, which was published in Nature, generated a great deal of scientific debate, not least within our own scientific community. What is wrong with that?

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  4. “where academics are reluctant participants”…

    Umm, they publish and they are reluctant to discuss? That’s seriously FUBAR.


    February 14, 2011 at 11:43 am

    • It’s a fact of life for science communicators, many of whom will tell you the biggest barrier to communicating research results to the public is a scientist’s unwillingness to participate in media interviews or even public talks. This is changing in some circles, due to mandates from government funders–the U.S. National Science Foundation is emphasizing the need for its funded PIs to communicate the broader relevance of their research–but it is just as often discouraged by others in academe.

      Denise Graveline

      February 14, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    • Scientists publish in academic journals to their peers. It doesn’t automatically follow that they should want to speak to the lay media. It is PIOs that persuade them to engage. The world would get to hear about far fewer breakthroughs without PIOs. Journalists might want to consider this before berating us.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

      • I’m a scientist, not a journalist, Aeron and certainly am not berating you by any stretch of the imagination. Your point is taken and I’ve been there many times with pharma company scientists who are often reluctant to speak to the lay media, yet it is naive of them not to expect that groundbreaking research might attract attention. It goes with the territory.

        Oddly, medical oncologists would often chop off your hand for an opportunity to speak to media and gain some attention!


        February 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      • You publish in Nature, Lancet, Science, Cell, etc. then you’d better be up for talking to the media. All the media. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

        You don’t want to talk to media? Publish in the Journal of Vacuum Cleaners and Technology.

        More to the point, you don’t wanna talk to the media, get off the public purse.

        Ed Gerstner

        February 14, 2011 at 8:39 pm

      • If a PIO has to persuade and cajole a researcher into talking to reporters about their research, the PIO has failed to educate the authors about their’s — and their institution’s — responsibility to the public. A good PIO seeks a professional partnership with the researcher, each bringing their skills to bear to explain the research to the public, usually through the news media. That’s the nature of the business and the PIO’s credibility and respect has to be earned every day. And in this case . . . anyway, on behalf of the good, professional PIOs trying to better communicate about science, apologies to Ed Yong! Geez . . . it’s unreal that Haworth obviousl had no clue as to who Ed was. That speaks volumes!

        Earle Holland

        February 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    • To take a cynical tack, your future funding is based on how much you’ve published in peer reviewed journals. If your goal is to do good science, and lots of it, talking to mainstream reporters usually doesn’t help in any way.

      That is a bit shortsighted, and universities have PR departments for a reason. But they are mainly there for prestige reasons (which, again, help in the funding process and positioning yourself towards donors).

      Not to say that researchers shouldn’t talk to the mainstream media, but plenty of the time it will gain them not nothing. Nor is most mainstream science writing succeeding in informing the public. You can get all high and mighty about how journalists should have access for the public good, but we all know most of what gets published and read isn’t really science anyway. Not to mention you might find yourself in the crosshairs of some hack who seems to think your entire field is bunk (see: global warming).


      February 15, 2011 at 4:57 am

  5. Ah, the old “I used to be a journalist; here’s how to do your job” bit. In my experience, the vast majority of press officers don’t engage in this kind of nonsense — but it’s nonetheless a trope I’ve heard before. Usually, it crops up when the reporter is on to something controversial and the PIO is trying to do damage control. It’s odd indeed to see it in this case, where there’s no readily apparent controversy (is there?).

    What perplexes me most about it is that it can’t possibly accomplish anything — can it? I don’t know a single journalist who would be cowed by such a statement. If anything, this kind of hostility surely just breeds more hostility.

    Mary Carmichael

    February 14, 2011 at 11:46 am

    • Evidently.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    • Hear hear!! This retort is often given by a “I’ve been a journalist” that does not have any formal education in communication theory. And as well as possibly going into damage control is also going into “I really have no idea and can’t be bothered’ mode.

      Susan Kirk

      March 17, 2011 at 8:01 am

  6. John’s thought experiment about the post-publication blackout is interesting, but this is already a prominent part of the science-journalism universe — in monthly magazines. Features [and even the news sections] in Discover, Sci Am, Wired, etc do plenty of journalism on the timeline that he’s talking about. Don’t they help sort out what are the truly important findings and ideas, while letting forgettable blips fade away? Science is also covered, with varying quality, in monthly general-interest magazines.

    Amos Zeeberg

    February 14, 2011 at 11:57 am

    • I’ve been thinking tweeting John Rennie about this very point. His proposal to get away from “paper of the week” science writing is great, and it was my top take-home when he presented it at the WCSJ. However, upon reflection I wondered about the same feature/news distinction you’ve identified. I think John’s got something more subtle in mind.


      February 14, 2011 at 5:17 pm

  7. As the appropriate Dutch proverb goes: this guy has long toes.


    February 14, 2011 at 1:33 pm

  8. How nice to have my 15 minutes of fame, courtesy of Mr Yong. I regularly check into this site as I think there are discussions to be had about embargoes. Journals set embargoes, not institutions. However, when a journal embargo falls at a time that will be impossible for the researchers to accommodate requests, then we might introduce an embargo so that we can accommodate as many journalists as possible and provide a level playing field. I have spent the past three days supplying information to journalists across the world about this story. It is only Mr Yong that appears to have taken issue. If he wasn’t so patronising towards PIOs then perhaps he would have received more cooperation. It’s also disappointing that the writer of this blog thought to attack someone without bothering to contact them for a response. Good journalism? No, just silly mischievousness. No self-respecting journalist would write an article attacking an individual without giving them the right to reply. And they would write the finished article in a way that left it to the reader to make up their own mind. There is a debate to be had about embargoes, and I would be more than happy to contribute. But start showing me that you are running a serious website first.

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    • Thanks for weighing in, Aeron, glad to have you as part of the conversation. Follow-ups to one of your comments:

      However, when a journal embargo falls at a time that will be impossible for the researchers to accommodate requests, then we might introduce an embargo so that we can accommodate as many journalists as possible and provide a level playing field.

      1) The journal in question, The Lancet, did not release this material under embargo. They simply released it with the rest of the issue. If at that point you’d like to simply put out a release, that’s one thing, but how can justify an embargo on information that is already available?

      2) If the point here was “accommodate as many journalists as possible,” then why was Ed’s request for contact details and an interview turned down?


      February 14, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      • The Lancet set two embargoes. One for the US and one for the UK. The UK embargo fell on a Saturday. It is impossible to get stories like this into weekend papers in the UK. I also had to work with the availability of the researcher. Journalists would be the first to complain if a press release was issued but there was no one to talk to them. I therefore tried to arrange things so that journalists would be accommodated. We even had a debate in the office about it as it’s not something we would normally do. We felt it important to try and get maximum coverage for the public by trying to fit in with journalists. Friday for Monday seemed the best option given the awkward embargo set by the Lancet. This did, of course, mean I would be working over the weekend. I don’t mind, of course, but I did take exception to Ed’s email and tone. As I said, I think there is a debate to be had about embargoes, not least because university press offices cannot respond quickly enough to online publication by journals. I don’t receive Lancet press releases but I was told by the academic that they planned to issue one.

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      • Thanks, Aeron, for the explanation. Perhaps you understood that The Lancet was going to issue a press release, but I do receive their releases, and they did not issue one for this paper. And as I noted earlier, the paper has been online since Friday UK time. Either way, you ended up embargoing something that was freely available — a position I’ve argued before is indefensible.

        If you are saying that your response to Ed was based on his “email and tone,” I appreciate your frankness. But I’ll note that you denied his request and told him “I think you have all you need for a blog” before he wrote anything you claim was objectionable. The entire exchange is available here.


        February 14, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      • Ivan, I have explained the difficult situation I was in. My job is to try and get as much publicity as possible for the work of our researchers. I don’t like being held hostage to journals’ embargoes as you don’t. But I have other considerations to bear in mind, like when will a researcher be available for interview. All of this was taken into consideration in my decision, as well as the needs of journalists. The important thing, surely, is that science gets out to the public. Your obsession with embargoes misses so many points.

        If I decide that I don’t like the tone of a journalist, then I am well within my rights to advise my academic not to talk to him/her. I took this view with Ed, and given that he has decided to vilify me in his blog (and yours), I would suggest I had good reason. I have broad shoulders and don’t care about such folly but I am so pleased I did not put a media-shy scientist in front of him.

        I will be letting every UK press officer know about his antics and he is unlikely to get cooperation from this side of the Atlantic in future. It’s a shame, as the UK produces some of the best science in the world.

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 5:42 pm

      • Aeron, so you are being secret and crack and elite and everythin’ at this PIO stuff—and you don’t know who Ed Yong is? *lol*

        Peter Beattie

        February 14, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    • “It’s also disappointing that the writer of this blog thought to attack someone without bothering to contact them for a response. Good journalism? No, just silly mischievousness.”

      I think Ivan had all he needed for a blog.

      Ed Yong

      February 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm

      • So blogs require less journalistic rigour than newspapers? I rest my case.

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  9. Ivan, please add Darwinius to your pantheon of bad behavior. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/05/21/science-held-hostage/

    Carl Zimmer

    February 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm

  10. I am very relieved to have never encountered these kinds of attitudes when working with colleagues in other institutions to promote joint research.

    William Raillant-Clark

    February 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    • What? The relationship between PIOs and journalists should be symbiotic but if you want to be a doormat that’s up to you. Btw, this story will be on CBC very soon.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      • Sorry, I should have said as “described here.”

        I am familiar with researchers who suddenly limit their media accessibility halfway through a promotion, and I am sure that my frustration has been shared by many PIOs. I prefer to think that the symbiotic relationship is between the researcher and the journalist, and that I am simply there to facilitate that. I have been fortunate that in my experience, while frustrated, most of the journalists I have worked with have understood the difficulties I face in terms of the attitudes some scientists have with regards to the media.

        On a different note, the story is a great one – I look forward to checking out the CBC coverage! 🙂

        William Raillant-Clark

        February 14, 2011 at 4:41 pm

      • I looked for the story on CBC but can only see this 2007 story: Mummy’s fake toe could be earliest prosthesis http://j.mp/hQwmuj

        Where else was the story?

        Cdn Scientist

        February 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm

      • Aeron, I have been both a PIO and a journalist, and I’m also a bit long in the tooth, and I am telling you as one caring human being to another: for god’s sake, man, stop digging. You failed to recognize one of the UK’s top science writers, condescended to him, and are now compounding your error – for the entire world to view – by becoming more and more defensive. I’m not certain what sort of contract you have with your current employer: if it doesn’t run right up until you plan to retire, I would stop now, offer Ed an cordial apology for your initial mistake, and let the entire world move on. Otherwise, the name “Aeron Haworth” will become Google-synonymous with “doesn’t keep up with who’s writing in his field” and “needlessly unconstructive and insulting.”

        Of course, on scrolling down and seeing your deliberate rudeness to Carl Zimmer (!), I wonder if that might not be a good thing for science writing in general. But I prefer to think better of you.

        Chris Clarke

        February 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm

  11. I’ve just reread Haworth’s comment and find it a marvel. Journals set embargoes, not institutions. Except, of course, when institutions set embargoes. Hm?

    Was Ed Yong patronizing? I can’t see any sign of that from the email correspondences Yong laid out. He was annoyed at the treatment he received, and rightly so, I think. (Full disclosure: I also blog at Discover.)

    Nor was Yong attacking Mr. Howarth in his post, in some mean-spirited ad hominem way. He was describing the emails he got from Mr. Howarth.

    As for a response–it doesn’t seem terribly important to get a response from Howarth in a case where Yong has a whole thread of emails from him already–a thread in which Mr. Howarth never laid out whatever rationale he might have had for treating Ed Yong the way he chose.

    I am very grateful that the vast majority of PIOs don’t act this way.

    Carl Zimmer

    February 14, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    • Mr Haworth to you Sir. 😉

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 4:52 pm

  12. re: “boosterish stenographers, not journalists who apply skeptical scrutiny.”

    I’ve always taken that as a given. It’s not a question of integrity, it’s just that p.i.o.s are paid to get flattering coverage about their institutions into the news stream. Why this one chose the tactics alleged here remains a mystery.

    Joe Rojas-Burke

    February 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    • No, PIOs are not universally paid to “get flattering coverage about their institutions.” They’re supposed to be providing accurate and open information when requested — that’s why they’re called “public information officers.” You’re referring to public relations folk and, while some may disbelieve, there is a major difference between the two, if only in attitude toward their jobs. Where Mr. Haworth comes down is pretty clear, and while it’s easy to be empathetic to the trials of source availability on the weekends, and even hesitant sources, the simple solution to those pitfalls is to just don’t do the release. And certainly don’t ever embargo anything that’s already public. That simply makes no sense.

      Earle Holland

      February 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm

  13. My apologies–I misread Haworth’s comment and thought that by “this blog” he was referring to Yong’s post, not Oransky’s.

    Still, if Haworth’s comment reflects what he would have said if asked for a reply, it’s pretty thin gruel, for the reasons I laid out above.

    Carl Zimmer

    February 14, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  14. I don’t want to pile on here but Haworth insists on shoving his foot in his mouth a bit further every time he responds. Instead of perhaps learning from his mistake– we’ve all had our bad days, after all– he keeps trying to make a case for an indefensible position. But he doesn’t even respond directly to any of the key points made by Yong and Oransky. And his deficient grammar and logic do little to enhance his reputation as either a PIO or a “former journalist.”

    Larry Husten

    February 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    • I think you’re just trying to goad me Larry. And please call me Aeron. Email me your specific points and I will try to respond.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

  15. Well it’s interesting to hear all your views. I have always found US and Canadian journalists very polite. It would be interesting to know your backgrounds – bloggers/journalists etc. Feel free to email me aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk

    Best wishes,

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm

  16. Once – and only once – did I allow myself to be party to a client insisting that we put out a media release while he was on vacation and not totally unavailable but certainly difficult to reach. Wouldn’t you know it, it was a slow news day and we scored some major media coverage. Then the journalist and I spent the rest of the day trying to track the guy down, and were barely able to do so in time to meet her deadline. Researcher not available? It’s the PR/PIO person’s job to ensure that the spokesperson is available and is informed of the likely interest that will ensue from putting out a release. PIO had to work all weekend? Oh, boo hoo. Sorry, but this is a classic case of a comms person doing an inadequate job. And I mean that both in the sense of not having enough credibility with the spokesperson and within his organization so he’s recognized as a media expert, and of not properly conveying the realities of media relations to the spokesperson. Some of those realities include pesky journalists being in different time zones and having deadlines. Either you want to work on stories that have global significance or you don’t. The choice is up to the PIO/PR person.

    Ruth Seeley

    February 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    • Defamation anyone?

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      • Obviously you don’t consider social media falls within the public relations domain, Aeron. Which, you know, was true before social media existed.

        Ruth Seeley

        February 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

      • Unfortunately, it doesn’t fall within professional journalistic criteria and so allows idiots to post what they like. If you published that in a UK newspaper I’d be suing the ass (American) off you. Well I would if I didn’t have a sense of humour (humor US) and could be arsed. Out of interest, what’s your background, Ruth?

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm

      • Really? What’s the defamatory sting here? That you did a bad job? People are entitled to express their opinions, even in England and Wales on the way a person performs their job.

        Idly threatening legal action is the worst sort of behaviour.


        February 15, 2011 at 3:31 am

  17. As a health reporter who went into hospital PR about a year ago, I think there’s a bigger lesson here. Mr. Haworth’s comments aside, I think both reporters and PIOs could benefit from understanding the challenges the other side faces. I think reporters assume the role of a PIO, for example, is simple, if not unnecessary. I’ve also seen plenty of PIOs who consider reporters to be nuisances, or even enemies.

    My guess is that Haworth was swamped with requests, struggling to convince his source to do interviews, or dealing with some sort of internal political struggle. If he’d conveyed this to Yong up front, rather than dismissing the request and questioning its legitimacy, I suspect Yong would have been willing to work with him.

    I think reporters, meanwhile, can benefit by sharing what they’re working on and why they want certain info. The PIO might be able to give you something you didn’t know existed or hadn’t thought about.

    Looking back on the best relationships I’ve had with reporters/PIOs, it seems the pattern is evident: Mutual respect, responsiveness, trust, a helpful attitude.

    Brian Newsome

    February 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    • Sense at last.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    • Hear, hear!

      William Raillant-Clark

      February 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    • It’s worth noting that in the email exchanges, Ed Yong seemed perfectly respectful, and he did in fact assume that Aeron Haworth was quite busy: “Never mind – we’re all busy etc. I was happy to leave it here but then I got the following without any further prompting.”

      Indeed, mutual respect is a worthy goal. It’s unfortunate that Aeron Haworth seems to have little respect for journalists.

      Eric Suh

      February 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm

  18. The importance of transparency should not be underestimated. And by the way it makes me cringe to think of any person treating Ed Yong with anything less than enormous respect (even reverence). Besides his excellent work, his reputation of employing the highest possible ethical standards, not to mention civility in the best sense of the word, precedes him. Aeron may be a bit long in the tooth but his understanding of blogging falls woefully short.


    February 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm

  19. At least none of you lot will ignore my next press release!

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    • “Ed deserved what he got. A jumped-up arrogant journalist wannabe. I stand my ground.”

      Defamation anyone?

      Bora Zivkovic

      February 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm

      • I think I have what is called the defence of justification. Look it up Bora.

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    • Are you sure about that?

      David Harris

      February 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    • On the contrary, Aeron, I think you’ve done yourself a bit of unnecessary professional damage here. The bit where you threaten to alert all UK PIOs to the dangers of Ed Yong was classic. Also the bit where, after slapping your way through the comments, you invite all the people you’ve just insulted to take it offline by emailing you. As Bora said, you really don’t seem to have much idea of how to behave in an online forum.

      Ian Holmes

      February 15, 2011 at 10:40 am

  20. I find something here interesting. Everyone knows who Ed Yong is. Everyone loves Ed Yong. He is the nicest person ever, he is arguably the best science writer in action today, writing for several great outlets (Not Exactly Rocket science being the best, but The New Scientist, Discover, Guardian also hold sway with some audience). Everyone cheered when he was shipped to USA last year for the Big Prize because he so deserved it. Everyone knows Ed has never said a mean word about anyone – a perfect gentleman.

    And then, there is this Aeron Haworth fella whose name nobody heard of until today.

    Who is wannabe?

    I suggest googling “Graham Lawton” and carefully reading all the links, and links within links, and all the long comment treads. It is very educational. A very similar case of an outdated journalist curmudgeoning himself. One can learn a lot from that case because, like Aeron Haworth, Graham was also someone who slept for a decade and then suddenly woke up not knowing what social media is, what blogs are, and what journalism is, and how to behave online.

    Bora Zivkovic

    February 14, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    • What you are suggesting is that there should be a difference in standards between social and published media. More fool you.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      • No reading comprehension! That is what you think, which is the opposite of what we are trying to tell you. One of your biggest mistakes is to arrogantly look down at real journalists who happen to be on the cutting edge, which you may need years to catch up to…

        Bora Zivkovic

        February 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      • ‘Real journalists’ on the ‘cutting edge’. And you’re training would be?

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 6:38 pm

      • “your”

        *bites knuckle*


        February 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      • “‘Real journalists’ on the ‘cutting edge’. And you’re training would be?”
        This must be a wind up. Would the real Aeron Haworth please explain how a properly trained journalist spells ‘your’?

        While I’m here, if Mr Haworth doesn’t understand contemporary information distribution on t’internet, and that times have changed since he was a media star, more fool him.


        February 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm

  21. Intractability is an unfortunate trait in general.


    February 14, 2011 at 6:18 pm

  22. I’m enjoying my popcorn too.

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    • I did not know that popping corn enjoyed the process of popping…

      Bora Zivkovic

      February 14, 2011 at 6:30 pm

      • Bora, I think Haworth is the horror movie, not the popcorn.


        February 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm

  23. Haworth, you’re acting like a stodgy old dinosaur. Like it or not, a LOT of people get their science news online, probably more than in print, and Ed Yong’s reputation as a journalist is stellar. You dismiss blogs and bloggers at your own peril. I believe EVERY research scientist I follow follows Ed Yong’s work, which is why I pay attention to him.

    If you must embargo, if you must make choices on who to grant addt’l info to, fair enough, but there was no call for being dismissive of Ed Yong’s work or sending the second smug, arrogant email attempting to “school” him.

    Each response you make on this blog lessens your credibility.


    February 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    • I’ll take your comments on board as they were reasonably put.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    • Except the stodgy dinosaur bit 😦

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 6:40 pm

  24. Right, night chaps and chapesses. Email me if you really need to.

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    • D’oh! I checked the KNH Centre for Egyptology site for a reference to Finch and couldn’t find anything, but didn’t look at the main university site. Silly me. Also as I said I thought it would be quicker if I just asked the PIO. Until now, I would have said that I always find them to be incredibly helpful.

      Ed Yong

      February 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm

      • Stop being a jerk Ed.

        Aeron Haworth

        February 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm

      • Aeron Haworth (Feb 14, 7:17pm) – “Stop being a jerk Ed.”

        Okay, now I think this must be a fake. Being utterly clueless is one thing, plainly risking your job is quite another. Isn’t it?

        Peter Beattie

        February 14, 2011 at 7:21 pm

  25. “Ed deserved what he got. A jumped-up arrogant journalist wannabe. I stand my ground.”

    ooo boy. A spectacular self-goal from Aeron. Credibility damaged, high ground lost. Nothing like patronizing words to defuse the impression you are, errrr, patronizing. Can we expect a Godwin next?

    btw, based on your slang/grammar, methinks you’re not much past 40, much less long in the tooth. Sixty though…

    Daniel J. Andrews

    February 14, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    • Perceptive

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 6:58 pm

  26. That was at you CanadianChick.

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    • what was? the question about who I write for? I don’t. I’m one of the readers.


      February 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm

  27. Is Mr. Haworth for real, or is this all some sort of Monty Python parody!???
    Please tell me it’s satire….

    Shecky R

    February 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    • You try arguing with 40 people at a time Shecky R

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 6:59 pm

  28. One of your biggest mistakes is to arrogantly look down at real journalists who happen to be on the cutting edge, which you may need years to catch up to…

    I suspect Bora is right. Based on your posts, it seems you are unaware of how to interact on science-based sites, which tells us you’re a relative newbie and you’re playing catch-up.

    It is commendable you are making the effort though. However, you’re going to make mistakes and resorting to name-calling and condescension is one such mistake–especially toward someone who has such a stellar reputation, even among science professionals, as Ed does.

    Daniel J. Andrews

    February 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    • Thanks Daniel. Sadly, Ed’s name has never cropped up in the seven years I have been promoting science. He’s not on our radar and now will never be.

      Aeron Haworth

      February 14, 2011 at 7:21 pm

      • That will be your institution’s loss far more than it will be Ed’s, at least that’s my prediction. FWIW, before today I’d not heard of you OR your university, but I had been following Ed.


        February 14, 2011 at 9:45 pm

      • Really? I’ve only been working as a press officer for 1 year, and yet I have heard of – and read – Ed Yong’s work many a time.

        Also, I may not be “long in tooth”, but when I receive professional requests from people I’ve never heard of, I make at least some attempt to find out who they are and what they do, before deciding on how to respond – even when I’m very busy and on a very tight schedule.


        February 15, 2011 at 8:17 am

  29. Bora. What are you on about?

    Aeron Haworth

    February 14, 2011 at 7:01 pm

  30. Is Mr. Haworth for real, or is this some sort of Monty Python parody!???
    Please tell me it’s satire….

    Shecky R

    February 14, 2011 at 7:14 pm

  31. “Ed deserved what he got. A jumped-up arrogant journalist wannabe. I stand my ground.”

    Say, Aeron, could you tell us which part of that job description involves acting like an arrogant buffoon? The minute someone tells me that I have enough information and I should just go away and do my thing, I’m going to get suspicious that he’s either hiding something, or make a note about him getting his knickers in a twist at the thought of actually… you know, doing what he’s there to do.

    And congratulations on standing your ground. Few people seem to have such a dedication to defending a scorched earth…

    Greg Fish

    February 14, 2011 at 7:38 pm

  32. I *KNEW* it. Entertainment! That’s what it was all about.

    Carl Zimmer

    February 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm

  33. “‘Real journalists’ on the ‘cutting edge’. And you’re training would be?” – Aeron

    Shouldn’t an experienced journalist know the difference between “your” and “you’re”?


    February 14, 2011 at 7:47 pm

  34. Dear Aeron

    I disagree with this jumped-up business.

    Ed’s a very good writer who blogs regularly on interesting topics, has a wide (and loyal) readership and has deservedly won a number of awards for his blog and writings elsewhere.

    Unfortunately he’s quite well-liked 😉 Even worse than that, he’s well-liked by the sort of people who also write well on a variety of topics, on popular blogs, Twitter and various other media…

    Not that this should be a popularity contest and I think it’s a shame it’s all got a bit unfluffy, but keeping Ed ‘off the radar’ is a bit of an own goal given his competence, and success, at popularising science.

    In the words of Julia Roberts “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

    Please reconsider.


    Jo Brodie

    February 14, 2011 at 7:52 pm

  35. Perhaps it’s just me, but I thought the job of a media relations person (American) was to promote one’s institution and its work in the media. It strikes me that if one has to ask who media figures are, one should be a bit cautious in one’s sneers until one gets an answer–or figures out how to look up the information. Professionally.

    But maybe something is lost in translation. Does “press” still mean lead movable type in Britain?

    Stephanie Z

    February 14, 2011 at 7:59 pm

  36. Haworth, it appears, is quite livid at the realization that he isn’t very good at his job. PIO is a public relations job in which negative publicity isn’t looked highly on. Especially since all the attention here isn’t focused on the research at all, which is his job. Instead, the attention is on him in a negative light. I would consider a look into your old profession.

    matt campbell

    February 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm

  37. While I believe Ed’s case is persuasive, and I am happy to see all the support he is getting (and wish to contribute to it), couldn’t SOMONE take the high road here and stop (even if s/he did not start) the exchange of insults?


    February 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

  38. John Belushi in Animal House: [Fills mouth with cream puff, pushes on cheeks] Look! I’m a zit! Get it?

    Aeron Haworth on this blog: Look! I’m an apoptotic cell! Get it?

    I’ve never seen a finer display of self-immolation. Kudos, sir.


    February 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm

  39. If Mr Haworth considers himself the archetypal journalist, why on earth would Ed “wannabe” a journalist.

    Journalism is not a closed shop. If it is, I’ll stick with bloggers. Thank you.


    February 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

  40. Googling “Aeron Haworth” = 2,450 results
    Googling “Bora Zivkovic” = 151,000 results
    Googling “Ed Yong” = 46,300 results

    Googling my own name produces 59,000 hits, but most of those are due to a character on a TV show having my name.


    February 14, 2011 at 10:57 pm

  41. It seems Mr Howarth considers himself the archetypal journalist. In which case, I’m pretty sure the last thing Ed would “wannabe” is a journalist.

    Journalism is not a closed shop. If it is, give me bloggers any day.


    February 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm

  42. What stands out for me is the confidence to knowledge ratio, which was impressively high.

    On my screen, this post is already in the top 10 for a Google search on the words “Aeron Haworth.” It will probably be number 1 or 2 tomorrow.

    These two facts seem related, somehow.

    Jay Rosen

    February 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm

  43. This whole thing is interesting to me, mostly because very little seems to have happened.

    That said, nobody needs to defend Ed Yong. In the anarcho-democratic online world that science bloggers always seem to dream of, his science-blogging clout should have very little to do with how people handle correspondences with him – you, I, or anybody should be treated with the same respect and courtesy when we try to make science more accessible and transparent to the public (especially by somebody whose job exists solely for this reason.)

    References to Ed’s credibility and reputation (about which I could only say glowing things, I must admit) bug me because they make me think that perhaps the science blogosphere wouldn’t come as eagerly to the defense of somebody who didn’t have the same of authority and notoriety within our subculture.

    On the same token, nobody needs to attack Mr. Haworth. It damages everybody’s credibility, and if there is something that needs to be said about his professional conduct and (lack of) respect for science blogging and science bloggers, he said it himself in the already-published emails.

    I don’t know much about journalism, but I know a lot about internet subcultures – and this one is being super defensive and boundary-oriented right now.

    BTW, the Aeron Haworth that is posting here almost has to be a troll.

    Mike Lisieski

    February 15, 2011 at 12:05 am

    • That is an admirable sentiment, but I assume that most people here are mentioning Ed Yong’s strong reputation and record in response to Aeron Haworth’s presumptions and prior biases that seemed evident from the email conversation in the blog post and the comments section.

      Or, in a more juvenile fashion, he started it.

      Eric Suh

      February 15, 2011 at 4:14 am

  44. I’d like to go on the record to say that Haworth’s (note: behavior not deserving of a Mr.) characterization of Mr. Yong is completely uninformed and demonstrates an alarming level of incompetence as a so-called professional “journalist.” A few clicks around the internet might have been sufficient for Haworth to verify Mr. Yong’s credentials as a respected science writer. If Haworth is incapable of doing such research, I shudder to think of the state of the University of Manchester’s Media Office. To attack Mr. Yong as “arrogant” is completely off the mark. To call him a “wannabe” when, in fact, Mr. Yong “IS” a science journalist, is childish.
    In addition to Haworth’s apparent shortcomings when it comes to internet research, this episode has revealed several additional professional errors that should be of interest to his superiors. First, as Mr. Oransky points out, Haworth was enforcing an embargo on information that had already been released, which should raise red flags. Second, Haworth claims that it is the job of PIOs to get PhDs to talk to the media. Apparently, Haworth is ineffective in this capacity as well. I’m beginning to think his job performance should be re-evaluated.
    I’m inclined to predict that Haworth may be put out to pasture sooner than he had planned and the University of Manchester’s Media Office will surely be better off for it.
    I think this will prove to be a difficult week for Haworth considering that he is but a novice to new media.
    Good luck to you all.
    I tip my hat to Mr. Yong.

    JL Vernon

    February 15, 2011 at 12:53 am

  45. I am more than half convinced that the posts purportedly from Aeron Haworth are pranks. The other possibility is that we’re seeing one side of a “take this job and shove it” flameout. Or perhaps Mr Haworth mistakenly thinks that Ed Yong is a Twitterer rather than a blogger. But I think the proper behavior at this point is to back away slowly without turning our backs.


    February 15, 2011 at 1:02 am

  46. Just came across this thread. Fascinating discussion. Never seen someone in a position like Mr Haworth dig a hole so deep and so quickly. I know Ed can’t say it publicly, but he must find it highly entertaining (and at the same time, disturbing). Mr Haworth, you lost the plot on your third post. From there, it was a downhill slide for you and your reptuation. Interesting to see what your employer makes of it.


    February 15, 2011 at 1:57 am

  47. this is fairly odd behaviour. i’ve emailed aeron haworth to find out if these comments are genuine as it seems possible they’re spoof, answer ambiguous so far.

    ben goldacre

    February 15, 2011 at 5:40 am

    • Thanks, Ben, I did the same last night. No response yet. All of the comments came from a single IP address mapped to somewhere near Liverpool/Manchester. And there are details he likely wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t him. Obviously prudent to check, so please let me know what you find out, and I’ll do the same.


      February 15, 2011 at 6:53 am

  48. I would be horrified if I discovered that a media officer (representing the public face of my research) was engaged in such a petulant display of arrogance towards, and ignorance of, new media; not least insulting several of the well respected people I would actually want behind the public face of my research.

    I also fail to see how Mr Haworth is under the impression that Ed’s blog posts are half the size of his press releases? (or even the nonsensical comparison with the original journal article itself – as if this is a measure of anything?) Scanning through a dozen of Mr Haworth’s PRs back to 2005 I’d say Ed’s posts are slightly longer, more engaging, more detailed and yet still avidly consumed by the public that both parties want to hear about the research.


    February 15, 2011 at 5:53 am

  49. just a brief note to say i’ve emailed aeron and the comments from him are genuine. i’m thinking through what to write on this, i think it’s still really interesting (or at least a hook for something else), even discounting the tone of the emails/comments (which i agree is pretty strange, but i guess there’s no need to pass comment when it’s all set out above).

    i guess one question is whether this reflects the views of manchester university’s press office on engaging with media outside the traditional newspaper and broadcast.


    February 15, 2011 at 7:12 am

    • Ben: At the risk of appearing to “tattle” (in grade-school parlance), it is probably time that someone at least alerted the senior communications person at the U. of Manchester as to this online dialogue. If Mr. Haworth is the science information filter for his institution, then they have an enormous amount of damage control that needs to begin now. Perhaps some education as to how science PIOs need to work with the modern media would be helpful for him.

      Earle Holland

      February 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      • I have a message into that person, and I think several others also do. His out-of-office reply says he’ll be back on the 17th.


        February 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm

  50. Please, someone, put us out of our misery. Is the PIO actually a Poe? There has to be at least an e-mail address associated with the comments, does it match up to any contact details for Haworth? An IP based in Manchester? Surely a public/press relations professional knows the first rule of holes?

    Would the real Aeron Haworth please stand up?

    Mike Fowler

    February 15, 2011 at 7:43 am

    • See this comment from Ben Goldacre. Yes, the email address did match, but that could have easily been faked.


      February 15, 2011 at 7:47 am

      • Thanks, my comment crossed with Ben’s. Should have refreshed before posting.

        As a working scientist, I’d be happy with more media interest in my field (theoretical ecology), but I understand how extremely difficult it is to get complex messages across to our peers, never mind to the general public.
        We definitely need the help of sympathetic journalists and press officers to guide us as much as possible. The sort of behaviour displayed above by Haworth seems contrary to that.

        Mike Fowler

        February 15, 2011 at 8:03 am

  51. Dear John Fleck,

    Any disparaging remarks about Bora are likely to end in being viciously chased by a madwoman with an umbrella. Just so you know…

    FYI: Bora will be the first to acknowledge the value of the local (perhaps hyper-local) press. Maybe mid-sized is smaller than you think.


    February 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

  52. It’s SUCH a pity I didn’t come across this thread earlier. Clueless POI vs. the leading lights of science blogosphere. Quite a show.

    Michael Meadon

    February 15, 2011 at 7:54 am

    • I fully agree.. though it is not fun to see an individual losing his reputation.. and his job? because Manchester University is going to get into action about this, right??

      Ph Starck

      February 15, 2011 at 8:02 am

      • Were I in charge of PR for Manchester, I would strongly desire his ouster.

        I found it just priceless that he didn’t know who Bora is and, worse, then didn’t bother to find out.

        Michael Meadon

        February 15, 2011 at 8:29 am

  53. like most college students who are horrified to discover their naked drunken selves plastered all over their “friends'” facebook/myspace/etc accounts after a night of debauchery, i can only imagine haworth’s horror at reading this exchange in a few days’ time as he struggles back to consciousness from his own king-sized hangover.


    February 15, 2011 at 8:22 am

  54. Part of Aeron’s job is to protect scientists from getting into exactly the kind of embarrassing internet arguments he managed to get himself in in this train wreck of a thread. Who controls the public image of those hired to control an institution’s public image?


    February 15, 2011 at 8:27 am

  55. Ah, joy. I discovered this morning that Mr. Haworth will be participating in a media workshop next month, giving his top tips on talking to journalists.

    Bob O'H

    February 15, 2011 at 8:32 am

  56. There are undoubtedly journalists and PIOs of varying capabilities. And I don’t know that public whining and personal attacks in this case advance the cause of science communication.

    Journalists and PIOs have always bumped heads, fortunately not all the time and not always so openly.

    My question is simple: Despite the challenges and chest thumping, did the science story at this heart of this dialogue get written, and was the story told in a clear fashion that it allowed the reader to connect with the science?

    In my opinion, no medals for any of those involved.

    Luke C

    February 15, 2011 at 9:52 am

  57. Before I start pitying my Manchester colleagues, I guess I should check whether my press office aren’t like this, and do realise that science blogs like Ed’s are where lots of us go for science news. I’d value a write up of any of my papers on NERS above being in some of the nationals.


    February 15, 2011 at 9:57 am

  58. I am in utter disbelief. Mr. Haworth’s behavior here and in his email exchange with Mr. Yong is, frankly, shocking. I have never seen a PIO act in such a childish manner or employ such poor grammar. This is an absolute embarrassment to his employer.


    February 15, 2011 at 10:45 am

    • Perhaps this is Haworth’s Rick Sanchez moment? The irony is that Haworth career suicide note is on the very medium (a blog) that he so despises.


      February 15, 2011 at 11:37 am

  59. Fun historical note: The Lancet was born out of a desire to create a transparent, open venue for the vetting of medical research and surgical techniques. Its first articles consisted of “pirated” notes taken during the fee-funded lectures of surgeons who jealously guarded the intellectual property of their work—a practice which Lancet founder Thomas Wakley felt endangered public health by preventing the vetting and sharing proprietary techniques.

    Matthew Battles

    February 15, 2011 at 10:59 am

    • So basically, the Lancet was the medical WikiLeaks of it’s time? That is a fun historical fact!

      Corina Becker

      February 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm

  60. Blimey!

    I am somewhat stumped as to what to say, other than I hope that Aeron’s managers have seen this and are considering the reputation of the University.


    February 15, 2011 at 11:09 am

  61. I think it may be time to dig a chill-pill, people. Let’s not turn this into a lynch mob.

    As jaw-droppingly clumsy as Aeron Haworth’s handling of all this has been, it’s not, to be quite frank, a hanging offence.

    Yes, it’s bizarre that he should have made it personal and that his ego should be so brittle. Yes, it’s bizarre that a media officer should appear to be so unfamiliar with the internet.

    But those who express horror need to get out more. His is by far not the worst example of a functionary struggling to adapt to the modern world. Or at least not the worst I’ve ever come across.

    As Ben has already noted, the real issue to be concerned about is whether the University of Manchester believes that it should be engaging or ignoring new media. Well, this is the question I want answered.

    Yes, the hapless Mr Aeron is a representative of the University. But does really anyone believe that his attitudes represent the policy of the University? Really? Surely this is above his pay grade.

    I know it’s a lot to expect from a comments thread, but can we please can it with the ad hominem and the calls for blood?

    Ed Gerstner

    February 15, 2011 at 11:40 am

  62. “Thanks Daniel. Sadly, Ed’s name has never cropped up in the seven years I have been promoting science. He’s not on our radar and now will never be.”

    Um. If your job is about promoting science and you utter the above even half-seriously, I’d say it’s time for new radar.

    David Dobbs

    February 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm

  63. Hahahaha!

    I know an American company that doesn’t allow their British employees access to the corporate e-mail after 11 p.m. For this very reason.

    Go Bees!


    February 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm

  64. Couldn’t resist. I just bought the domain AllYouNeedForABlog.com. Perfect for PIOs or bloggers. Probably not quite right for journalists, excepting jumped-up wannabes.

    Bidding is open. Ed? Aeron?

    David Dobbs

    February 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm

  65. As … interesting … as all of this is, I would like to remind everyone not to judge the entirety of the University of Manchester, or even a single department by the behavior of Haworth. I know that especially those who have not heard of the UoM before will likely remember this exchange first but seriously … we’re not all that bad.


    February 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm

  66. I wasn’t going to weigh in on this fiasco again, but have been urged to do so by Ivan. Before posting my initial response to Aeron I had, of course, Googled him. I found him on Facebook and LinkedIn; noted that he has only eight contacts on LinkedIn and that his profile only includes his current job, not his education or any previous employers. I also found him on Facebook and was able to determine that he’s recently completed an MA (but in what or where, I wasn’t able to determine). Also readily found in my Google search was the fact that he first ‘witnessed’ media training in 2006 (that information is included in the interview he did for Sense About Science http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/about/90).Also in that article is the info that the media training for University of Manchester is delivered by ‘our former head of communications, Phil Radcliffe.’ This is the same Phillip Radcliffe who worked at University of Manchester for 25 years and has a grand total of 18 LinkedIn connections: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/philip-radcliffe/8/b3a/834. That research was done just now.

    I don’t have a lot of LinkedIn connections myself. But I did first sit in on media training in 1997; have a link to my LinkedIn profile in the about section of my web site; have listed jobs going back for more than a decade on it, as well as my educational information, and am a member of a former PR employer’s group one must receive approval from head office in London to join (i.e., not only is there a certain amount of transparency in my profile, but my global agency PR experience has been verified). I’d estimate I’m at least a decade older than Aeron – he looks from his FB pictures to be in his early 40s. Incorporating social media best practises into traditional public relations has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude. And we’ve certainly seen some attitude here, haven’t we?

    Ruth Seeley

    February 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm

  67. Late to this discussion but as someone who worked as a newspaper journalist for TWENTY-TWO years, won a Pulitzer, and is therefore, I hope, qualified by Haworth standards qualified to comment, I’d like to say this. The best science public relations officers I know care most about sharing a great story with as many people as possible. They know that they play a key role not only in representing their university but in sharing good information with a public often starved for it. In the same way, good science journalists – and frankly, Ed Yong, is one of the best I know – recognize that an excellent science story is only as good as the reporting that illuminates it. These are the kind of professional standards that allow us to communicate research and research that matters with the public. And in this exchange it’s more than obvious, that only one person exhibited professional grace – and it wasn’t Mr. Haworth. As a long time reporter, I’m embarrassed that someone with experience in a profession I love would show so little understanding of what matters.

    Deborah Blum

    February 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    • Hear, hear


      February 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    • Huge support for Deborah, who — as always — says what I wish I had, but so much better than I would have.

      (FWIW, what I did say is here:

      That would be “Wired.com” as in, “Our site’s readership counted in seven digits.” So, not counting my 20+ years of experience as a journalist, I hope that qualifies me to comment, also.)


      February 15, 2011 at 7:45 pm

  68. Wow, this is getting kinda nasty! No one wins when it gets nasty. Lots of great science journalists are telling you that you are in the wrong, Aeron. I am sure you are feeling more defensive by the minute. Yet, the mature thing to do would be to concede and move on. This from a non-journalist. (And if you read my blog, you will understand why I am ever so skeptical even of fully published studies, let alone superficial and biased press releases. Ed is to be commended and supported in his pursuit of details.)


    February 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm

  69. Oh dear.

    I’ve thought long and hard about saying something, but here goes…

    First off: let me declare an interest. I work at the University of Manchester. I am a scientist. I have a blog. I have heard of Aeron H, though I’ve never met him (It’s a big place – the Univ employs over 10,000 people). People I know in the University who know him and HAVE worked with him tell me he is an OK guy. Finally, I have no official “role” in the Univ in public-facing anything beyond being on the Faculty, and being a blogger and commenter. So all of the following is a strictly personal view etc etc.

    Right, having got that out of the way, I would like to second most of what Ed Gerstner said up above: isn’t it time to damp this one down? As Ed says, Aeron is one guy working in the University press office. From my (wholly personal) perspective, he got this one way wrong. But… who doesn’t get stuff wrong sometimes? And he has certainly been “taken to school” for it all across the blogosphere in the last 48 hrs.

    The comments about “Does this represent official University policy re new media?” also seem a bit overcooked, from where I sit. As a lowly cog in the University machine I don’t know if we have a formal POLICY on new media – but I do know that there are people across the University, in all kinds of jobs including on the academic Faculty, engaging with new media via blogs, Twitter etc etc. I guess that is likely true for all other Universities too. By talking so much about “official policy”, aren’t we in danger of treating Universities (including the U of M) like monolithic entities rather than collections of individual voices? Surely especially relevant when talking about new media where there are less filters between writer and reader(s).

    Austin Elliott

    February 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    • That is a very level-headed view. I think most of us would be appeased with a mea culpa from Aeron.


      February 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

      • Austin Elliot & Ed Gerstner, thank you. It’s a relief to read your opinions, because I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the way these comments are playing out. At times there’s a palpable glee at joining the pack and villifying Mr. Haworth. I don’t like the guy’s actions, either, but since when does someone’s disrespect and aggressivity make others’ disrespect and aggressivity allright? As I see it, setting a “mea culpa” from Mr. Haworth as a condition of damping it down thoroughly misses the point.


        February 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    • Some great points, Austin.

      Yes, when I reiterated the question of what is the University of Manchester’s policy, I guess what I was really asking is do they have a policy. I’d be surprised if they do. And I said offline to Ruth Seeley, I suspect that this whole incident could have been avoided if the press office had formulated one and ensured that it was understood by everyone who represented it.

      Clearly, no university is a monolithic entity – I’d be horrified if they tried to be. But if it has a press office, that press office should be developing new ways of dealing with the changing media landscape.

      We all have our own ideas of how we’d like to see that policy work. I personally reckon a press office should be there to help oil the interactions between those inside and those outside a university. It certainly shouldn’t be there to act as a firewall to protect shy academics.

      So, now it seems Ed and Aeron have come to an amicable understanding, these are the ideas I’m looking forward to us all exploring.

      Ed Gerstner

      February 16, 2011 at 8:05 am

  70. In the interest of taking this forward constructively, I’m wondering: what would Haworth have to do to remedy this situation (to the extent that it can be)? He’d have to apologize to Ed, obviously, but what would people here suggest he do to start climbing out of the hole he’s dug for himself?

    I’ve been on the receiving end of a highly-critical-of-me thread. (On the RDFRS for criticizing Dawkins rather harshly). It’s an incredible unpleasant thing to go through. So maybe some advice for Haworth is in order. As I see it, if he shows some remorse, and demonstrates that he’s willing to learn about the new science communication ecosystem (sorry, Carl!) then he’d get some of my respect back.

    Michael Meadon

    February 16, 2011 at 3:43 am

  71. I’ve just had a very nice apology email from Mr Haworth, which I’ve accepted. I’m drawing a line under this affair and I hope others will too. Many thanks for the kind comments and support – it means a lot.

    Ed Yong

    February 16, 2011 at 3:57 am

    • Please note that because of some formatting issues I can’t seem to figure out how to fix, this comment from Ed appears to have come before many others. Best to go by timestamps. Thanks.


      February 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

      • I thought it was just me posting in the wrong area yesterday! And, you know, confusing the ‘about’ section of my web site with the ‘contact’ section. And misspelling Philip’s name. Sigh. I wonder how hard that gadget that lets you correct your comments for an hour or so is to install…. 😉

        Ruth Seeley

        February 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    • It’s good to hear Howarth apologized to Yong. It would also be good if he apologizes to the people in this comment thread he called names like doormat, etc.

      Carl Zimmer

      February 16, 2011 at 9:12 am

  72. I’ve been encouraged by Ivan, the site owner, to update everyone. This morning, I apologised to Ed Yong, which he graciously accepted. I have been somewhat mortified by the comments above but, I guess, this is to be expected when you post knee-jerk, overly defensive comments on a blog site after a few glasses of wine. Never a good idea!

    I work hard to promote science to the public and, you may have seen today, another story in the papers about the north-south health divide, which I have been dealing with for the past few days.

    I’m a fairly private person, so this episode has upset me quite a lot. My own silly fault.

    Anyway, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my day job. Thanks for all your comments. I’ve taken them on board.

    Kind regards,

    Aeron Haworth

    February 16, 2011 at 8:39 am

    • As I noted in a comment above, because of some formatting issues I can’t seem to figure out how to fix, this comment from Aeron appears to have come before many others. Best to go by timestamps. Thanks.


      February 16, 2011 at 9:15 am

  73. Finally catching up on my reading. Great stuff. Ignoring comments battle though.


    February 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

  74. I disagree with these views on embargoes and press officers sitting in on interviews. As a PIO, I see my role as one that assists reporters in getting the information they need for their story in a timely manner. It’s also to tell my organization’s story and to encourage reporters to write about us.

    In order to meet both goals, we often employ embargoes on our big news announcements. We do so in an effort to level the playing field with the press and give our reporters time to write a thorough story. Many times, if we issue the news without some sort of advance, we receive a lot of negative feedback from the press because we didn’t give them a heads up. But if we give advances without an embargo, then the news can break at any time, and we get negative feedback because the race is on, if one reporter gets out there first, the others decide not to write. Emabrgoes make it possible for reporters to write a complete piece, while helping us make sure we get as much press coverage as possible.

    As for sitting in on an interview, our company’s policy is to have a member of the PR team to listen in on all press interviews. However, our presence does not hinder the subject matter expert (SME) at all. We are simply there to assist if there are any follow-ups from the interview and to answer general questions that the SME may not know. In the 10 years I have been in my job, I have never once told an SME who was being interviewed NOT to say something.

    Not all PIOs are as disrepsectful as Mr. Haworth, and not all PIOs have a hidden agenda. Many of us have a tremendous amount of respect for the press and are just trying to make the process as smooth as possible.


    February 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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