Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

A nightmare of a policy: American Academy of Sleep Medicine goes “freely available but embargoed”

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The American Academy of Sleep Medicine pulled an Embargo Watch no-no for the press releases for its annual conference, which wraps up today in Minneapolis: They made the releases freely available on their site some weeks ago, but said they were embargoed for various times between Monday and today.

I didn’t think this was a tenable policy, so I asked the Academy for their rationale. The Academy’s Thomas Heffron responded:

Thanks for your inquiry. You are correct – we do not require reporters to register for access to our online press room. From our perspective, it is the reporter’s responsibility to honor the embargo whether access to the information was obtained with our without registration.

However, our embargo process will be a topic of discussion during our evaluation after the meeting.

Heffron said he’d welcome the opportunity to discuss this with me further when he’s back in the office next week.

I wrote back and said I’d be happy to talk to him, but that I’d say the same thing I’ve been saying since Embargo Watch was born: You can’t embargo material that’s freely available. What is to stop anyone — a reporter, a blogger, a company with a sleep drug being discussed at the meeting, or my mother, for that matter — from posting about these freely available releases? Does anyone think Wall Street is going to wait? And then the people who get punished are the reporters who wait for this supposed “embargo.”

After a complaint from one news outlet, EurekAlert, which had posted the Academy’s releases, took them down. That was the right thing to do, and I’m glad to hear that the service seems less willing to let institutions use their platform to embargo materials that really can’t be embargoed.

The Academy is not alone, unfortunately, but that doesn’t make their policy any more justifiable. I also suggested Heffron look at some of the posts that have earned societies spots on the Embargo Watch Honor Roll. At least four have changed their “freely available but embargoed” policies following critical blog posts.

Forgive me the pun: I hope this is wake-up call.

Hat tip: Rachael Rettner


Written by Ivan Oransky

June 15, 2011 at 10:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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