Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Radiological society lifts video games-violence study embargo early after “break,” but abstract was freely available online

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In what has become a familiar refrain on Embargo Watch, a scientific society is trying to claim that a news organization that never agreed to the society’s embargo violated its policy because a study was freely available online before the embargo lifted. Here’s a message sent this morning by the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA):

From the RSNA Newsroom:

A London print publication has broken the embargo on the upcoming press conference study:

Violent Video Games Alter Brain Function in Young Men.

Therefore, we are lifting the embargo on the study immediately. Please contact the RSNA Newsroom at 312-949-3233 for further information or interviews with the study authors. We apologize for the inconvenience.

I asked for some details, including which publication had allegedly broken the embargo, and whether there would be sanctions. It turned out the RSNA had hedged on which publication because they weren’t sure:

It was either the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail. We are trying to track down which publication ran the story first. Neither was on our direct distribution list. We believe they may have pulled it from an embargoed wire service. Once once we know which publication broke the embargo, we will notify the news service, and they will be blocked from advance access to our news in the future.

We value journalists who honor embargoes; and we take infractions very seriously.

It appears that the Sunday Times story ran first, since the Daily Mail piece references the Sunday Times report. And it seems very unlikely that the Sunday Times story — by Jonathan Leake, whose name may be familiar to Embargo Watch readers — was sourced from a wire service. Leake often writes about studies that are freely available online, even though societies try to claim they were embargoed — a practice for which Embargo Watch can hardly fault him.

Indeed, this abstract was freely available online, along with every other abstract from the RSNA meeting. You need a press login to see the embargoed press releases themselves, but the titles are all available, and the abstracts can be searched and accessed without a login if you know the right search terms.

I’ve said it before, but I guess I’ll have to say it again: You can’t embargo material that’s freely available. Either embargo or don’t. But having it both ways means you’re doing your best to manipulate the flow of scientific information to your advantage.

RSNA, won’t you see the error of your ways and join the others on the Embargo Watch Honor Roll who’ve changed their illogical policies?

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 28, 2011 at 3:06 pm

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