Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Confusion at PNAS as unpublished dinosaur nest paper gets coverage. Plus: Fill our their survey!

with 3 comments

This morning, a group of science writers added me to a conversation on Twitter about a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that was being widely covered by news outlets, but didn’t seem to have been published yet. The paper apparently claimed evidence of the oldest dinosaur nest yet found.

I assumed — incorrectly, as it turns out — that this was yet another case of the vexing PNAS problem, in which many of the papers that come off embargo on Mondays actually aren’t available on the PNAS site. That is irritating for reporters who want to link to papers, readers who want to learn more about studies, and authors who want to be able to discuss their work.

In fact, however, there seems to have simply been an error. The paper didn’t make it into the embargoed press list or the Early Edition table of contents, and yet this doesn’t seem to have been an embargo break.

Freelance science writer Lucas Brouwers tells Embargo Watch:

I saw someone tweet about the dinosaur nurseries, and came across multiple stories in major outlets (Guardian, Fox, up towards 82 currently published stories). But as I’m writing this (16:02 +1 GMT), PNAS has not released the paper yet.

One of the authors (David Evans) confirmed to me that the paper should have been released by PNAS by now, but it hadn’t. PNAS had contacted them and told them the paper will be released some time today.

PNAS confirmed today’s publication date for me, and said that

The dinosaur paper was published this week at the author’s request.

I’m still a bit fuzzy on what happened here. If the author is right — and the fact that PNAS isn’t treating this like an embargo break suggests he is — then what does it mean that the paper was published “at the author’s request?” I’ll try to find out more.

In related news, PNAS is surveying reporters about their media outreach efforts. When I fill out the survey — which I’d encourage all journalists to do — I’ll ask them to eliminate the “PNAS problem” once and for all. Their site is run by HighWire, which I know has that capability based on previous coverage.

Update: Here’s the paper.


Written by Ivan Oransky

January 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. This is interesting. I tried to get the study yesterday morning from PNAS, in order to write a story to publish in conjunction with the ROM exhibit’s opening (the ROM’s publicity for the event mentioned the study would be published on the same day.) When PNAS eventually tracked down the study I was inquiring about, they said “oh… hmmm, ok, this is what happened…” and explained that they publication date had been pushed back by a week ‘to maximize press coverage’, and the embargoed study wouldn’t even be available until Wednesday of this week. It sounded like they hadn’t informed the author.
    So if other writers managed to write about it, maybe they got the study from the author himself? Very confusing all around.

    Andy Johnson

    January 24, 2012 at 11:50 am

  2. I wrote about this research myself. When I saw it was on an embargoed press release and not on the PNAS site, I emailed the PNAS News people about it on Friday and emailed the university’s press people for a copy of the paper, which they sent me. The embargo on the press release lifted on Monday (as per usual for all embargoed PNAS papers) and PNAS News didn’t contact me until Tuesday. Shrug. The story ran on Monday.

    Charles Q. Choi

    January 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm

  3. Glad to read I wasn’t the only one confused. I was tipped off by a press release from James Cook Uni in Townsville on Tuesday morning (Sydney time). I then noticed AFP copy on the news wire. A search of the PNAS embargo site failed to show up the paper, as did a number of other searches – despite having a DOI for the paper.

    I will also add my frustration at the embargo and release policy of PNAS. We add links to the abstract of each study in our stories using the DOI. We often get complaints from readers saying the link isn’t working. If the embargo lifts on Monday (US time), why not publish all of the papers on that particular day? I’ll check out that survey this morning Ivan.

    Darren Osborne

    January 24, 2012 at 5:54 pm

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