Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine plays “freely available but embargoed” game — with a Groundhog Day twist

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The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine’s (SMFM’s) annual meeting was last week in Dallas, and, as many societies do, the press officers working for “the pregnancy meeting” put out a number of releases about what would be presented there.

But unlike many societies, who understand what an embargo means, the SMFM decided it would be fine to post those releases publicly before the meeting, but call them “embargoed.”

That left Rachael Rettner, a former student of mine, a bit perplexed. So she sent me a message, and I in turn sent Bendure PR a note to ask for clarification. The response didn’t actually clear anything up:

They’re just embargoed until the physicians present their findings.

Um, no, they’re actually available on your website. Repeat after me: If something is publicly available, it can no longer be embargoed.

Of course, while a number of scientific societies have seen the error of their freely available but embargoed ways — one way to join the Embargo Watch Honor Roll — not all of them have.

And the press office of at least one member of Congress hasn’t figured it out either. My friend Ira Stoll notes that last Friday:

House Republican leader Eric Cantor posts at 1 p.m. on an open Web site a press release about a speech he’s giving at 4 p.m., with the introduction, “the embargoed text of his speech, as prepared for delivery, appears below:”

They also tweet it.

How is that publicly available text embargoed, exactly?

The SMFM policy gets better. Bendure told Rettner:

There is no specific time of day for the embargo, the information is just embargoed until Feb. 9.

Ah, a Groundhog Day embargo! I know time zones are a relatively new development, having been implemented in the 19th century, but it turns out that February 9 begins more than 24 different times around the world.

Sorry, SMFM, but this embargo policy needs more time in the womb.


Written by Ivan Oransky

February 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm

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