Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Snafus at Stanford for a Stephen and a Steven on the Lemelson-MIT Prize embargo

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A statue at Stanford, photo by Dave Kleinschmidt via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/dklein/

When an Embargo Watch tipster sent this updated Stanford University press release yesterday, he topped it with a Reuters story that seemed to have broken an embargo Sunday on an award announcement embargoed until Monday:

EMBARGO BROKEN, NEW VERSION: STANFORD BIOENGINEER STEPHEN QUAKE WINS $500,000 LEMELSON-MIT PRIZE

NOTE TO MEDIA: The previous embargo was inadvertently broken and no longer applies. Below is an updated version of the release with comment from Nobel laureate and U.S. Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu.

The email made me grimace, since it’s not fun to see a colleague break an embargo, even inadvertently — plus it’s tricky to cover such situations on Embargo Watch.

But something didn’t smell right. The vagueness of the note to the media — particularly when compared to a similar JAMA/Archives message last week — made me wonder what had actually happened. (Note to press officers: Opacity is a great way to encourage me to poke into a story. Journal editors know it works at Retraction Watch, too.)

So late this afternoon, I sent Stanford’s press office an email asking for details. They forwarded me this message, which went out on top of a note to their press list less than two hours later:

NOTE TO MEDIA: Because of an editing error at Stanford medical school, the release below, issued this morning, about Stephen Quake winning the Lemelson-MIT Prize incorrectly stated that an embargo had been broken.  In fact, the embargo was lifted.  We regret the error.

I appreciate Stanford’s willingness to ‘fess up, but it bears mentioning that when you’re sending a notice to a lot of reporters, accusing one of them — even vaguely — of breaking an embargo, you ought to double-check your wording first.

In the meantime, Stanford had to regret another error, too:

The earlier version of the release also misspelled the name of the the U.S. Secretary of Energy: It is Steven Chu.

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Written by ivanoransky

June 5, 2012 at 9:30 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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