Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

A real Bear: Miscommunication about prolific author’s work leads to Neuron study embargo snafu

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Mark Bear via MIT

Mark Bear via MIT

Mark Bear is having a good year. The MIT neuroscientist and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator was scheduled to have two papers in Neuron within two months. But that kind of success can trip up busy press offices, as those at Neuron and Johns Hopkins — where one of Bear’s collaborators works — found out today.

At noon today, a Hopkins press release titled “Pavlov’s rats? Rodents trained to link rewards to visual cues” was set to come off embargo. The release — which included a picture of a rat in snazzy goggles — caught the attention of Motherboard writer Derek Mead, who wrote a post on the study. It was only after Mead posted his story at the scheduled embargo time that Bear’s Hopkins collaborator sheepishly told him that there’d been an error, and that the study was actually still embargoed, maybe until March.

Mead had apparently broken an embargo. That became clear when he saw that the EurekAlert link to the press release had been stripped of everything but an oddly mesmerizing picture of a rat in goggles (EurekAlert press password required to view) and that the link provided by Hopkins now went to another study.

But Mead hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had the author. The problem was that Neuron and the Hopkins press office had been talking about a different paper by Bear, showing a statin could decrease seizures in a mouse model of Fragile X syndrome, whose embargo did lift today. The paper Mead wrote about was originally scheduled for next month. Catherine Kolf, of the Hopkins news office, tells Embargo Watch:

As soon as we discovered this (just a few minutes before the posted embargo was to expire), we notified Neuron and pulled the press release from EurekAlert.

And Mary O’Leary, of the Cell Press media relations office — Cell Press publishes Neuron — acknowledged she had made an inadvertent error:

Due to a miscommunication between myself and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Press Office, a news release from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine on a Neuron paper was sent out with inaccurate embargo information. The news release entitled “Pavlov’s rats? Rodents trained to link rewards to visual cues” referenced a Neuron paper by Dr. Chubykin and Dr. Bear entitled “A cholinergic mechanism for reward timing within primary visual cortex.” The embargo for this paper was tentatively scheduled to lift on Wednesday February 20th at 12:00pm NOON ET. Unfortunately, I provided the incorrect embargo information to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  The release stated the paper’s embargo date was Wednesday January 23rd- which is in fact the embargo time for another Neuron paper co-authored by Dr. Bear entitled “Lovastatin Corrects Excess Protein Synthesis and Prevents Epileptogenesis in a Mouse Model of Fragile X Syndrome.” Due to this miscommunication of dates, the embargo for the paper has lifted and media contacts have been alerted.

Neuron then agreed to lift the embargo:

I’ve worked with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine on communicating this embargo lift. The press release they issued will be put back up on Eurekalert. I’ve also informed reporters who have contacted our office requesting information on this paper that the paper is no longer under embargo and they are welcome to publish articles on the story at this time. A draft of the manuscript will be made available to media who wish to report on this study.

Kudos to everyone involved for doing the right thing — lifting the embargo — and quickly. We all make mistakes, and it’s easy to see how this one happened. Even more kudos for being transparent about it.

As a bear might say, shit happens. OK, a bear might not say that, but Dr. Bear might.


Written by Ivan Oransky

January 23, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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