Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Motherboard loses embargoed access following Science break — which came on heels of previous probation

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motherboardI have an update on Monday’s post about an embargo break by Motherboard on a study in Science about how dogs understand language. Reporters at Motherboard — and VICE, Motherboard’s parent company — have been sanctioned for the break, and will lose access to EurekAlert!, provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), for six weeks.

[Please note this post — including the headline — has been updated. A previous statement by AAAS saying that Motherboard had been previously sanctioned was in error; AAAS told us this morning that the previous break had led to probation, not a sanction.]

It turns out Motherboard was just about to come off of probation for another recent embargo break. AAAS chief communications officer Ginger Pinholster tells Embargo Watch:

As you know, the purpose of the Science embargo policy is to ensure that journalists have sufficient time to evaluate forthcoming research articles, contact independent sources for perspective, and develop accurate coverage of scientific findings presented to the public. This is consistent with the AAAS goal to help promote public trust in the integrity of science.

EurekAlert!, our science-news website, serves some 12,000 registered journalists worldwide. To be fair, we’re obligated to enforce the Science embargo guidelines uniformly.

Our long-standing guidelines stipulate that access to embargoed content may be revoked for some period of time – between two weeks and six months – depending upon the circumstances. Our guidelines further state that all reporters at a media outlet will be affected by revocation. This includes the parent company.

In determining the appropriate length of access-revocation, we consider factors such as:

-Was it a first or a subsequent offense?

-Did the media outlet respond swiftly to take corrective steps?

-Did they seem to fully appreciate the seriousness of the problem?

-Did the embargo violation result in a journal having to lift its embargo?

-Was it a matter of human or technology error, or rather, a deliberate violation?

We very much appreciated Motherboard’s swift response to the problem as well as their public apology for yesterday’s embargo break, which caused Science to lift its embargo three days early. Upon investigation, however, we determined that reporters at Motherboard had, in fact, been involved in a prior embargo violation. That case involved embargoed PNAS content posted to EurekAlert!. A probationary period affecting Motherboard had been scheduled to endon August 29. Further, the reason given – a publishing calendar error – was the same in both cases.

When embargo breaks happen, we try to enforce our guidelines in a fashion that is neither punitive nor unilateral, which is why I deliberated with colleagues and sought input from veteran science journalists who had not been complainants in yesterday’s case, before reaching a decision to revoke access for journalists at Motherboard and Vice for a six-week period. This will impact 11 staff journalists at Motherboard, another 11 at Vice, and potentially 23 freelancers who had registered with us on the basis that they work for Motherboard/Vice. We do intend to work with freelance journalists who can demonstrate that they are currently employed elsewhere.

We regret this outcome and look forward to restoring access for journalists at Motherboard following the revocation period. We’re grateful to our thousands of reporter-registrants who communicate science to the public and adhere to our embargo guidelines.

Across the world of organizations that embargo, sanctions are applied somewhat inconsistently. But they certainly happen.

(Disclosure: Our sister blog, Retraction Watch, has a partnership with the news side of Science, which is walled off from those who work on embargoed manuscripts there.)


Written by Ivan Oransky

August 31, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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