Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

After a typhoon delays publication of a paper, PLOS ONE tries to re-embargo the work, then reverses itself

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House et al (2020) PLOS ONE, CC BY

On Wednesday, November 25, a bit after 2 p.m. US East Coast time, when the embargo on a PLOS ONE paper had already lifted, the journal’s press office sent this message to reporters:

IMPORTANT EMBARGO UPDATE: 

The article described in release “Keyhole wasps may threaten aviation safety” (article DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0242063) has now been rescheduled to publish at 2PM ET on Monday, November 30, and will remain under a press embargo until then. This is due to a typhoon affecting our typesetters; we sincerely apologize for the inconvenience and short notice. 

If you have already posted coverage for this work, we request you take the coverage down for now and repost after 2PM ET on November 30.

The rest of the articles described in this press distribution have published today (November 25) as planned. 

Again, we apologize for the inconvenience. 

Now, publication of embargoed papers is occasionally delayed, although we haven’t seen a typhoon as a reason before — and hope for the best for the typesetters and their loved ones. What seemed quite unusual here, however, to me and to other reporters, was the idea that any pieces published at the embargo time should be clawed back — for five days — because of the snafu. 

Late on the 25th, I contacted PLOS to ask about their rationale. I heard back from them early the following morning, shortly after the journal had changed course and lifted the embargo. Beth Baker, senior media relations manager at PLOS, told Embargo Watch:

The paper “Inventive nesting behaviour in the keyhole wasp Pachodynerus nasidens Latreille (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) in Australia, and the risk to aviation safety” was scheduled to publish at 2pm ET on November 25 and was under embargo until then. Unfortunately, we heard later that day that a typhoon had prevented its online publication, and the paper was re-scheduled to publish at 2pm ET on November 30 (the first working day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday).

We initially asked reporters to hold their coverage of the study until that time. However, we became aware that multiple news outlets had already posted coverage at the time of the original embargo lift. It would not have been fair to ask these outlets to remove their coverage or to ask other outlets to hold their own coverage. We therefore lifted the embargo effective immediately.

Indeed. Journals should lift embargoes that are no longer defensible because material has made its way into the public domain, whether that’s because of an embargo break by a news outlet or because a typhoon wreaked havoc on schedules.

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 30, 2020 at 6:30 am

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