Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

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The FDA has been using embargoes to manipulate journalists. Here’s how.

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Charles Seife

Charles Seife

Embargo Watch readers may recall a few episodes over the years involving the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA), in which the agency tried to turn reporters into stenographers. In 2011 and 2014, journalists were required to agree not to speak to any outside sources before an embargo lifted, if they wanted access to the information ahead of time.

The 2011 incident made me a little, well, let’s say outraged, and the Association of Health Care Journalists, on whose board I’ve sat since 2002, wrote a letter to the FDA about the policy. The FDA reversed itself, which I cheered. But they went back to their old tricks in 2014, this time ending up on the radar of the New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan.

Despite the frustration and publicity, the FDA doesn’t seem to have made any changes. And in the new issue of Scientific American, my New York University Institute of Journalism colleague Charles Seife reveals Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 31, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

“Whoops.” Science lifts embargo early on dog speech processing study after break by Motherboard

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science 2014At 4:47 p.m. Eastern today, about three days before the embargo on this week’s issue was scheduled to lift, Science/AAAS sent out this email to its media list:

Effectively immediately, Science is lifting the embargo on the study, “Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs,” by A. Andics and colleagues, because of an embargo violation by a registered outlet to which other reporter registrants have made us aware.

The Science Press Package Team and EurekAlert! take such violations extremely seriously and we will be following up swiftly with the responsible media outlet. We apologize for the inconvenience this issue creates for our registrants globally.

The embargo breaker? Motherboard, who had already taken the piece down, replacing it with this, (headlined “Whoops”): Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 29, 2016 at 6:18 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Journals: Don’t embargo papers that have already appeared as preprints. Here’s why.

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pnas juneThe ever-changing world of scientific publishing can be a messy and confusing place, full of unintended, if not unanticipated, consequences. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) learned that today, the hard way.

Here’s what happened: PNAS had a paper on human evolution embargoed for this coming Monday, at 3 p.m. Eastern, as is their custom. But a little after 3 p.m. Eastern today, the journal sent out an alert to its media list saying that the embargo on the paper, “Genetic evidence for natural selection in humans in the contemporary United States,” was being lifted immediately.

Why? I asked. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

July 8, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Columbia University breaks embargo on researchers’ paper

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pnas juneThe Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) lifted the embargo about three hours early on a paper scheduled to go live yesterday at 3 p.m. Eastern time, after a press release appeared on the website of the university medical center home of some of the researchers, and a story ran on a wire service.

From a PNAS email sent to reporters yesterday: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

June 7, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Newspaper can’t wait another hour to reveal 5,000-year-old beer recipe; breaks embargo

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pnas juneThe Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) lifted the embargo 20 minutes early on a paper scheduled to go live today at 3 p.m. Eastern time, after a story appeared in a UK news outlet at 2 p.m.

The release read: “Archaeological artifacts from a site in northern China suggest a 5,000-year-old recipe for beer, according to a study.” PNAS tells Embargo Watch: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

May 23, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

PNAS lifts embargo early for tenth time this year, following break

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pnas juneThe Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) lifted the embargo on a study early on Monday, following an embargo break. Here’s the top of the message that went out to the journal’s media list at 2:38 p.m. Eastern, 22 minutes before the scheduled embargo lift: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 25, 2015 at 10:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized