Field of Science

Consider the publication embargo...

I'm having email conversations about my upcoming #arseniclife public-outreach talk with (i) editors at Science and (ii) publicists for the Evolpalooza congress.  

Our paper refuting the original claims won't appear in Science until late July, and Science's embargo policy asks authors to refrain from contacting the press.  Reporters on Science's list will be sent copies of the paper a week before it is published, on the understanding that they will not report on this information until it appears in Science.

From the info sheet Science sends to authors:
The embargo policy ensures that no single reporter or news organization gains an advantage over others and that reporters have an equal amount of time to write full and accurate stories. Your cooperation with this policy helps us gain excellent coverage for your research and protects you from problems that may jeopardize your paper’s publication.
(Ooh!  "...problems that may jeopardize your paper's publication"!)

Science asks authors to not initiate contact with the press about their publication, and to only talk to members of the press who have agreed to respect the embargo.  Authors are free to present their data at conferences, but are asked to inform Science of this in advance. 

All this seems a bit silly when applied to research results that have already been widely publicized, with the manuscript publicly available on the arXiv server (it's also on PubMed Central but not released yet).  So I emailed Science for clarification. The response asked for what seem to be slightly tighter restrictions (to not mention that the paper is in press at Science, to not talk to the press after my presentation).  These seem inappropriate, since this is a public-outreach talk and since a major focus of my presentation will be on how science is communicated.  

My plan is describe the refutation results and the Science paper as a minor part of my talk, and to meet with whatever press the organizers arrange, either before or after my talk.  I'll  make sure the journalists are aware of Science's embargo, but I'll happily talk with them about any aspect of the #arseniclife debacle.  I'll probably also mention the issues surrounding the embargo in my talk. 

If you'd like to learn more about embargos in science journalism, I recommend Ivan Oransky's excellent Embargo Watch blog.

Note added Monday July 9:  Science unexpectedly decided to lift the embargo prematurely, so our paper (and another) appeared on Science Express at 8 pm Sunday, right in the middle of my Evolpalooza talk.  Both papers will appear in print in the July 13 26 issue of Science.


  1. NotAnAstroBiologistJuly 5, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    So you can tell someone all about your research, as long as they agree to respect the embargo? Agree with what? A contract?

    What sorts of things could jeopardize publication? A critical look at one's claims perhaps.

  2. Your paper and a companion is on science express

  3. I'm not at all surprised that Wolfe-Simon is clinging on this until the bitter end, but I can't believe Tanier's going all-in. From the Washington Post:

    He said the authors of the two new papers “may well regret some of their statements” in the future.

    “There are many reasons not to find things — I don’t find my keys some mornings,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The absence of a finding is not definitive.”

  4. NotAnAstroBiologistJuly 9, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    Tainer's all in is notable. I can't imagine what stake he has in this.

    The orginal author does gave a credibility problem, there were supposedly forthcoming publications two years ago. That and the bizzare statement that these two studies dont contradict the original one.

  5. A full email exchange is in the first comment on this page:

  6. NotAnAstroBiologistJuly 9, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    I should have said a year and a half ago in my previous post.

  7. NotAnAstroBiologistJuly 9, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    Tainer and Wolfe-Simon are openly contradicting each other. How can the authors of the new studies regret statements that are (according to Wolfe Simon) completely consistent with the original study?

  8. FWS backpedals and contorts in unbelievable ways in the email exchange linked above. What journal is going to publish her paper "in a few months"?


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