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Scientific research articles cited in the media should be available at the time embargoes are lifted, not later.

missing-in-actionRecently there was an article I very much wanted to write about in a timely fashion, having seen the news in local media and on Ed Yong’s blog. To my complete frustration, the research paper was unavailable despite the story being widely reported in the media. And not just frustration, either: it seemed wrong.

Others explained it was because PNAS (the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA) has a practice of not releasing the paper for a period after the media embargo.

It seems a number of journals take some time to release the DOIs (Document Object Identifiers) associated with a publication or even the article itself following an embargo on reporting the publication.

As Yong writes in his call to Kill the post-embargo publication window:

This practice punishes scientists who are unable to see, comment on, or discuss work that is outed in the mainstream media, it punishes journalists who are trying to link to original sources, and it punishes readers who are inquisitive and skeptical enough to try to verify the information they read. None of these is acceptable.

I agree.

On Ed Yong’s issue of provisioning DOIs, the DOIs themselves can be provided ahead of time, as I am sure in most cases they are. I can’t imagine that there is a technological reason that DOI link can’t be routed to a standard placeholder page until the time the embargo is lifted and replaced with the actual article at the moment the embargo is lifted.

On the wrongness of articles not being available despite the same material being reported in the media… one thought I had at the time was that here was a scientific journal, representing a body of scientists (the NAS), effectively blocking scientists from assisting science from being properly covered in media, and less formally on blogs and the internet in general. It seemed contrary to their own aims. Or at least outdated given how the internet works, as Ed Yong points out.

A deeper sense of wrongness relates to if embargoes should even exist and if it’s proper for media to effectively be the first/only port for initial dissemination, as opposed to scientists with media skills (say). But that’s an argument for another day.

I’m unsure if embargoes should exist at all; I’m still coming to grips with the details and variations employed but it’s topic that’s widely discussed on the WWW, for example in Ivan Oransky’s new Embargo Watch Blog.

Share your thoughts in the comments.


Other science communication posts on Code for Life:

(See links at the end of these articles for further posts.)

ScienceOnline2010 commentaries for those who weren’t there

And the winning entries for The Open Laboratory for 2009 are… (You can now buy your copy!)

Science writing vs. science journalism

Media thought: Ask what is known, not the expert’s opinion

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Science journalism–critical analysis not debate

Scientists can’t write?