No embargoes: From Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch:
This Thursday, dozens of news outlets will publish stories on the same new study in the journal Science. On Friday, many of those same news outlets will all report on a study in the medical journal the Lancet. These newspapers and magazines will largely talk to the same sources, and many of their stories will be nearly identical.
The reason for this synchrony is embargoes — agreements between reporters and sources that the former can have access to information from the latter, but not publish anything until a time the source has determined in advance. Nearly all of the major scientific journals use them and send the studies out to journalists five or so days before they lift.
Embargoes have become the focus of attention in recent months because one of the main clearinghouses for them, EurekAlert, was hacked — and because of some fairly shocking revelations about how the US Food and Drug Administration has used them to manipulate journalists.More.
Ys, embargoes: From Brian Reid at Embargo Watch, who warns:
But what would the world of medical reporting look like if embargoes went away? Certainly different, but probably not better. Here’s what you’d get every Wednesday at 5 p.m. (when the New England Journal of Medicine goes public):
THE SPEEDSTERS: Though serious reporters would rather have the story right than first, a small army of specialists will emerge whose remit is to turn the journal manuscript into consumer-facing prose as quickly as possible. Accuracy will be spotty, context will be thin, if it exists at all. But in a world in which the half-life of a tweet is 24 minutes, the eyeballs and money, if not actual glory, will go to the first outlets to get something–anything–out in public.
THE CLICKBAITERS: Speed is one way to get something trending on social, which is a coin of the realm for much of the media today. The other is clickable headlines. You think the “COFFEE CAUSES/CURES CANCER” headlines are bad now? Wait until the world’s finest social-media savants start writing headlines on top of a hastily assembled news stories in hopes of virality. More.
O’Leary for News’ view: Brian Reid represents the face of progressive media pretty accurately: The same public who know that Hillary Clinton is not dying just because the National Enquirer said she was last month (and also that she is not a serious alcoholic just because the same publication claimed so in 2015) is supposed to believe that coffee causes or cures cancer?
Most people capable of lining up at a supermarket checkout counter are far more sophisticated about what to believe than academics imagine. They fund studies to prove otherwise and then discover they cannot even predict the results of publicly fought political contests – they are stunned by the results.
One can distinguish between an “embargo”—as such—on publishing science news before a given date and this new, more sinister, form that is creating anxiety.
An embargo, in principle, does not prevent journalists from acquiring our own sources of information before we post. Which is our job.
The newer closely held embargo, means that journalists all post the (often) government-funded bumph together at a given time, with little or no consult from outside sources.
That’s the uniquack approach to science writing!
In many cases then, journalists are just privately funded government PR— without the civil service’s iron rice bowl, lush benefits, and gold-plated union protection from the consequences of disastrous incompetence.
As a result, the public does not know when it is funding managed news (PR?) via subscriptions to the science publications. (But now, as it happens, we do know, thanks to the Eurekalert hack.)
Readers, you’d cancel some subscriptions for Christmas if you knew how many science writers just go along with it all.
Above all, let’s keep the internet free. We’ll sure need it.
Keep up to date with Retraction Watch.
See also: How the U.S. Food and Drug Administration controls science stories
Why the mainstream media was bound to call the U.S. election wrong
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