Pros and cons of the embargo system

In an article entitled Science reporting’s dark secret , David Whitehouse (a former BBC science correspondent) writes in the Independent newspaper about his growing feeling that the embargo system is a thing of the past. According to Mr Whitehouse, the embargo system encourages bland, indistinguishable science coverage across newspapers; forces Sunday newspapers to publish “daft” science stories; acts as a marketing tool for the journals; and is disliked by scientists. Read his stimulating article (at the link above) for more details of this indictment.

The Nature journals use the embargo system, which is explained on our author and referees’ website here. We believe that the embargo serves scientists, authors, journalists and the public. Our policy is to release information about our content in a way that provides fair and equal access to the media, allowing it to provide informed comment based on the complete and final version of the paper that is to be published. Authors and their institutions’ press offices are able then to interact with the media ahead of publication, and benefit from the subsequent coverage. We have our own press office to assist authors in their dealings with the media, and to assist the media to find out about our papers (we provide contact details of authors, and where there is a News and Views article about a paper, the News and Views author, for journalists so they can easily obtain comments on the articles before their own deadlines).

The benefits of peer review as a means of giving journalists confidence in new work published in journals are self-evident. Premature release to the media denies journalists that confidence. It also removes journalists’ ability to obtain informed reactions about the work from independent researchers in the field.

We also encourage scientists to communicate with each other about their results, before, during and after submission of their articles, as explained on the author and referees’ website here.

We welcome your views on our policies, in light of the Independent article and the explanations for our policies that we provide on our website.


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    Roger Pielke Jr. said:


    I largely agree with Whitehouse. If the embargo system were abandoned, I see no threat to peer review or the ability for journalists to get independent views.

    Peer review is only an intial level of quality control, but as we all know, even peer-reviewed ideas are subject to revision and reinterpretation over time. And of course, on many topics there are different peer-reviewed studies that tell incompatible stories.

    Perhaps the greatest value of a Nature (or a Science) is the ability to place the latest scientific findings into scientific, political, and social context, based on your staff expertise, but also your contacts and experience. And on these subjects you have a natural embargo, as the information doesn’t go out until you yourselves put it out.

    I’m all for lving without the embargo. Why not try it for, say, six months, and see what happens. I’d bet science reporting would improve as a result.

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