Embargoes. If you're a science or medical writer, you can't live with 'em and can't live without 'em.
The bigger the embargo, the harder it falls. Does the public care?
The bigger the embargo, the harder it falls. Does the public care? iStockphoto.com
Science can be tricky to explain, so it's commonplace for academic journals and medical societies to give journalists time to report on studies before they're made public.
Good idea? Well, not everybody is sold on it. Some say embargoes breed journalistic dependency and laziness. At a conference in London last year, Lancet editor Richard Horton slammed reporters for allowing the academic PR machine to steamroll them. "You've sold your soul to publicity masquerading as science," he said, according to blogger Ed Yong. Embargoes, Horton said, hand power over to journals.
Well, he ought to know.
We've seen a lot more testiness recently over what's a valid embargo and what's not, such as the handling of government data showing an increase in the prevalence of autism.
Now Ivan Oransky, whose day job is executive editor of Reuters Health, is blogging about embargo controversies at Embargo Watch. Oransky's a pal of ours, but we'd say this is good stuff, even if he wasn't.
Take a look at the post about two journalists blackballed by JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. Or this one featuring a delightful though salty video portraying a chat between a journalist and PR person over a tech story.
We're not sure how Oransky finds the time to do this, but we're glad he does. As to why he's blogging about it, he writes:
My hope is that by chronicling these stories and trends, I can help make embargoes work better. For some... that may mean doing away with them. For others, it may mean refining them.
Update: Even when the going gets sticky, Embargo Watch sticks with it. Oransky just posted about Reuters breaking an embargo and getting punished by the American Heart Association.