Stacey May is the AAPS director of Public Outreach.
In working with news outlets, scientific associations often use a press or news embargo to ensure the controlled release—no pun intended, pharmaceutical scientists!—of information until a certain date or until conditions have been met. These embargoes are frequently utilized by scientific journals or meetings to promote peer-reviewed science prior to official publication; the media is given advance knowledge of research being held in confidence so that articles can be prepared to coincide with the announcement date.
AAPS often embargoes press releases around our annual meetings in part to reduce misrepresentation of the research. This allows time for the reporters to work directly with the researchers and address any questions they have prior to press time, and it also helps ensure that our association name is associated with the work (e.g., research being presented this week at the AAPS National Biotechnology Conference…). It also enables us to “take the lead” on releasing our own news, such as award winners, AAPS Fellows, plenary speakers, etc.
This week NPR’s David Schultz posted a piece titled “What We Wanted To Tell You About Mumps But Couldn’t,” in which three separate scientific journals highlighted papers related to a 2009 mumps outbreak in New York. Two of the papers came out last week and were available to both the public and the media. The third wasn’t published until the following week, and editors of that publication—citing an embargo—restricted access to the information until publication. As a result, NPR was unable to cover the topic as extensively as it had hoped.
As scientists, what are your thoughts about embargoing scientific research? Is it important that the work be published first to ensure that public and the media can cite the original research? What about in the case of a public health emergency?
Members of the media, we encourage your feedback as well.