What did Phoenix see?
By Hamish Johnston
In September 2008, planetary scientists told the world that the Phoenix Mars Lander had made several interesting discoveries on Mars — you can read all about it here on the NASA website.
This was duly reported by the BBC and other popular news outlets.
The scientists also wrote several scientific papers about their findings and submitted them to a prestigious journal — which now has the cheek to “embargo” the story until the papers are published!
That means that if I report on the papers before they are published I could lose my access to the journal’s embargoed preprints. Also, if a scientist had spoken to me about their paper while it was being peer-reviewed — and I had written about it — the paper could have been be dropped by the prestigious journal. Which is bad news for the researchers.
But I won’t be reporting on it because you already know what Phoenix saw on Mars!
So what is the point of the embargo? Is the journal simply going through the motions of its embargo policy — or is this a cynical ploy to get this story back into the news?
I’m not the only one wondering about the point of embargo policies — Julianne over at Cosmic Variance started a good discussion earlier this month — and of course our very own Jon Cartwright looked into the practice last year.
I suppose I’m particularly ticked-off about embargoes because last week I came across two papers on the arXiv preprint server that would have made for a fantastic news story. I spent an hour or so doing background research and then asked a freelance journalist to cover the papers. He invested more time…but guess what, both papers had been submitted to prestigious journals and the authors wouldn’t talk.
So instead of being rewarded with a scoop for my daily scouring of the arXiv, our story will be published at the same time as those who simply waited for the press release.
It’s soul destroying!
So, what do you think?