News FocusEMBARGOES

Good, Bad, or 'Necessary Evil'?

Science  30 Oct 1998:
Vol. 282, Issue 5390, pp. 860-867
DOI: 10.1126/science.282.5390.860

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Summary

The embargo system--a decades-old gentlemen's agreement between science journals and reporters that keeps information from scientific reports secret until a journal publishes it--is under growing pressure. The system offers advantages for everybody involved: Journals get maximum publicity, journalists get time to report complex stories, and scientists get more widespread and more accurate public exposure for their work. But it is also wracked by built-in tensions: It can erect barriers to the free exchange of scientific information through which advances are made; it rules out the "scoops" on which newspapers and their reporters thrive; and it has created new problems when information that can send a company's stock price soaring is distributed to hundreds of journalists under an embargo. But the biggest threat is coming from Web-based publishing, which is speeding up the communication of findings outside the usual embargoed channels and making print publication dates somewhat arbitrary.