A new, open-access journal called eLife released its “media policy” earlier this week – including a promise to not issue embargoed news releases and language encouraging researchers to make their accepted manuscripts available to the public in advance of publication. I think this is a good move.
As I read the eLife policy, the look on my face must have gone from neutral, to guarded optimism, to enthusiasm – then back to guarded optimism as I re-read the policy to make sure I had gotten it right.
After reading it, I shared my thoughts with Ivan Oransky, who writes the Embargo Watch blog. He included my input in a larger post on various aspects of the eLife media policy, which you can (and should) read here.
But I’m posting my thoughts here as well, because embargoes and the timing of releasing journal articles are a big deal in the world of science communication. They often dictate when reporters publish their stories, when PIOs roll out their news releases, and when (some) researchers become comfortable talking about their work publicly. They can also lead to confusion and hard feelings about when a paper is fair game.
Here’s what I told Embargo Watch:
“In my opinion, the media policy makes a lot of sense, in terms of raising the profile of papers being published by eLife. There are two things here that I particularly like:
“First, I’m glad to see that eLife will not be issuing embargoed news releases. I think embargoes create more problems than they solve, often resulting in misunderstandings, ill will and uncertainty among researchers, reporters and PIOs. In addition, it eliminates problems stemming from the fact that many embargoes lift at odd times – often late in the afternoon in EST, which is a pain in the neck for reporters and PIOs. (Especially those of us based on the east coast of the U.S.)
“Second, I applaud the fact that they are urging researchers to make accepted manuscripts publicly available online. This will facilitate dissemination of the relevant findings sooner, which is great. But it also serves another significant role, in terms of giving reporters easier access to the material. I’m a PIO (i.e., flack), and it’s my job to promote research by faculty at my institution. I try to do a good job, but no reporter in his or her right mind is going to “take my word for it” when it comes to writing about research findings. They’ll want to read the paper and talk to the researchers.
“If I’m pitching a story, I can provide direct contact information for the relevant researchers, but reporters usually have to get a copy of the paper from me. If we’re able to put a copy of the accepted manuscript online, I can include a direct link in my pitches. That means it will be my job to give reporters a heads up about important/interesting papers – but they can get the paper and talk to the researchers without having to come through my office at all. That’s what I would have wanted when I was a reporter. Among other things, it means reporters can get the paper immediately, rather than waiting for me to get their message and send them back a copy of the paper.”
So, kudos to eLife – and to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, and the Wellcome Trust, which are backing it. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Now, go read the post Oransky wrote for Embargo Watch.