Breaking One's Own Embargo

Editor's update: The authors have revised their abstract so as to remove their "embargo" claim.

Editor's note: I was scanning through today's publicly available abstracts at If you go to this abstract "The Carbon-Rich Gas in the Beta Pictoris Circumstellar Disk" published online on 19 April 2006 at, you see the notice "Accepted for publication in Nature. The paper is under press embargo until publication." Click on the PDF link and you will see the paper online with the note "Scientists may reference this paper, but the contents may not be reported in the media before the embargo ends." Fine. I won't report the contents - but you can all read the paper.

Note to authors: This paper does not seem to be in this week's (20 April) issue of Nature. If you do not want the contents of your paper to be read - or known - before it is published - and exert the claim that it is under press embargo, then don't allow it to be published on a government website (in this case on a mirror site at Los Alamos National Laboratory) - one that is viewable by anyone, anywhere on Earth, any time - and mirrored all over the world - without the need for a password, username, or any other means of limiting access. This abstract and a link to the paper was also published on the Smithsonian/NASA ADS which is also wide open to any visitor - with the same (now moot) embargo note. You have broken your own embargo in so doing - indeed, YOU have already published your paper.

Editor's update: A NASA Watch reader alerted me to Nature's embargo policy which states: "Our guidelines for authors and potential authors in such circumstances are clear-cut in principle: communicate with other researchers as much as you wish, but do not encourage premature publication by discussion with the press (beyond a formal presentation, if at a conference)." Then why (as in this instance) publish the paper with the "embargoed" information where anyone can see it? This certainly looks like an instance of "premature publication" to me.

I have to say that this embargo policy contains one of the most blissfully antiquated comments I have seen in quite some time - one clearly oblivious to the global, pervasive reality of the Internet. That a scholarly scientific journal - one which breaks scientific discoveries weekly - claims to believe this is truly amazing: "Nature does not wish to hinder communication between scientists. For that reason, different embargo guidelines apply to work that has been discussed at a conference or displayed on a preprint server and picked up by the media as a result. (Neither conference presentations nor posting on recognized preprint servers constitute prior publication.)" Huh? Does this mean that Nature does not think that posting a paper on a series of webservers distributed around the world with unfettered access does not "constitute prior publication"? Um, how did I manage to download and read the entire paper then - unless it was already published somewhere?

Welcome to the 21st century, Nature. Everyone is now a publisher.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 19, 2006 11:02 PM.

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