I hate press releases – especially around scientific papers. They rarely explain the work clearly, almost always overstate its significance, and are often grossly dishonest. But scientists and their press offices, working in close collaboration with journals, continue churning them, hoping to earn popular press coverage of their latest findings. They go through this unseemly process because they believe that reporters will only cover papers if they get advance notice of publications, and are spoonfed highlights.
After the grotesque NASA press releases around their 2010 arsenic paper in Science, I vowed to do whatever I can to end this practice. So I was very happy when my brother decided not to press release a very cool paper he had coming out in PLoS One (and double props for publishing it there). He chose, instead, to write a long, detailed blog post after the paper was published explaining not only the paper, but the story behind it. This violated all of the assumptions of the embargoed press release mindset – he provided no advanced notice, and the blog post was anything but a flashy, dumbed down account of how the paper would change the world.
And, of course, he was punished mercilessly for his apostasy…. NOT!
His blog post and paper were immediately picked up by a host of prominent and thoughtful science bloggers (e.g. Carl Zimmer and PZ Myers), who appreciated (I am speculating) not being talked down to. But more impressively, the story got tons of play in the popular press who supposedly had not time to read long posts and wouldn’t report on “yesterday’s news”. Today there was a really good article about the paper in The Economist.
So “Way to go Jonathan!” – I hope this is the beginning of the end of the scientific press release.