Discussing Scientific Results Before Publication

The media sometimes ask a scientist questions about research that is soon to be published in a scientific journal. Certainly, no scientist should be expected to jeopardize scientific publication of data by revealing details prematurely. However, the scientist should be willing to answer general questions about the research and its implications. Also, the scientist should be aware that research presented at a meeting is considered in the public domain, and all presented data, whether in press or not, are fair game for journalistic coverage.

A scientist who has any doubts about the propriety of answering questions about research results still in press should consult with the journal editor to find out the journal's editorial policy. While some journal editors frown on release of any information before publication, others are quite willing to allow full disclosure of materials accepted for publication.

However, one potential source of tension between scientists and journalists arises because a journal editor may decide that publicity about submitted data discussed at a scientific meeting is permissible, as long as the scientist does not seek it. Thus, the scientist may give a paper at a public symposium, but not allow a news release, to avoid the appearance of publicity-seeking.

Journal editors should recognize that such an editorial policy increases the danger of incomplete and inaccurate reporting of research news. A more enlightened policy would be to encourage news releases and media reporting of findings presented at scientific meetings. However, the reporter should note that the findings await peer-reviewed scientific publication to fully establish their validity.


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