The Darwinius Affair is getting messier. Not only did some scientists commit a serious breach of scientific ethics by exaggerating their claims about the fossil, but they also prevented legitimate science journalists from doing their job.
As most of you know, I think that science journalists should examine the claims of scientists in order to ensure they are accurate. They should not just take the word of the scientist, no matter how famous he or she is.1
In order to do their job, the science journalists need access to the scientific paper before it is released to the public. This is standard practice. Journalists are used to, and respect, news embargos.
In this particular case, it appears that scientists and the editors of PLoS ONE prevented journalists from seeing the paper until the press conference and all the associated hoopla was under way. Carl Zimmer has the story at Science Held Hostage.
Shame on PloS ONE, on the scientists who wrote the paper, and on everyone else who is associated with this media event. This is not how science is supposed to work. This is not how we should be communicating with the general public.
Franzen, J.L., Gingerich, P.D., Habersetzer, J., Hurum, J.H., von Koenigswald, W., et al. (2009) Complete Primate Skeleton from the Middle Eocene of Messel in Germany: Morphology and Paleobiology. PLoS ONE 4(5): e5723. [doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005723]
1. Most professional science journalists don't do this, but that's another issue.