Monday, August 17, 2009

Tracking a Press Release


David Hone recently published a paper on theropod behavior [see: Baby killers: hunting and feeding behaviours of large theropods].

When the paper came out he made up a press release that he distributed to a bunch of people. He tracked the number of articles that picked up on his press release. Initially there was only one report in the media, then five, then twenty [Media tracking].

He was generally satisfied with the articles that appeared but some of his complaints are interesting ...
This leads us onto the next point here. The press release was often regurgitated in very large and near complete chunks. Now that is part of what it is for of course, but equally I would hope that part of their job would be to give it a bit of a literary polish (since they are, you know, writers) and make it a bit more accessible to the public. If not, then the press might as well just publish the press release in full and save themselves a bunch of money on reporters. On the other had, most of them did add in new introductory paragraphs and needless to say this is where the errors mostly came in. So they either copied stuff without writing anything new, or wrote a couple of paragraphs that they got wrong. Really how hard is to check up on a couple of dinosaur facts (one could contact the authors for example) when already 80% of the article is written for you and you don’t have to read the paper itself? Remember that these are supposed to be not just journalists but science reporters and fact checking (especially from a published paper) should be first nature, let alone second nature and is hardly difficult or even especially time consuming, no matter the deadline.
I've never heard of a scientist who makes the effort to personally advertise a paper that's just been published. Usually it's the institution who sends out the press releases and they go directly to the various wire services who specialize in science stories.

I must admit that the concept of publicizing your own work troubles me a bit.

[Hat Tip: Panda's Thumb]


  1. I must admit that the concept of publicizing your own work troubles me a bit.

    Can you elaborate on why this is troubling?

  2. Well, for one thing, there are thousands of papers published every week and I'm sure every one of the authors think their work is worthy of being written up in the New York Times and covered on network television.

    I wonder how many journalists would appreciate getting a thousand email messages every week from scientists promoting their own work?

  3. Hi Larry. If you read the comments on my post I do elaborate a bit. I work in a Chinese research institute in Beijing. As such we have no press office who can do this kind of thing on my behalf and even if we did, it would only go to Chinese news organisations since none of the non-academic staff speak much English. As an Englishman I obviously felt the best place to promote my work was in the UK so I set out to do this. This is the first paper for which i have sent out anything like a press release and i did it specifically because it was something I expected to have a wide range of interest in the media and having a lot of media contacts was achievable.

    I can understand your sentiments, but I think I am rather an unusual case (effectively independent but with a lots of contacts in the media) and went for it. I imagine most researchers only bother their press office (who then bother the media) with things they think have merit as journalistic copy so I'm not sure even my approach here would be a huge problem if many people picked up on it. Certainly after the intial release I was more bothered by e-mail and phone calls (in a good way) that I imagine any of them were.


  4. Sorry, just re-read that and the opening sentence isn't great. I merely meant that there is a some more details for those interested, but it kinda reads like I imply you should have read them already. Apologies.