Embargoes and Neutrinos

The Embargo Watch blog has revealed an interesting aspect of how the recent news of faster-than-light neutrinos was released, namely that information had been issued to the main-stream media news outlets before even the rumours started to spread on the blogs. Their report includes a statement by the CERN press officer James Gillies detailing how he thinks the news broke but it leaves out some important details. It is interesting to look back at what did happen because news of other discoveries may emerge in a similar way in the future, so for the record here is the timeline as I witnessed it.

12th September – A seminar was scheduled at CERN for 16th September with the title “Seminar DG”. I saw it posted on indico and I added it to the viXra event calendar. There was no indication of what it was about, but as we now know CNRS had asked CERN if they could report their results there. CERN does not operate OPERA, it just provides the neutrino beam.

13th September – According to Embargo Watch journalists were briefed about the results at about this time and asked not to publish yet.

15th September – An anonymous commenter reported on Resanaances that a 6.1 sigma effect was about to be reported by CERN but the seminar had been cancelled. I saw the comment and checked my link to the “seminar DG” to find that it had indeed disappeared. I posted a note on an earlier Seminar Watch post and twitter but was not sure if the rumour was genuine.

16th September – Anonymous posted comments on Resonaances, Not Even Wrong and Vixra to say that the report would be about faster than light neutrinos at OPERA and that the seminar had been rescheduled. I added a link to the new seminar to the Calendar.

19th September – Dorigo posted a report about the findings on Quantum Diaries Survivor. Posts quickly followed on viXra and The Reference Frame and other blogs. Dorigo then withdrew the post under pressure from his emplyer.

22nd September – Another Italian physicist gave an interview about it to an Italian paper. According to Gillies this is when CERN briefed some journalists with the intention that the news should be published the next day. Reuters and some others published immediately.

23rd September - An e-print appeared in arXiv in the morning and the news was widely reported in the media. The seminar was held later that day. The official press release was issued etc.

What do we learn from this? Firstly, a week is too long to contain a rumour about particle physics and if the rumour starts in Italy then it is far too long. If they had stuck to the original schedule the information would have emerged from the seminar as planned. Briefing the press and then delaying the seminar was not good. The original intention was to let the main stream media prepare the story before the blogs, but the result was that the news leaked onto the blogs while the press were under an agreement to stay silent, what a mess.

When Dorigo posted they should not have forced him to remove it. Other bloggers already knew what the news was and by all accounts it was being discussed widely by physicists. I for one was ready to post more at that time anyway.

The CERN press office and the DG give the strong impression that they do not like bloggers that they don’t have control over. As freelance bloggers we often get information in advance and contrary to what some people think we don’t always post it.  They need to stop working against us if they want that to continue.


8 Responses to Embargoes and Neutrinos

  1. ivanoransky says:

    Thanks for noting the Embargo Watch account, and for adding lots of important details. Great stuff.

    Just one correction. You write that on September 13:

    “According to Embargo Watch an embargoed press release was issued by CERN to journalists at about this time. It is not clear if this really happened.”

    There was no such embargoed release on the 13th, as I took pains to make clear:

    http://embargowatch.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/did-reuters-and-the-bbc-break-the-embargo-on-the-neutrinos-speed-of-light-story/

    “First, a number of science journalists knew about the finding starting some 10 days ago. CERN and the OPERA officials had asked those reporters to hold off publishing until they gave the go-ahead, and had suggested that the news would be released last Friday, September 16. But they weren’t sure how they were going to publish and publicize the results, and they had never asked anyone to agree to an official embargo, certainly not in writing.”

    This was a gentleman’s agreement, not an embargo, and I have no evidence that anyone issued a release on the 13th. Reporters knew about the findings because they had been briefed.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

    Ivan Oransky
    Embargo Watch

  2. Philip Gibbs says:

    Ivan thanks for the clarification. If I understand correctly then, they were briefed on or about the 13th and told to hold off, but this did not count as an official embargo, just a gentleman’s agreement.

    I will modify my account.

    Keep up the reports on embargos, it is interesting stuff.

  3. Kea says:

    Hear, hear! The internet and blogging are here to stay, hopefully. Authorities need to learn that they don’t have the same control over the news that they used to have. That can only be good for the truth.

  4. Nessuno says:

    Briefing the press first, and delaying the seminar, was clearly done on purpose, to increase the expectations and to give more media resonance to the seminar. The strategy here is “doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong; the important thing is that they speak about us”

    • Philip Gibbs says:

      Nessuno, you are even more cynical than me. I don’t think they delayed on purpose. This announcement was always going to get press coverage and did not need to be hyped further.

      The real problem is that the press releases are always being issued after the results have already been reported on the blogs. The newspapers cannot hire an army of specialist experts who would know what is coming or where to look for it. It is also hard to find experts who are not constrained to wait until after the official presentation before commenting. I dont think the journalists like the fact that they are increasingly getting the news by following the blogs and they complain about it. The CERN press office tried to fix this by briefing the papers in advance for once but they discovered why this is not a foolproof plan. The seminar got rescheduled at the last minute.

  5. Albert Z says:

    Pseudo-reality prevails!

  6. [...] dicha entrada. Acabo de leer la historia de la noticia de los neutrinos en Philip Gibbs, “Embargoes and Neutrinos,” viXra log, October 7, 2011, que se basa en parte en Ivan Oransky, [...]

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