EurekAlert retracts press release, and a Guardian reporter sanctioned by EurekAlert reports on it

Cross-posted from Embargo Watch

EurekAlert has withdrawn a press release after realizing that it contained unsupported statements about climate change. As Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian reports:

An online news service sponsored by the world’s premier scientific association unwittingly promoted a study making the false claim that catastrophic global warming would occur within nine years, the Guardian has learned.

The study, by an NGO based in Argentina, claimed the planet would warm by 2.4C by 2020 and projected dire consequences for global food supply. A press release for the Food Gap study was carried by EurekAlert!, the news service operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) , and the story was picked up by a number of international news organisations on Tuesday.

Read the rest of Goldenberg’s story. It’s quite illuminating.

EurekAlert posted a statement that reads, in part:

The non-profit research news service EurekAlert! deeply regrets the accidental posting of an erroneous news release on 18 January 2011. The news release was swiftly removed from EurekAlert!, and staff are taking steps to set the record straight with all reporters who had seen it.

The news release, submitted by Marshall Hoffman of Hoffman & Hoffman public relations on behalf of Universal Ecological Fund (Fundación Ecológica Universal FEU-US), reported a rate of global warming inconsistent with other respected sources of information regarding global climate change.

EurekAlert! is a non-profit research news service, supported by a global consortium of leading science, technology, health, and social science institutions, providing free public access to an array of science-related information as well as free embargoed access for journalists.

Each day, EurekAlert! staff members use a general checklist to determine the eligibility of up to 100 news release submissions, and to proofread submissions for typographical or common-sense errors. But we rely mostly on the submitting organization to ensure the veracity of the scientific content of the news release; we try to exclude unreliable information providers on the front-end of our screening process.

Reporters, who are the primary readers of our site, are a critical additional safeguard against erroneous information because they alert us to any problems. EurekAlert! has today set up a new e-mail address for reporting concerns, questions, or errors posted to our site:

Fortunately, we very rarely have problems with information posted to EurekAlert!. We deeply regret that the system failed yesterday, and we appreciate the help we received from reporters who are now setting the record straight.

I’ve asked before whether EurekAlert should ensure that material they post is actually embargo-able. The service says it doesn’t edit any releases, and this statement is consistent with that. But should anyone who pays the fee have access to it?

Ironically — and we’re pretty sure this qualifies in the classical sense — Goldenberg was sanctioned by EurekAlert in August for breaking an embargo. She lost access for six months two weeks. We’re not quite at that six-month mark, of course. I have a message into EurekAlert to confirm, and will update when I hear back. [See update at end.]

It was tempting to add “payback is a bitch” to this headline. Should I have?

Update, 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 1/19/11: Science Press Package Director Kathy Wren tells me the length of Goldenberg’s sanction was two weeks, not six months:

Yes, Ms. Goldenberg was sanctioned back in August, though her access to embargoed material on EurekAlert! was suspended for two weeks. This decision was based on the fact that this was a first time, accidental offense by a reporter at a publication that normally takes care to uphold embargoes, and that we were assured this would not happen again.

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