Publication before peer review could undermine the use of embargoed press releases, but the benefits outweigh the risks, says Stephen Curry.
The publication of a peer-reviewed research article in an academic journal is a controlled event. If deemed newsworthy, it can be flagged up with an embargoed press release, enabling the media to explain its significance to a broader audience. The embargo system gives journalists time to read the paper, talk to the authors, and seek out other views. There are downsides of course: a tendency to churnalism, where reporting simply regurgitates the press release; and temptations for researchers, universities and journals to hype new results.
An increasing amount of research, however, is becoming public before peer review via preprint servers. Physicists and mathematicians have been posting manuscripts to the arXiv repository for more than 25 years. Similar repositories have now been launched for a range of subjects, including biomedical science, chemistry, social science and psychology.