Jonathan Eisen, who blogs at The Tree of Life, has coined the phrase "Genomics by Press Release", and has even given out two ignominious awards for particularly egregious examples. The most recent was Genomics By Press Release Award #2: Leiden University and the First "Female" Genome. Lest anyone think that blogs are ineffective as a means of communication, consider the fact that Jonathan's post has been reported on in this week's issue of Science.
Here are the relevant parts, in case you don't have access to the story:
Dutifully hailing it as a victory for equality, hundreds of newspapers, TV stations, and Web sites noted last week that scientists had finally sequenced the genome of a woman. A 34-year-old red-haired clinical geneticist from the Netherlands had joined living DNA legend James Watson and genome entrepreneur J. Craig Venter in the exclusive club of people whose entire DNA sequence has been unraveled. The story had a funny twist, too: Her name is Marjolein Kriek. A Watson and a Kriek, united by DNA again.
But the announcement raised eyebrows as well, because the data have not been put in the public domain nor analyzed, let alone published. "As far as I can tell, this whole story is about perception with no reality involved," PLoS Biology editor Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist, wrote in his blog. Indeed, Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), which presented the research at a 26 May meeting in Amsterdam, wasn't really the first to claim a female genome--not even the second.
Van Ommen says he wasn't aware of those claims. "If we had known, we would not have presented it this way," he says. He does plead guilty to Eisen's charge of "science by press release," noting, however, that his team is hardly the only perpetrator: For example, Watson's genome sequence was hailed publicly months before Nature published a paper on it.
The fact is, science writers often read blogs written by scientists just as scientists read science news stories, and this is a good example of how this interaction can be very positive.