How Not to Write a Press Release

EurekAlert had a press release yesterday titled Quantum paradox directly observed — a milestone in quantum mechanics, which sounds like it ought to be great. The actual release, though….

For one thing, the description of the actual experiment is so vague as to be completely useless. It’s not easy to quote without copying the whole thing, but it’s short, so go read it yourself. Do you have any idea what’s going on?

Second, it doesn’t provide a complete citation for the article– it gives the title, authors, and journal, but not the relevant page and volume information, which you need in order to find the right article. Yeah, it’s on the front page right now, but somebody coming across this a week from now will have a harder time finding the paper.

That might not seem like a big deal, but in this specific case, it’s unforgivable, because the journal in question is the New Journal of Physics, which is open-access. You can view the full text of the article yourself, without a subscription.

What’s especially stupid about this is that the press release was put out by the Institute of Physics, who are the people who publish the journal. There’s just no excuse for not providing a link in the press materials.

The paper itself looks interesting, though its explanation of what’s going on assumes a little too much knowledge of Hardy’s Paradox. The press release, on the other hand, is most useful as an example of what not to do.


  1. #1 Ffpt
    March 5, 2009

    I flippin’ hate these scientific press release sites. A whole lot of fluff, no detail.

  2. #2 Matt Leifer
    March 5, 2009

    It is indeed an interesting experiment. To understand the theory of what is going on you just need to look at three papers:

    Hardy L 1992 Phys. Rev. Lett. 68 2981

    Although the experiment is interesting, it is uncertain whether it can be taken as a demonstration of nonlocality because we don’t know enough about modelling weak measurements with post-selection in hidden variable theories. However, it is a nice demonstration of the logic of weak values.

  3. #3 sdrDusty
    March 5, 2009

    Glad you commented on this. The press release was written in such a “wiki for dummies” manner… I’m pretty much a dummy, but I was looking for a bit more detail.

  4. #4 Mike P
    March 5, 2009

    #1 Ffpt,

    Well… they’re not really for you. They’re supposed to entice journalists and media outlets to think they’re interesting enough to write full stories about. So they give all the fluff and expect writers to do the nitty-gritty research on the details. Granted, as sciencebloggers point out constantly, that last part doesn’t happen nearly enough.

    And all that said, this particular example does seem to be an egregiously bad example of a press release.

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