The Ötzi embargo

By Razib Khan | October 23, 2011 4:57 pm

Dienekes has some harsh words for the way some science is produced, focusing on the genome of Ötzi the Iceman as a case in point:

Yesterday, I twitted in exasperation that Otzi’s genome, which must have been available in at least some sort of draft form since at least the beginning of this year, has been under lock and key, presumably because of the need to make a big splash with the simultaneous Bolzano conference, TV special, likely imminent journal publication, and all the media stories that will follow.

What I don’t understand: how come no one is editing the Wikipedia entry ahead of time? I wonder in hindsight if there’s no there, there, though I hope I’m wrong about this. Going by the lack of media mention of ahead of the NOVA documentary I do suspect we’re seeing the calm before the embargo explosion.


Comments (7)

  1. What incentive do the Otzi researchers have to break embargo?

  2. there have be people who know who aren’t part of the core team.

  3. Their jobs / contracts probably depend on the core team, though.

    I don’t know anything about this study, but I did tech work for Wolfgang Muller et al. in the early 00’s. He’s a great guy and I don’t know anyone involved who would screw him like that. If the current folks are decent as well, I’d be surprised if there were leaks.

  4. Sandgroper

    Not sure I understand the strength of his concern in this particular case – it’s not like they’ve been sitting on it for 15 years. More like accumulated frustration, maybe.

  5. gcochran

    I would like to think that release has been delayed because the results are something utterly strange…

  6. it’s not like they’ve been sitting on it for 15 years.

    I am not criticizing the scientists, I am criticizing the publishing system they have to work in. Its effect on scientific progress is cumulative. Research that can be made public — even in draft form — in months takes years. Suppose someone will take Otzi’s genome and do something innovative e.g., study recent selection in humans. He not only had to wait a year for access to the Otzi data, but he will have to wait another year, going through all the steps until _his_ work sees the light of day. Scientific progress would be much faster if scientists were not constrained by the ritualized motions of a system built for an entirely different age.

  7. Charles Nydorf

    The “accumulated frustration” is justified. To those of us who are passionate about enabling scientific progress or just passionately curious, the withholding of data for trivial reasons (competition, showmanship) is intolerable.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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