"Goddammit! When is somebody gonna go on the record in this story?"--Jason Robards as Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee in the movie All the President's Men.

Psst! Wanna get a reporter's attention? Just say those three little words "off the record."

They're three of the most overused and misunderstood words in the business. They conjure up images of "Deep Throat" secretly meeting in a parking garage with Bob Woodward (or Robert Redford, depending on whether you read the book or saw the movie version of All the President's Men). Real cloak-and-dagger stuff.

The truth is, that sort of situation is rare, and reporters would much rather get information on the record. Still, there are circumstances under which a scientist might consider speaking to a reporter off the record.

The Scientists' Institute for Public Information (SIPI), a nonprofit clearinghouse in New York that brings scientists and journalists together, publishes...

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