Reporting on data that has not gone through the peer review process as if it were truth is not responsible journalism.
I have also been shocked, shocked, I say, to see a paper deposited in arXiv being reported around the world by researchers and journalists alike. Nobody commented that it hadn't been accepted in a peer-reviewed journal.
Except I'm not talking about Rosie Redfield’s arsenic life paper.
I'm talking about the reports of faster than light neutrinos from OPERA.
Did we hear howls of outrage from the physics community over the coverage of the story? More like chirping crickets. Physicists were right there in the thick of the discussion.
This is an example of the differing cultures of the fields. Physics has developed a pre-print culture where people stake their claims with manuscripts. Biology has developed a culture where people stake their claims with final publications. But cultures change, and it’s individual cases like this one that provide a lot of the push to change.
Just because biologists normally only make findings public very near the last step in the publication change does not change that anything made public at any stage is fair game for reporting.
Dr. Redfield made her work public earlier than others would have done. Unusual, but I cannot see the ethical issue with reporting on information that she has voluntarily shared. Indeed, if her work does not pass peer review, the reporting that is going on right now can add context to that story.
For that matter, journalists have covered results presented at scientific conferences for decades. I have never heard serious suggestions that conference reporting is unethical.
The arsenic life story itself tells us that because a paper has been peer reviewed does not make it automatically credible to other researchers. Biologists on the whole weren't convinced by the claim.