An Unhealthy Bond:Embargoes and the Ingelfinger Rule Science Writers in New York September 26, 2011 Ivan Oransky, MD Executive Editor, Reuters Health Blogger, Embargo Watch http://embargowatch.wordpress.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Journals Say They EmbargoNEJM, a typical policy: The Journal embargo policy is designed primarily to ensure that physician subscribers have their copy of the Journal at about the same time their patients hear about new research through the news media. It also gives the media time to learn about a topic, gather relevant information, and interview authors and other experts so they can accurately report complex research findings.
The Criticism“…important science news often is more aproduce of news management by the journalsthat publish peer-review research, than of anyone reporter’s special expertise or investigativeenergy” – Robert Lee Hotz, quoted in Kiernan V., Embargoed Science (2006), p 77
What’s In It For Journals?“…coverage [by the New York Times] of JAMAincreased by 50 percent after the journal’s publicationdate was shifted from Friday to Wednesday in April1990.” – Kiernan V. Embargoes and the New York Times coverage of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Science Communication, June 1998
Do Embargoes Mean More Coverage? American Geophysical Union’s unembargoed journals get nearly no coverage in newspapers, compared to Science and Nature, which appear nearly every week. – Harvey Leifert, quoted in Kiernan, pp 104-105
Does Coverage Mean More Citations?Articles… covered by the Times received a disproportionatenumber of scientific citations in each of the 10 years afterthe… articles appeared.The effect was strongest in the first year after publication,when… articles publicized by the Times received 72.8% morescientific citations than control articles.This effect was not present for articles published during thestrike; articles covered by the Times during this period wereno more likely to be cited than those not covered. – Phillips D et al. Importance of the lay press in the transmission of medical knowledge to the scientific community. NEJM 1991
How Do Embargoes Change Coverage? “The often slavish reliance on a few journals implies taking science as a given, simply reporting on work that is already done. With a supply of easy stories guaranteed, there is little incentive to ask about issues like the motivation underlying funding or who creates the agenda for doing the research.” – John Turney, quoted in Kiernan, p 106
Review: Why Journals Say They Embargo • Time to digest findings • Time to find outside comments • More time for reporters should mean greater accuracy
Are their policies consistent with these reasons?• The Short Embargo Parade• Unusual Embargo Policies• Freely Available But Embargoed• It’s Not Just Journals• When Studies Aren’t Available at Embargo• Do Journals Sanction Embargo Breakers?
The Short Embargo Parade American Journal of Gastroenterology 22:58 on May 11, 2010
The Short Embargo Parade The Lancet 9:19, March 31, 2010
The Short Embargo Parade Journal of Clinical Oncology 2:41, May 24, 2010
The Short Embargo Parade The New England Journal of Medicine 0:49, on September 15, 2010
Is It Really About Accuracy?Does 49 minutes give reporters enough time to do agood job?How do you measure accuracy, anyway? “Proponents of the embargo system maintain that embargoes promote journalistic accuracy, but this claim is essentially tautological, because the embargo system reflects and fosters a definition of accuracy promoted by the scientific establishment.” – Kiernan V. Embargoed Science, University of Illinois Press, 2006
Kiernan’s VisionIt is a rough-and-tumble vision of the journalistic future,one lacking the gentility that now pervades journalismabout science and medicine.But the public interest, not the interest of the scientificand medical establishment, should be the uppermostconcern of science and medical journalists – and, infact, of institutional science and medicine.The embargo should go. - Page 140
Even Without Embargoes, We’d Still Have Ingelfinger
The Letter of the Rule: Nature• Nature does not wish to hinder communication between scientists. For that reason, different embargo guidelines apply to work that has been discussed at a conference or displayed on a preprint server and picked up by the media as a result. (Neither conference presentations nor posting on recognized preprint servers constitute prior publication.) -more-
The Letter of the Rule: Nature• Our guidelines for authors and potential authors in such circumstances are clear-cut in principle: communicate with other researchers as much as you wish, but do not encourage premature publication by discussion with the press (beyond a formal presentation, if at a conference). -more-
The Letter of the Rule: Nature• This advice may jar with those (including most researchers and all journalists) who see the freedom of information as a good thing. But it embodies a longer-term view: that publication in a peer-reviewed journal is the appropriate culmination of any piece of original research, and an essential prerequisite for public discussion. From http://www.nature.com/nature/authors/policy/embargo.html
Or Should Journalists Just Give Them Up?What if we just got rid of the Ingelfinger Rule?Is it safe to write about research that isn’tpeer-reviewed?
It’s About Control Suggested Embargo Policy TextOur embargo policy is in place to ensure as much coverage ofresearch [in our journal/by our society’s members] as possible.This may divert attention from other important issues inscience and medicine. Provided we have a reasonable intervalbetween the release of material and the embargo time, it mayalso help reporters do a better job covering these studies.However, policies that bar pre-publication publicity ofscientists’ work can also have a chilling effect on the spread ofscientific knowledge.