Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Another unusual embargo policy at a lung journal

with 5 comments

In one of my first posts last week, I noted the unusual embargo in place at the The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM), published by the American Thoracic Society. Papers published on their website in advance of print issues are embargoed for two weeks, despite being available to HighWire subscribers.

Now I learn that another lung research journal, CHEST, has a similar policy:

Embargo Policy:
Even though they appear online, CHEST Papers In Press are embargoed from media coverage until they appear in a forthcoming print issue of CHEST. When a Paper in Press appears in a print issue of CHEST, the article will adhere to the standard CHEST embargo policy. For questions regarding CHEST embargo policies, please contact the ACCP Public Relations Department…

The basic idea is the same: Papers are available to any HighWire subscriber, but embargoed for press coverage. The differences: The PDFs of the papers themselves don’t mention the embargo, and it’s not clear how long the embargo lasts.

I contacted Jennifer Stawarz, senior manager of public relations for CHEST and its publisher, the American College of Chest Physicians, to find out more. It turns out this policy is a few years old, and that the lag is somewhere around 10 weeks, even longer than it is at AJRCCM.

Here’s Jennifer’s response:

As you recognized in your previous email, CHEST Papers in Press follow the same embargo policy as those articles featured in the print edition. This means that all articles (whether “in press” or other) are embargoed until they are in the print edition of CHEST, at which time the specific embargo date will correspond with the embargo date for the issue it is scheduled to appear (For instance, if the article is scheduled to appear in the August 2010 issue, the embargo date is August 3, 2010).

The CHEST Papers in Press Embargo Policy was implemented in Spring 2007. Our main reason for the Embargo Policy was to ensure the accuracy of the data being presented to the medical community, the media, and to consumers.  Papers in Press are typically published within two weeks of being accepted by the journal in order to give the medical community almost immediate access to new research.  Although Papers in Press for CHEST are peer-reviewed, the in-press version has not yet been copyedited. After they are posted as “in press”, the articles go through a rigorous editing and proofreading process before the article appears in its final form in the print edition and online issue. Therefore, the final article that is published in the print edition may contain both substantive and nonsubstantive changes from the in-press version.

It is challenging to pinpoint when an accepted paper or Paper in Press will appear in the print edition. CHEST‘s time from acceptance, which precedes online posting of an in-press article by about two weeks, to publication is, on average, 3 months.

We understand that the embargo policy has not been included on the PDF of the Papers in Press. We are in the process of updating the verbiage on the in-press PDF’s. In addition, we regularly review our embargo policies related to the journal and make changes as necessary.

PR pros and others I spoke to about the two-weeks-post-HighWire-availability AJRCCM embargo thought that one was unusual and not particularly justifiable. Commenters on that post agreed, almost unanimously. I appreciate Jennifer’s responsiveness, but I have to say I find this one even more strange.

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 9, 2010 at 11:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. I have to say, as a long-time university science PIO, that this is insane! Embargoes protect content up until the date when the material is available to the public. If having a subscription to HighWire is the boundary on this, it means that any faculty member whose institution subscribes to the service can access the content once it is online. Furthermore, any reporter can go to the university library which is a subscriber and access the same content. Our rule at my university is that the embargo ends when the material is available online, period. We will not issue a release that’s embargoed beyond that date. If a journal has an earlier online “publication date” that precedes the print publication date, we follow the former, not the latter. Personally, I support embargoes for the primary traditional reasons but do not support any reasoning that really just reflects attempts to gain a marketing advantage.

    Earle

    March 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm

  2. That’s not even internally consistent. Compare:
    “Our main reason for the Embargo Policy was to ensure the accuracy of the data being presented to the medical community, the media, and to consumers.”
    To:
    “After they are posted as “in press”, the articles go through a rigorous editing and proofreading process before the article appears in its final form in the print edition and online issue. Therefore, the final article that is published in the print edition may contain both substantive and nonsubstantive changes from the in-press version.”
    Either the copyediting will alter the “accuracy of the data”—in which case they’re potentially exposing the medical community, but not the public, to inaccurate data—or it won’t, in which case there’s no reason for the embargo.

    John Timmer

    March 9, 2010 at 3:12 pm

  3. I have always thought this an utter absurdity! I have had a number of papers in this journal over the years, and I review for it regularly. But do I understand Richard Irwin’s rationale for this? Not bloody likely!

    Marya

    March 9, 2010 at 6:27 pm

  4. Journals can, of course, set whatever kind of embargo policy they wish. But as someone who has worked in the STM world for decades as an editor, publisher and communications officer, I just can’t see the rationale here. If a paper is accepted for publication, even if not quite “finished,” and anyone who pays the freight can see it, it’s been “published” by any definition of the word I know.

    I’m especially intrigued by this, though, because posting peer-reviewed papers that have been accepted for formal publication, even if they’ve not quite been finalized, is one form of the “pre-print” genre that any number of journals employ. Not all “pre-prints” are peer-reviewed or otherwise ready for publication; some journals and scientific communities use the process as a form of open review. But in this case, as I recall from having posted pre-prints at my last scholarly journal, such papers can be cited, and might also be eligible for indexing.

    If I’m remembering that correctly, then these papers, which reporters are forbidden from using for some period of time because of this oddly arbitrary embargo policy, can technically start making their way into scientific literature but not the public media. That seems a little bizarre, no? Doesn’t that raise some troubling policy issues?

    Bill Silberg

    March 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm

  5. Agreed, this is ridiculous.
    As a university PIO I wanted to put out something describing a paper in the journal Gastroenterology. The publishers told me I had to wait four months until the issue came out in print, even though it was available online at the beginning of the year.
    I have no idea who gets any marketing advantage out of this.

    Eskimo

    March 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm


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