Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

American Diabetes Association posts conference abstracts online, but please don’t write about them

with 3 comments

Yesterday, the  American Diabetes Association (ADA) announced that the abstracts for their upcoming meeting in Orlando, Florida, are available. I found out about that on Twitter, in a tweet in which the ADA noted its embargo policy. When I clicked on the link they sent out, I read this:

All meeting abstracts are governed by the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions embargo policy. An embargo means that information from any abstract or presentation may not be announced, publicized or distributed before the embargo date and time. This applies to all formats of abstract publication—including abstracts on CD, the hard copy Diabetes Abstract Book, online via the Association’s website, scientificsessions.diabetes.org, and other presentations.

The site then goes on to note some specific embargo times for regular abstracts and late-breakers. In a nutshell, the embargoes start lifting on June 26, the first full day of the meeting.

In other words, all of those abstracts are freely available online, but no one can write about them until the 26th. As the ADA notes, “information from any abstract or presentation may not be announced, publicized or distributed before the embargo date and time” — except, presumably, by the ADA, which has just done that by posting the abstracts.

I can’t imagine that Wall Street investors are going to wait until the 26th to make trading decisions based on the data in some of those abstracts. They’re in the public domain, and how you embargo something in the public domain is a bit of a mystery to me. Presumably, the ADA would punish news outlets that publish anything about the abstracts by withholding access; how they’d punish anyone else who didn’t particularly care about access to anything but the next conference’s freely available abstracts is unclear.

I wasn’t the only one puzzled by this, based on several comments on Twitter. TheStreet.com’s Adam Feuerstein called the policy “truly stupid.” He recalled that another association had tried a similar policy a few years ago, and he said it was a failure.

What struck me was that this kind of policy was more than likely responsible for an embargo snafu I wrote about on Sunday, involving the European Society of Human Genetics meeting. I’m sure that even if the ADA reads this blog, they had decided on their policy long before I updated that particular post yesterday with the relevant facts. But it still feels like a cautionary tale to me.

I emailed the ADA’s press office for comment yesterday, and will update with anything I hear.

Update, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, 6/25/10: An ADA spokesperson responded to my request yesterday, saying my viewpoint was understandable, and that the association is reviewing the embargoed abstracts policy for the public for next year.


Written by Ivan Oransky

June 16, 2010 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. I thought the Scientific Sessions abstract policy was typical, rather than an extraordinary exception. Isn’t the embargo policy at ASCO similar? The policy is silly, but I don’t find it uncommon or surprising. I have also read some items from Adam Feuerstein and thought he sounded like anything other than a knowledgeable biotech writer. I think he would rather be the Gossip Girl- snarly with no understanding of science.


    June 16, 2010 at 3:13 pm

  2. Ivan — thanks for the kind words. To reiterate, ADA’s embargo policy fails because you can’t embargo information that’s already public. For some reason, that logic escapes the folks at ADA.

    As for the other commenter, RJS9787, I’m pretty sure he’s RJ Steffens, the infamous pumper of Generex Biotechnology. He’s as knowledgeable about embargoes as he is about biotech — in other words, not so much.

    Adam Feuerstein

    adam feuerstein

    June 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm

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