Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

NEJM breaks its own short embargo record, again: This time, 49 minutes

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I have to hand it to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Every time I think I’ve seen the shortest possible embargo from the world’s most prestigious medical journal, they surpass my expectations. Today, they beat their previous record — 65 minutes — by a cool 16 minutes. If I didn’t know how distorted relative rates can make things look, I would say they had cut 25% off of their previous record.

Oh wait, I just did. Here’s the memo, which went out at 4:11 Eastern today:

To the Journal’s media subscribers:

We will be publishing the following material Online First at 5 PM EDT today. Please note that this material is embargoed until 5 PM EDT Wednesday, September 15.

The following is posted for your embargoed access on the NEJM Media Center:

Perspective: Resurrection of a Stem-Cell Funding Barrier — Dickey–Wicker in Court

George J. Annas, J.D., M.P.H., Boston University, Boston, MA

Given all of the media attention being paid to stem cell funding and the giggle-inducing Dickey-Wicker Amendment, there might be a lot of interest in this particular perspective piece. But 49 minutes doesn’t seem like enough time to digest and write about it, does it?

OK, I’m going to offer the NEJM editors — whom, I understand, are the ones who decide when online studies are to be posted — a quick checklist/flowchart. It’s free. Editors, please feel free to tack it up at your desks:

  1. When you’re about to post an online-first article, read your own embargo policy, the one that includes this language: Embargoes allow reporters “to learn about a topic, gather relevant information, and interview authors and other experts so they can accurately report complex research findings.”
  2. Ask yourself if the amount of time you’re allowing reporters to do that before the embargo lifts is reasonable. (Hints: A few hours probably isn’t enough. But under an hour is just silly.) If the answer is no, push off publication of the article.
  3. If the answer is yes, go ahead, tell the press office to send out the embargo notice.

But here’s the thing: If you insist on releasing articles this close to embargo, please edit your embargo policy accordingly.

You know, in service of that whole intellectual honesty/transparency thing you want us to associate with journals.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 15, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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