Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

The Ingelfinger Rule may be standing between you and chocolate — or a version of the cacao genome, anyway

with 2 comments

Photo via flickr by stevendepolp http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/

Attention chocoholics: Jeff Perkel — an invaluable resource for Embargo Watch’s sister blog, Retraction Watch — pointed out an embargo angle in this week’s announcement by candy maker Mars that it had sequenced the genome of the cacao tree, known for producing cocoa beans.

From a New York Times story on the subject:

The announcement upstages a consortium involving French government laboratories and Pennsylvania State University that is backed in part by a competitor of Mars, Hershey. This group says it has also completed the sequence, but cannot discuss it until its paper analyzing the genome is published in a scientific journal.

Sounds a lot like the Ingelfinger Rule at work. As I’ve noted, “the rule, named for the New England Journal of Medicine editor who codified it, says that for a journal to publish a study, its results can’t have appeared elsewhere, with the exception of limited conference presentations.”

Neither cacao genome has been published in a peer-reviewed journal, although the Mars-led effort — which includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among other institutions —  is available at www.cacaogenomedb.org. Mark Guiltinan, head of the Penn State-led effort, told Embargo Watch a paper about his team’s findings is under review at a journal. He wouldn’t say which one.

As the Times notes:

The rivalry between the two big chocolate companies’ projects in some ways mirrors what occurred in the race to sequence the human genome, between Celera Genomics and the publicly financed Human Genome Project. That battle was officially declared a tie.

Both of those teams ended up publishing their findings, one in Nature, the other in Science. In this case, however, Mars may have opted for being first over peer-review, since the Ingelfinger Rule will likely keep them from publishing their findings.

There’s obvious tension between the Mars-led group and the Penn State-led one. From the Times story:

Dr. Guiltinan said there had initially been efforts to do one genome project, but that Mars and the Agriculture Department “decided to go it alone, so we decided to keep doing what we had planned to do.”

Raymond J. Schnell, a geneticist at the Department of Agriculture’s Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, said the Mars project started before the other one. He said his group wasn’t trying to upstage the other consortium’s paper, but that the genome data was being released now because it was ready.

Science News also covered the announcement:

Neither group has published results in a scientific journal, so it’s difficult to discern what’s been discovered. Both teams assert that their data are as rich as a slab of Belgium’s finest dark. But what’s been released publicly may be more like a watery cup of hot cocoa.

How unsatisfying. Maybe we could call that an Ingelfinger Cocktail.


Written by Ivan Oransky

September 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Don’t lay a finger on my Ingelfingers.

    John Platt

    September 17, 2010 at 9:28 am

  2. Just an FYI regarding NPG’s policy on study coverage outside of “limited conference presentations:”

    “At the same time, however, our cardinal rule has always been to promote scientific communication. We have therefore never sought to prevent scientists from presenting their work at conferences, or from depositing first drafts of submitted papers on preprint servers. So if Nature journalists or those from any other publication should hear results presented at a meeting, or find them on a preprint server, the findings are fair game for coverage — even if that coverage is ahead of the paper’s publication. This is not considered a breaking of Nature’s embargo. Nor is it a violation if scientists respond to journalists’ queries in ensuring that the facts are correct — so long as they don’t actively promote media coverage.”

    [From a February editorial – http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v457/n7233/full/4571058a.html ]

    Noah Gray

    September 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm

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