Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Confusion reigns as Mount Sinai embargoes a peanut allergy study that’s already published

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On Friday morning, I was sifting through the electronic tables of contents at various journals, as I do most days, to pick stories to cover at Reuters Health. I came across what looked like an interesting study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology on whether moms who eat peanuts while pregnant are more likely to have kids with peanut allergies. JACI’s a highly ranked journal — the highest in its category, in fact — so I almost always pay attention to what’s there. I saved the PDF so it could be assigned.

Then, a few hours later, a member of my staff showed me a printout of a press release from Mount Sinai in New York about the study, apparently embargoed until just after midnight yesterday (Monday).

Needless to say, I had questions. Was this a case of “freely available but embargoed?” Or had someone just made a mistake?

I asked Mount Sinai on Friday why they’d embargoed a paper that was already published, and the upshot was that the journal had told them it wouldn’t be published until yesterday.

But Sinai’s Ian Michaels didn’t want to tell me who had sent the email with that info. So also on Friday, I contacted the journal, which responded:

Yes, Mount Sinai is correct. While we had been notified that this article would not appear online until the beginning of next week, and passed that information onto them, it unexpectedly was posted this morning. To be honest, we are not sure why it was posted early, and we are looking into it.

OK, human error. It happens, as I know too well. Just check some of the updates on Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch. But while Michaels said he wished he hadn’t embargoed an already-published study, he wouldn’t say whether he was going to have the erroneous press release changed on EurekAlert so it wouldn’t say “embargoed” anymore. As of 8:15 p.m. Sunday night, it was still there, and embargoed. (On EurekAlert, releases become public and lose their specific embargo times once the embargo lifts.)

Here’s my team’s coverage of the study.

I’ll end this post the way I ended one about a similar situation in August:

Should EurekAlert…make sure the material they’re posting on behalf of clients is actually embargo-able if clients want it embargoed?

That’s probably not feasible, and EurekAlert says they don’t edit any releases. Still, isn’t there any way to stop this sort of thing?

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 2, 2010 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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