Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Archive for March 2011

Should reporters be required to listen to a briefing to get embargoed material? A poll

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Over at CardioBrief, Larry Husten has the story of what I call a “troubling development.”

In a nutshell, a PR agency representing Medtronic told Husten — and, I assume, other reporters — that if he wanted to see a set of slides, under embargo, that were going to be presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting, he had to commit to listening to a pre-briefing from one of the study authors.

This isn’t good, as Husten points out: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 31, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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Universe Today jettisons embargoes

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In a move reminiscent of Tech Crunch announcing in 2008 that they would no longer honor any embargoes, astronomy site Universe Today said today it would “no longer participate in news story embargoes.”

But Universe Today’s new policy is far kinder and gentler than Tech Crunch’s. In a post titled “We’re Done With Embargoes,” publisher Fraser Cain wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 31, 2011 at 10:26 am

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Gastroenterology journal takes “freely available but embargoed” one step further, violating its own policy

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Last year, I wrote about the embargo policy at the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), a fairly typical — and, in my mind, indefensible — “freely available but embargoed” policy. According to their policy, “articles in press,” although freely available to subscribers on the journal’s site, are embargoed

until published as a corrected proof on-line. Studies cannot be publicized as accepted manuscripts or uncorrected proofs.

At the time, I spoke to a press officer for the AGA, who didn’t really make it clear to me why the AGA was happy to publish an uncorrected proof for all to see, but wanted to call it embargoed. I also suggested they at least note the policy on such uncorrected proofs, instead of in a place distant from them on their site, since anyone could find such abstracts. The press officer agreed that would be a good idea, but it hasn’t changed.

So on March 3, when I found the March 2011 issue of one of their journals, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, I figured it was no longer embargoed, since these were all final versions. I thought one study, on the fact that alcohol might play less of a role in pancreatitis than previously thought, worth covering. I gritted my teeth at the fact that it had actually been freely available on the web for four months, since October 27, and assigned it. We ran our story on March 9, 2011.

Also worth noting: Internal Medicine News, part of the International Medical News Group, had run an item on the study on February 16, weeks before ours. It’s certainly possible that the finalized March issue was online by then. Or the corrected proofs — a step before the monthly issue, and not embargoed, according to the AGA policy — were online. However, it doesn’t appear that the AGA changes the status of most papers, based on a look at their “Articles in Press” section.

I was surprised, therefore, when a press release for the pancreatitis study came across my desk on March 10, embargoed for March 11. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 28, 2011 at 8:45 am

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We asked for it, you got it: NEJM to provide draft abstracts to give reporters more time

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Regular readers of Embargo Watch will have noticed that we have been tough on the New England Journal of Medicine.

We’ve criticized it for an absurdly short embargo time of 49 minutes, for example. And most recently, last month, we took it to task for waiting until 24 hours before a study was to be released to send it to reporters, instead of just releasing drafts that were clearly available to a hospital press office.

I asked the staff then — as I did last April — to “send page proofs, plain text, or some other not-quite-done-and-dusted version of studies,” in the name of living up to its embargo policy’s stated goal of helping reporters “to learn about a topic, gather relevant information, and interview authors and other experts so they can accurately report complex research findings.”

Well, the staff listened. On Tuesday, the journal sent this message to its media subscribers: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 24, 2011 at 11:30 am

Who gets access to embargoed content? EurekAlert revokes io9.com’s, but only briefly

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Yesterday, io9.com‘s Annalee Newitz was a bit puzzled. She tweeted:

According to AAAS, io9 does not merit access to embargoed science news and they deactivated my Eurekalert account without explanation!

Newitz was also concerned, because she needed that access to cover stories this week. This is the email EurekAlert senior communications officer Jennifer Santisi sent her: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 22, 2011 at 11:55 am

EASL responds to questions about whether PR firms with drug company clients also rep scientific societies

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Earlier this week, I asked: “Should big PR firms that represent drug companies also run scientific societies’ media operations?” I was prompted to wonder that after finding out that Cohn & Wolfe — whose clients include at least two hepatitis drug makers — was handling press relations for the European Association for the Study of the Liver’s (EASL) conference at the end of this month.

The question has generated a lively discussion on my original post, and today Pharmalot picked it up too, getting a comment from Cohn & Wolfe:

We have no conflict of interest, as Cohn & Wolfe has always been completely transparent with professional society clients such as the EASL about our pharmaceutical clients. Further, we have installed the proper firewalls to ensure the safeguarding of interests for all of our clients. The fact is, we have represented professional societies for several years and have never had any issues or concerns arise.

To which I would reply: Complete transparency — if that’s in fact how the agency is behaving — does not mean there is “no conflict of interest.” It just means they’re managing that conflict.

Also this morning, I heard back from the EASL Secretary General, Heiner Wedemeyer, who indicated that the organization had given a lot of thought to hiring the agency: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 11, 2011 at 11:45 am

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Should big PR firms that represent drug companies also run scientific societies’ media operations?

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There’s a brewing embargo story that is making me mad this week. I’ll say more about that in a bit. But in digging into it, I found what I think is a bigger story.

It turns out that Cohn & Wolfe, one of the world’s largest premier PR and communications firms, is running the press office at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) conference that starts at the end of the month.

That made me curious. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 9, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The power of the press release: A tale of two fish oil-chemotherapy studies

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About two weeks ago,a press release came across my desk from the journal Cancer: “Fish Oil Fights Weight Loss Due to Chemotherapy.” The study was embargoed until February 28, when it was scheduled to be published online.

I did a bit of a double take when I looked at it. The subject matter looked familiar to me, and I seemed to remember having found a very similar study in the same journal not long before.

Sure enough, when I checked, there was a study by the same authors, published on February 15, that I had picked for Reuters Health to cover: Supplementation with fish oil increases first-line chemotherapy efficacy in patients with with advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer.

Given all of the similarities — after all, press releases often pick out findings that wouldn’t be suggested by the study’s title, although I didn’t remember weight loss being a particularly important endpoint of the study — I jumped to a conclusion: These were actually the same study, but Cancer had decided to embargo it for nearly two weeks after it initially appeared, to get some buzz. Aha! Another example of “freely available but embargoed,” an Embargo Watch pet peeve.

Well, I was wrong about that. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 8, 2011 at 9:15 am

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Lawsuit threat could delay UK edition of Paul Offit’s book about anti-vaccine movement

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Although they’re not a core Embargo Watch subject, book embargoes do come up from time to time. Today, the story of a science-related — and even retraction-related — book whose sale date is apparently being postponed thanks to a threatened libel suit.

As the BMJ reported last month, the UK version of Paul Offit’s Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All will likely not make its March 17 publication date. That’s because Offit is rewriting a page of the book that contained an error after Richard Barr, the UK attorney who represented children whose parents were suing for damages due to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, threatened to sue.

The original page, according to the BMJ, suggested: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm

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