Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

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.

Huh? How on earth was this embargoed? Freely available but embargoed is bad enough, but this doesn’t even follow the AGA’s own misguided policy. It’s a pretty severe example of using an embargo to artificially — and inappropriately — control the flow of information to try to generate interest.

I contacted the AGA last week for an explanation, and haven’t heard back. I’ll update if I do.

Other scientific societies have seen the light and joined Embargo Watch’s Honor Roll — won’t you, AGA?


Written by Ivan Oransky

March 28, 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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