Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

The short embargo makes a (brief?) comeback

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Longtime Embargo Watch readers may remember one pet peeve of mine that seemed to come up a lot early on: The short embargo. In a nutshell — the short version, you might say — I wondered aloud a lot about how embargoes of less than 24 hours could possibly help reporters do a better job, as journals claimed their embargo policies were designed to.

I beat up on the short embargo offenders, notably the New England Journal of Medicine, which remains the undisputed champion with an embargo of 49 minutes. Since then, to the credit of journals, including NEJM, I haven’t seen very many short embargoes.

A few brief ones this week, however, put the issue back on my radar.

Item 1: An email sent by Emma Mason on behalf of the School of Medicine & Dentistry, Queen Mary, University of London a few minutes before 5 a.m. her time Monday, August 20:

Pasted below is a release for a paper that is being published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine today at 15.00 hrs BST. It is a review of the evidence for the use of misoprostol, a drug used increasingly in developing countries to prevent postpartum haemorrhage in women giving birth, but there is no evidence of its efficacy. The researchers are calling on the WHO to remove it from its Essential Medicines List.

If you would like an embargoed copy of the paper before it is published this afternoon or would like to speak to one of the authors, please contact me.

Mason — whom I’ve always found to be very conscientious and consistent with embargoes — recognized that the 10-hour embargo was unusual:

I apologise for the short notice on this paper, as I was only made aware of it on Thursday night.

Item 2: An emailed press release sent at 2:44 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday on behalf of the Journal of Urology, an Elsevier journal published on behalf of the American Urological Association:



Prostate Cancer Survival Rates Improved Since Introduction of PSA Testing

Survival Rate for African American Men Now Comparable to Caucasians,
The Journal of Urology® Reports

That’s less than ten  hours; nine hours and seventeen minutes, to be precise. So what happened? Elsevier tells Embargo Watch:

Distributing this news release so close to the embargo date was an isolated situation. The production workflow for The Journal of Urology® article, scheduled for online publication ahead of its issue, had been established with a publication date of August 23. There is a stringent press release review process in place, and unfortunately, schedules delayed this process a bit in this instance. In hindsight perhaps the release should have been distributed without embargo upon publication of the article.

Fair enough. I appreciate Elsevier’s taking the issue seriously — and saying it will be an isolated situation. Still, it’s not clear why the established publication date couldn’t be moved once it was clear the press release wouldn’t be done in time. This has come up before.

These two embargoes aren’t in any danger of breaking the NEJM’s record. But if noting them makes others think twice about a short embargo in the future, I’ll be happy.


Written by Ivan Oransky

August 24, 2012 at 11:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Yes, it can take a long time for university PIO to get a press release together – not because we’re slow at writing, but because we usually don’t have the authority to issue a document. The most essential consent we need is that of the lead author involved. I think all of us endeavour to issue a document as early as we can – it’s of no benefit to us to leave journalists with a short amount of time to write their articles!

    William Raillant-Clark

    August 24, 2012 at 1:29 pm

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