Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

NEJM clarifies: Yes, saying journal is about to publish is breaking an embargo

with 3 comments

If someone who has agreed to an embargo policy publishes a story about a paper that’s still under embargo — or tweets specifics about it — it’s hard to argue that’s anything other than a break. But what if said person just says something’s about to published?

The answer, from an email about embargoed material from the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) today (bolding was NEJM’s):

Please note that even the fact that we are planning to publish this material is confidential and any mention prior to the embargo lifting will be considered a breach.

Please remember to be vigilant in communicating the confidential nature of this material when sharing with sources for comment.

This information should not be discussed or shared beyond those you ask for comment until after the embargo lifts.

NEJM’s Jennifer Zeis tells me the journal has included this language — which neither I nor the Embargo Watch tipster had noticed before — for the past few years for “big meetings where results are widely anticipated.”

Indeed, in 2009, Mike Huckman, then at CNBC, incurred a tiny bit of NEJM’s wrath when he tweeted about an early embargo lift by the journal, involving one such big meeting. Cardiobrief’s Larry Husten, said Huckman — the latter is now with PR firm MSL Group — “blew the whistle on a tweet I sent out Sunday evening“:

I was announcing that the AHA and “The New England Journal of Medicine” were lifting the Arbiter media embargo a day early. Today, NEJM sent me an email slapping me on the wrist and informing me that my tweet violated policy.

So today’s reminder by the NEJM seems like a good idea. Whether “about to publish” is an embargo break is more of a gray area than you might think. I’ve broached it before, in response to a different approach from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. And occasionally I see non-embargoed announcements from companies about upcoming presentations that seem to say more that most journals would allow.

Once, it was the journal itself. This March tweet from Lancet editor in chief Richard Horton, raised questions for at least one other person on Twitter:

We are publishing a ridiculously large amount on China tomorrow. Some encouraging news, but warnings too. An honest discussion on organs…

There are some obvious differences. Horton’s tweet was very broad, and unlikely to have any effect on particular company stocks. But it seems that if a reporter tweeted something like that about NEJM, it would be considered a break.


Written by Ivan Oransky

November 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. That’s so weird. How many times did I see a tweet like “Great story coming out in four hours. I wish I could tell you, but you’ll have to wait”. Nobody knows which journal, which story, how can that possibly be an embargo break?

    Bora Zivkovic

    November 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    • That doesn’t seem to be what they mean; this is if the tweet said “NEJM is about to publish a study that says we have a cure for cancer, wish I could tell you.”


      November 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm

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