Scientists like the gag order of the Ingelfinger Rule, says new paper
There’s an interesting paper on the “gap” between science and the media in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). What caught Matt Shipman‘s eye enough to send it to Embargo Watch was a passage about the Ingelfinger Rule:
More than half of US neuroscientists and more than 60% of German neuroscientists perceive the so-called Ingelfinger rule (42) as still effective. According to that rule, “acceptance of a publication by a scientific journal [is] threatened if the research results have already been reported in the mass media” (Table 1). The data also suggest that this rule is not simply imposed on reluctant scientists by jealous journal editors attempting to protect the exclusivity of the content of their journals, but that it actually conforms to scientific norms, in particular those of the biomedical research community. In the five-country study of biomedical researchers in 2005 mentioned earlier, 71% to 83% of the respondents agreed that “scientists should communicate research findings to the general public only after they have been published in a scientific journal.” In another study, leading US nanoresearchers also tended to agree with that statement (35). Approximately half of the neuroscientists and scientists at large surveyed in Germany and the United States in 2011 to 2012 disagree with the demand that scientists, if asked, should “provide information about current research or research that has not yet appeared in scientific publications” (Table 1). Perhaps most relevant as an indicator of a respective norm, 48% of German scientists, 57% of German neuroscientists, and 69% of US neuroscientists think it is an important condition that makes talking to the media about research results acceptable to their peers, namely that these results have been previously published in a scientific journal (Table 1).”
There’s a more cynical reason scientists may not want to share data, namely that they fear getting scooped by bigger labs. And the Ingelfinger can be self-perpetuating: Junior scientists may just be doing whatever senior researchers model for them. Whatever the reason, however, it’s important to note, as the paper puts it, that the
rule is not simply imposed on reluctant scientists by jealous journal editors attempting to protect the exclusivity of the content of their journals…
It’s that exclusivity argument you hear a lot here at Embargo Watch when I note that the real problem with embargoes is that they’re a tool of the Ingelfinger Rule, which I see as one step short of a gag order. I still think that exclusivity is part of journals’ motivation. But it’s only part of the picture. The fact that large swaths of scientists support the rule, for whatever reason, suggests it might be even more difficult to shrink the influence of Ingelfinger. And it also explains why scientists err on the side of conforming to a strict version of the rule that journals don’t even support anymore.
If journals were as interested in publishing negative results as they were in publishing positive results, this would be less of a problem. As long as scientists will only talk to the public about what they publish, however, and not about what they’re not publishing, we’re going to have a skewed vision of science.