Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Embargos Should Die

In case you missed it, a journalist was barred from attending the 2012 European Society of Cardiology scientific sessions because a story was published before the designated embargo time.  Quite a story, eh?

The idea that there is a little secret society of priveledged individuals and institutions get to have a jump on results so a nice fluffy press piece can be released simultaneously to the electronic world to increase journal's impact factor (and people's stock portfolios with insider information) has always made my stomach turn.  There are big problems with the impact factor's influence on scientific research these days.  Increasingly, doctors are left to ask if these studies are about science or is our science behind these studies really about the stock market? 

Why shouldn't physicians and scientists be able to pour over the raw data and draw their own conclusions without the help of a purified press release?  Why should journalists get access to this data for free when doctors pay for subscriptions to obtain the same content.  Might doctors add more sustance to an analysis of the data?


But then again, what doctors might say may not be so good for the stock price.



Margaret Polaneczky, MD said...

I so agree!

We get calls from our patients about articles we have not even seen yet, let alone had time to critically review.

Keep up the good fight, Dr Wes!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Wes. As a former journalist, I see this from a different direction. The purpose of embargoes on medical journal articles is to keep the media from publishing in advance of the journal's publication--at the same time allowing them the opportunity to develop a story in advance so that they are ready to go when the article is published. If you eliminate embargoes--and correspondingly eliminate the advance look that they give journalists--then you will leave them scrambling to put the story together without having had an opportunity to gather additional information and background needed to make the story accessible to the general public. Errors and inaccuracies will proliferate.

DrWes said...

Anony 08:06PM -

Thanks for offering your thoughts. However, as a "citizen journalist" doctor-blogger, I see the advance press releases that are sent to journalists before study results are published. Effectively, these are pre-written white papers promoted by the journals themselves (can you say self-promotion?) As such, journalists get a "sneak preview" of results and a preliminary analysis of the data as interpreted by the journal's editorial staff. No dount journalists want to develop an accurate/compelling story with physician comments, etc., but they are still influenced as to WHICH articles to promote and WHICH talking points to cover. (So much for objective journalism!)

I say we should call out this practice of "press release journalism." It is biased. One only has to look at the horrible coverage of the science between the azithromycin / cardiovascular risk association by the press, to see how they are manipulated by journals. (see ) Inaccuracies and flaws in analysis of data abound when there is bias introduced in the analysis by the journals themselves.

The real reason these scientific sessions organizers want the embargos is (like most things these days) because of the money involved. Press agencies get the scoop for a fee and professional societies feed on this fee to support their meetings and increase its marketability cache to industry sponsors who want their products promoted.

This is the inherent flaw in the embargo model you describe since ultimately it's more about marketing a study to the public (and sometimes investors) than truly evaluating the study's scientific merit.