How about when a press release was never issued? None was available when the UK media reported results of a study about the effects of caffeine in pregnancy – before BMJ had a chance to publish online. Just the same, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee is a bit peeved. She acknowledges that, technically, there was no breach, but she maintains coverage still amounted to publicity before publication.
How did this happen? The UK’s Food Standards Agency, which funded the study, held a stakeholders meeting before BMJ issued its embargoed press release. “It was probably from this meeting that the study’s findings, and the government’s new guidelines on caffeine intake during pregnancy, were leaked,” she writes in an editorial. In this case, she continues, there was no harm done – the media got the story right.
Godlee was responding, in part, to an earlier BMJ blog post by FSA communications director Terrence Collis, who wrote the agency was less than “delighted” to get its study published in BMJ. Why? The FSA wants to show its research is high quality, but “we are even keener that the advice that reaches consumers is as clear as possible – and gets there as quickly as possible. This makes waiting around for journals to decide whether they are going to publish a real pain.” And that, he acknowledged, left time for leaks.
Some other thoughts about embargoes:
- Slate‘s Jack Shafer writes about the punishment The New York Times received from WHO after breaking an embargo on a story about measles. AHCJ board member and former Scientist Deputy Editor Ivan Oransky, M.D., blogged about WHO’s action and the larger issue of embargoes.
- In April 2007, the NEJM punished Martin Leon, a cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, for breaking an embargo.
- Vincent Kiernan’s 2006 book, Embargoed Science, argues against embargoes. Kiernan is an instructor of journalism at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. An excerpt was published by Inside Higher Ed.
What do you think about embargoes and, specifically, this situation?