The public’s interest in news of medical research has led the popular media to compete vigorously for information about research. Researchers and institutions sometimes encourage reporting research in the nonmedical media before full publication in a scientific journal by holding a press conference or giving interviews.
The public is entitled to important medical information within a reasonable amount of time, and editors have a responsibility to facilitate the process. Biomedical journals are published primarily for their readers, but the general public has a legitimate interest in their content: An appropriate balance between these considerations should guide the journal’s interaction with the media. Doctors in practice need to have reports available in full detail before they can advise their patients about the reports’ conclusions. Moreover, media reports of scientific research before the work has been peer-reviewed and fully vetted may lead to dissemination of inaccurate or premature conclusions.
An embargo system has been established in some countries to prevent publication of stories in the general media before publication of the original research in the journal. The embargo creates a “level playing field,” which most reporters appreciate since it minimizes the pressure on them to publish stories they have not had time to prepare carefully. Consistency in the timing of public release of biomedical information is also important in minimizing economic chaos, since some articles contain information that has great potential to influence financial markets. On the other hand, the embargo system has been challenged as being self-serving of journals’ interests and an impediment to rapid dissemination of scientific information.
Editors may find the following recommendations useful as they seek to establish policies on these issues.
- Editors can foster the orderly transmission of medical information from researchers, through peer-reviewed journals, to the public. This can be accomplished by an agreement with authors that they will not publicize their work while their manuscript is under consideration or awaiting publication and an agreement with the media that they will not release stories before publication of the original research in the journal, in return for which the journal will cooperate with them in preparing accurate stories.
- Editors need to keep in mind that an embargo system works on the honor system; no formal enforcement or policing mechanism exists. The decision of a significant number of media outlets or biomedical journals not to respect the embargo system would lead to its rapid dissolution.
- Very little medical research has such clear and urgently important clinical implications for the public’s health that the news must be released before full publication in a journal. However, if such exceptional circumstances occur, the appropriate authorities responsible for public health should decide whether to disseminate information to physicians and the media in advance and should be responsible for this decision. If the author and the appropriate authorities wish to have a manuscript considered by a particular journal, the editor should be consulted before any public release. If editors acknowledge the need for immediate release, they should waive their policies limiting prepublication publicity.
- Policies designed to limit prepublication publicity should not apply to accounts in the media of presentations at scientific meetings or to the abstracts from these meetings (see Redundant Publication). Researchers who present their work at a scientific meeting should feel free to discuss their presentations with reporters, but they should be discouraged from offering more detail about their study than was presented in the talk.
- When an article is soon to be published, editors should help the media prepare accurate reports by providing news releases, answering questions, supplying advance copies of the journal, or referring reporters to the appropriate experts. This assistance should be contingent on the media’s cooperation in timing the release of a story to coincide with publication of the article.
- Editors, authors, and the media should apply the above-stated principles to material released early in electronic versions of journals.
- About the Recommendations
- Roles & Responsibilities
- Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors
- Author Responsibilities—Conflicts of Interest
- Responsibilities in the Submission and Peer-Review Process
- Journal Owners and Editorial Freedom
- Protection of Research Participants
- Publishing & Editorial Issues
- Corrections and Version Control
- Scientific Misconduct, Expressions of Concern, and Retraction
- Overlapping Publications
- Supplements, Theme Issues, and Special Series
- Electronic Publishing
- Journals and the Media
- Clinical Trial Registration
- Manuscript Preparation