Embargoes: A Convenience, Not a Conspiracy

The online publication Inside Higher Ed contains an essay explaining the pros and cons of the embargo system by which peer-reviewed journals provide the news media with advance copies of their publication and the media withhold publication until a certain day and time. In opposing the system, the author, Vincent Kiernan, says embargoes give certain journals privilege, keep timely information from the public, crowd out coverage of deeper science issues and make reporters lazy.

Be that as it may, embargoed material – which I have both used and produced — is simply a convenience, not a conspiracy that the public could not really care about, except insofar as their abandonment might lead to less evidence upon which consumers may act.

The case against embargoes has some merit, but Mr. Kiernan’s argument that they makes science writers lazy is specious. Other than sports and natural or manmade disasters, almost all “news” is produced by reporters getting technical information early and having time to digest it.

Embargoes serve a larger purpose by organizing the flow of health information that consumers can use to make their own choices, or at least to ask their physicians to look into. And, perhaps most important, it is the embargo-driven
routinized news account of journal articles by which many overworked and under-read physicians gain their own knowledge.

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