NEJM punishes reviewer for breaking embargo

Was his treatment justified?

By | April 23, 2007

The New England Journal of Medicine has banned Martin Leon, a cardiologist at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation, from reviewing studies and contributing editorials or reviews for five years, as a punishment for telling colleagues at an American College of Cardiology symposium that a trial comparing medication to stents for the treatment of clogged coronaries "was rigged to fail-and it did." The data was to be presented two days later, and published in NEJM soon after. The journal lifted its embargo early once the Wall Street Journal's health blog reported Leon's comments on March 25. ( first reported the ban story here, and the WSJ picked up on the story here.) So, were the journal's actions justifiable? Critics of medical and scientific journals have previously called for ending the so-called "Ingelfinger Rule" that puts restrictions on what authors can say about their studies before publication. For example, Vincent Kiernan's recent book makes this argument in a compelling way. The difference here, however, is that Leon wasn't an author; he was a reviewer of the paper. Notably, the NEJM didn't punish the authors of the paper, nor did they sanction the Wall Street Journal. "From the information we gathered, we were certain that an embargo break had occurred, and the WSJ was just reporting what it heard," NEJM spokesperson Karen Pederson told "The embargo was broken at the meeting, not by the WSJ." We'd like to hear from you on the subject of embargoes. To what extent should journals restrict researchers on papers that have been accepted for publication? What effect are blogging and other forms of instantaneous publication having on the reporting of scientific studies? And do you think that the time is right to reevaluate the embargo process? Post your comments here. By The Scientist Staff Original posting on WSJ's health blog W. E. Boden et. al., "Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease," NEJM, April 12, 2007 (published online March 26, 2007)'s coverage of action against Leon WSJ health blog's coverage of action against Leon J. Toy, "The Ingelfinger Rule: Franz Ingelfinger at the New England Journal of Medicine, 1967-1977," Science Editor , November-December 2002 Vincent Kiernan's Embargoed Science Send us your comments for posting


Avatar of: Martyn Howgill

Martyn Howgill

Posts: 1

December 3, 2007

A journal?s content and audience is entirely different from material reported in the NYT or the Horton Headlight. By forcing news media to withhold information in the public interest, arguably lives are at risk. \n\nThat said eliminating embargoes would place a burden on public media to understand the significance of new studies and to avoid sensationalizing. The value of peer-review is that bad science is weeded out through the vetting process. \n\nI suspect media go along with the current system so that peer-reviewers can do the vetting, journals can signal the level of importance, and news can then carry with it the authority of a credible source. \n
Avatar of: David Perlman

David Perlman

Posts: 1

December 3, 2007

Since I rebelled against the Ingelfinger rule many years ago when Dr. I. was still alive and editing the NEJM, and since I successfully proposed a more sensible embargo policy to his successors (which I then debated with Larry Altman of the NYT who HATES embargoes too)I still believe they can be helpful, particularly for us poor provincial reporters who don't get to attend all kinds of meetings where beans are spilled privately to favored journalists. (Forgive my long sentence ad nauseam.)\n Anyway I find obeying pub. date embargoes set by Science, Nature, Lancet, NEJM, and other journals perfectly appropriate. As to arbitrary ones set by university PR people and others in the flackery business, I do object to them and have told them why I'm not going to obey them when I think they're unjustified.

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