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News from the open access movement

Friday, August 31, 2007

Against the Ingelfinger Rule

Bob Ward, We ought to get all findings out fast, Times Higher Education Supplement, August 31, 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  An argument against the Ingelfinger Rule.  (Thanks to Colin Steele.)  Excerpt:

...Whatever the advantages of preventing disclosure of results before they have undergone peer review, it is less clear what public benefit there is to delaying media coverage of a paper once it has been accepted for publication. Preparing a paper for appearance in a journal once it has cleared peer review depends on the volume of work and the resources available to the publisher. The length of delay also depends on the publisher's schedule, which takes account of marketing priorities. Journals like to publish at regular intervals, with batches of papers of roughly the same size. An article can take longer to appear if it is stuck in a queue.

But another decisive factor is that most journals want to gain publicity for themselves through media coverage of the papers they publish. If an author talks to journalists about his or her paper once it has been accepted but before it has been published, there is a danger that the publication will not receive a credit in any resulting media coverage. And these days, many publishers believe that media coverage increases demand for their products and hence boosts their income.

As a result, there is often a gap of many weeks or months between the date on which a paper is accepted and the date on which the media are able to report its existence. In the case of research that might influence the behaviour of policy-makers, businesses or citizens, this delay might mean that decisions are made without crucial information that would be otherwise available if it were not for the marketing strategy of a journal. In such cases, enforcement of the Ingelfinger rule creates a conflict between the interests of the journal and the public.

It does not have to be this way. Members of the public do not need a paper to be in its final published form before they learn of its contents. Journal papers are often too technical and jargon-laden for a layperson and frequently omit a proper discussion of implications for the public. Journalists really need access only to the authors, and perhaps the manuscript, to prepare a full and accurate report. There must be a case for journals to set aside their marketing interests to promote the public interest by making manuscripts available as soon as they are approved for publication. This would finally loosen the steel grip that Franz Ingelfinger is still applying nearly three decades after his death.