Altman, Lawrence K. "With Lives at Stake, Issue is Secrecy of Data," New York Times, 15


Altman, Lawrence K. "With Lives at Stake, Issue is Secrecy of Data," New York Times, 15
January 1991, p. C3.

There have been earlier reports in this file of the problem of secrecy in science/medicine: can
authors or journals require that the data published in their article/journal be completely original?
The New England Journal of Medicine has a standing policy, the Ingelfinger rule, which insists
that it will publish only material that has not appeared elsewhere. If it has been published in a
news release, for example, it is not published in the New England Journal. Since that journal is
"high prestige," there are people who defer making announcements until that journal has "peer
reviewed" the potential article. This means that medical information may be delayed in reaching
the public while physicians search for prestige by publishing in prestigious journals.

Peer review can take a long time, months and maybe even years. And the embargo of medical
data may be accepted by some researchers "...because they believe that publication in certain
leading journals will improve their chances of getting new grants and advancing their careers."
But, if one considers patients and their needs, the question is one of ethics, bioethics rather than
medical ethics.

Hundreds of scientists are reported gathered at NIH to grapple with this issue. Can effective
therapeutics be delayed in the name of prestige-seeking?

During the past few decades, the NIH has tried to expedite the distribution of medical knowledge
with mailings to physicians, bulletins and news reports. There are those who promote distribution
through electronic media.

"Although journals justify their embargo policies on the need for peer review, little data exist
about the value of the review process."

"Although peer review cannot guarantee the accuracy of a study's findings, and many flawed
studies have been published, claims that journal editors make for its value had led many to
erroneously equate publication with an endorsement.

"Although peer review can never be perfect, few would disagree with the value of intense
scrutiny. In an era when the public pays for research that is rapidly producing new therapies,
public agencies have a responsibility to disseminate accurate information as quickly as possible.
And everyone stands to benefit from efforts to remove the stumbling blocks."