Friday, March 28, 2014

Nature's Embargo System


The big buzz in the genomics twittersphere today is the release of over 30 publications on the human ENCODE project. This is a heroic achievement [..] I’d like to pick up here on an important point [..] about the delays in the publication of these landmark papers that have arisen from the common practice of embargoing papers in genomics [..]

MacArthur writes:

"Many of us in the genomics community were aware of the progress the [ENCODE] project had been making via conference presentations and hallway conversations with participants. However, many other researchers who might have benefited from early access to the ENCODE data simply weren’t aware of its existence until today’s dramatic announcement – and as a result, these people are 6-12 months behind in their analyses."

It is important to emphasize that these publication delays are by design, and are driven primarily by the journals that set the publication schedules for major genomics papers. I saw first-hand how Nature sets the agenda for major genomics papers [..]

Not only was acceptance of the manuscript essentially assumed by the Nature editorial staff, the entire timeline was spelled out in advance, with an embargo built in to the process from the outset. Seeing this process unfold first hand was shocking to me, and has made me very skeptical of the power that the major journals have to dictate terms about how we, and other journals, publish our work.

Personally, I cannot see how this embargo system serves anyone in science other than the major journals.