The unquiet corpse of Ingelfinger is still shambling around, smashing up science

May 23, 2016

It’s very doubtful that Franz J. Ingelfinger ever intended the rule named in his honour to prevent online preprints — after all, such things didn’t exist when he introduced his no-prior-publication policy at the New England Journal of Medicine in 1969, or even at the time of his death in 1980. Yet the rule lingers on in corrupt form.

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Poor Franz’s name has been associated with the so-called “Ingelfinger Rule“, even as that rule has been extended, distorted and abused to the general detriment of science. His goal was to prevent scientists from going to the press with sensationalised findings before they had been though peer review. But now …

Well, I’ll let Kim E. Barrett, Dean of the Graduate Division and Distinguished Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego, tell you about it:

I just had a student who was not allowed to include one of her published papers in her dissertation, or even a paraphrase of it, because of publisher policies governing dissertations posted online. She had to resort to including only a link.

On the same mailing list, Glenn Hampson offered an optimistic take: “as with so many disputes, poor communication seems to be at the heart of it. So repairing this might be easy.” But Barrett was clear:

The first student I mentioned had multiple interactions with the publisher, and her communications were remarkably clear. They just said no.

Speaking as one whose own dissertation was five published papers bound into a single volume, I have to say that is completely outrageous. At the time of submitting my Ph.D, two chapters were in press, two were in review (subsequently to be published in different journal from the ones that were then reviewing them), and only one had been published. If I’d been labouring under this idiot interpretation of Ingelfinger, my dissertation would have been once chapter long.

 

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