Sharing your work with the public (via the news media) is not done for the sheer joy of collecting news clips nor is it an empty pursuit of publicity for publicity’s sake. Sharing your research and your expertise with the outside world can enhance your reputation, increase funding and help advance institutional goals, while also improving public understanding of biomedical science and enlightening the public discourse on important topics.
Please note: Sharing your paper with our office does NOT constitute an embargo breach. See “Embargoes and the Public Release of Information” section further down.
Why Share Your Research with the Public
While publicizing your research may not lead directly to more funding, it can help educate legislators and other key decision-makers about your work — and this can help bring in more funding. Enhancing visibility about your research among policymakers, legislators and voters is critical in this time of shrinking or stagnant government funding and growing competition for fewer research dollars. As alternative funding sources (i.e. non-profits, foundations, advocacy groups, private donors, philanthropies) start to play an increasingly important role, lay-level communication of your research can bring attention to your field and catalyze support for your work.
Publishing your study in a peer-reviewed journal is NOT the same as publicizing it. While many of your colleagues in the medical field will follow your research in the peer-reviewed literature, scientists from other fields will most likely not. One way to reach this important audience is through coverage in the popular news media. Biologists, chemists, public health experts, engineers, and IT professionals can collaborate with you and make important contributions to your work. Educated lay people involved in the public arena comprise a small but influential segment and should not be overlooked.
The public is vulnerable to direct-to-consumer messaging and dubious scientific claims from influential non-scientists (i.e. the vaccine-autism controversy). Scientists have a role— indeed a moral obligation — to help disseminate unbiased, rigorously validated information that enhances the public understanding of such issues. Increased understanding and awareness of biomedical research benefits society on a larger scale. Most lay people may not understand science but they do appreciate science and research, and the active involvement of scientists in this dynamic is critical. Improving the public’s understanding of biomedical science requires ongoing, consistent work with the news media and the public.
Embargoes and the Public Release of Information
Our goal in the Office of Communications & Public Affairs (OCPA) is to protect your name, your professional integrity, the institutional reputation and to ensure timely and accurate reporting of your research without jeopardizing your chances for publication. The OCPA staff works with the communications offices of peer-reviewed medical journals to determine when and how information can be released to the news media. We rigorously follow and abide by each journal’s embargo policy and disseminate news releases under strict embargo and only to trusted reporters who understand and agree to the embargo.
Typically, we send out releases a few days before publication. We allow and encourage reporters to work on a story and interview researchers in the days preceding the publication as long as they understand that the story is not to be published or broadcast until the day it appears in the respective peer-reviewed journal. But we need to know about your work and the sooner you inform us, the more time and attention we’ll be able to dedicate to drafting a news release. So please try to let us know as soon as a paper has been accepted for publication.
Our goals are mutual: accurate reporting, the public understanding of your work and positive visibility for science, Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and you.
Publicizing Abstracts Presented at Scientific Meetings
This has been the source of some confusion. Generally, sharing findings in the course of a scientific meeting will not jeopardize a study’s chances for subsequent publication. Abstracts presented at such meetings are considered public record. The organizers of these meetings invite reporters to cover these events and issue press releases, and so do we.
The decision on whether to subsequently publish such research can vary from journal to journal. However, many journals, most notably JAMA, have stated that publicizing abstracts at these events DOES NOT preclude a study from publication, as long as the researcher does not discuss any information beyond what is contained in the abstract.
A more serious concern may be that publicizing such research often involves findings that are preliminary, not reviewed by peers, validated by colleagues or otherwise independently verified. Different research is presented at different stages so there is no general rule here.
If you feel that sharing your findings is premature, then it may be best to withhold them until the full study is published. This will be a case-by-case decision left up to the individual authors. If an abstract is at all discussed with the news media, both the researchers and the OCPA staff should caution reporters about the preliminary nature of the results and urge careful interpretation.
The Role of Institutional News Releases
The OCPA can write news releases summarizing your research and distribute them to thousands of reporters worldwide. Beyond publicizing your work, these news releases are your publicly sanctioned statement about your research, its implications, explained and contextualized precisely the way you want it to be and can protect you if a news report misconstrues or misrepresents your findings, notes science communicator Dennis Meredith (Explaining Research, 2010).
“If you do not choose to proactively explain your research, by default, you leave such communications to people not as familiar with your work and to the informal grapevine.” (Explaining Research, Meredith, 2010)
TELL US BEFORE IT IS PUBLISHED! Above all, tell us as early as possible if any of the following has been accepted for publication. We need to know about your paper before it gets published.
A Final Note on Working with Journalists
Many seasoned beat reporters are knowledgeable and careful in reporting the complexities of biomedical research. Unfortunately, there are those who oversimplify or misrepresent the findings, failing to provide broader context and deeper understanding of the results. Researchers and physicians (and their public information officers) play an important role here and should try to help reporters grasp the complexities of their work every time they speak with them. To do so, offer to discuss the broader context of the findings and any previous research that confirms or contradicts the new results. Explain where the study fits in the big picture. Caution reporters about the study’s limitations but don’t go overboard with excessive caveats.
- Dennis Meredith, 2010, Explaining Research
JAMA, June 5, 2002, Media Coverage of Scientific Meetings, v. 287, No. 21
JAMA, Oct. 1, 2008, Update on JAMA’s Policy on Release of Information to the Public, v., 300, No. 13
- The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan 1. 2009, Communicating Medical News-Pitfalls of Healthcare Journalism, 360:1.