Bioethics Magazine dissects ghostwriting

The three links on this page are from the current issue of the magazine, Bioethics, which thoroughly explores the phenomenon of ghostwriting. These are in-depth and should be carefully read. I suggest you read these over a period of days or weeks instead of at one sitting.

The corruption which has crept into the medical research world has almost become so commonplace that many consider it to be “not so bad.” Well, in my opinion, it is very bad and leads to deeper levels of corruption.

These articles will provide you with a solid grounding in the issues, why it is a problem and some possible solutions.

Below is an excerpt from the first article from Bioethics

A growing literature1 is documenting the practice of medical ghostwriting, whereby pharmaceutical companies draft favorable scientific articles, send them to academic physicians or researchers who sign on as author, and publish the articles in medical journals. Often the pharmaceutical company contracts the work out to a medical education and communications company, which executes key steps in the process such as drafting the article, inviting academics to be author, paying these honorary authors typically $1,000 to $2,000 per article,2 and a range of other ‘publication planning’ services.3 Medical ghostwriting is a serious breach of medical ethics and a violation of the standard of excellence that readers have come to expect from journals. An adequate response to the problem requires firm action from different institutions within the biomedical community. This paper argues that honorary authorship is plagiarism and thus subject to federal and academic policies on research misconduct. Also, several measures are proposed to limit the publication of ghostwritten papers in medical journals.

Honorary authorship in science is not a small or localized problem; it has involved many researchers and a wide range of medical journals.4 A 2005 survey estimates that 10% of researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health have engaged in inappropriate assignment of authorship credit (which can include but is not limited to honorary authorship).5 A decade ago, several high-profile journals (including JAMA, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Annals of Internal Medicine) acknowledged the presence of industry-ghostwritten articles in their publications.6

Although it is difficult to estimate the frequency with which ghostwritten articles are published in journals, all signs indicate this is a continuing if not growing problem. The publication planning industry continues to flourish. During key marketing phases, up to 40% of published articles for a particular drug may be ghostwritten or have their messages closely managed by a medical education and communications company.7

Examples such as Fen-Phen and Zoloft make the social costs of industry ghostwriting abundantly clear. Wyeth’s Fen-Phen and Pfizer’s Zoloft were marketed in part through ghostwritten journal articles that downplayed and even omitted evidence of serious life-threatening side effects which included primary pulmonary hypertension, valvular heart disease, and suicidality.8 Ghostwritten journal articles have also been produced for GlaxoSmithKline’s Paxil and Parker Davis’s (now a Pfizer subsidiary) Neurontin.9

much much more via Profits and Plagiarism by Anekwe

here is the link to the 2nd Publication Ethics and the Ghost Management of Medical Publications

excerpt from the abstract: ..This article aims to reinforce and expand publication ethics as an important area of concern for bioethics. Since ghost-managed research is primarily undertaken in the interests of marketing, large quantities of medical research violate not just publication norms but also research ethics. Much of this research involves human subjects, and yet is performed not primarily to increase knowledge for broad human benefit, but to disseminate results in the service of profits. Those who sponsor, manage, conduct, and publish such research therefore behave unethically, since they put patients at risk without justification. This leads us to a strong conclusion: if medical journals want to ensure that the research they publish is ethically sound, they should not publish articles that are commercially sponsored….

and finally the link to What’s Wrong with Ghostwriting?

Introductory paragraph:

If litigation against the pharmaceutical industry has revealed anything over the past two decades, it is that medical research and pharmaceutical marketing have become very difficult to tell apart. As each pharmaceutical scandal has unfolded, a familiar pattern has emerged. A new drug appears on the market and appears to be a stunning success. The clinical trials look excellent; doctors prescribe the drug enthusiastically; it earns billions of dollars in profits. After a few fat years, the problems with the drug begin to emerge: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pulmonary hypertension, suicidal ideation. During litigation, it becomes apparent that the company has known about the problem for years, but has managed to hide, spin or downplay the risks in its scientific publications, many of which have been produced by ghostwriters working for medical education agencies. Yet so convincing are those publications that, until the litigation, few suspected they did not represent legitimate science…

Many thanks to Bioethics magazine and its publisher Wiley Interscience for allowing us access to the full text.

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