Tag Archives: medical ghostwriting

Senator Grassley Releases Medical Ghostwriting Report

The New York Times points out a new report released by Sen. Chuck Grassley on medical ghostwriting taking place in scholarly publishing. The NYT has reported on this specific topic previously but here’s a brief summary taken from Grassley’s report (full PDF from NYTimes):

Medical ghostwriting is a practice where pharmaceutical or device companies hire medical education, marketing or communications companies to draft articles that are presented to prominent physicians and scientists to sign on as authors to increase the likelihood that the article will be published in important medical journals. Ghostwritten articles include articles that are drafted by pharmaceutical or device company employees who are not acknowledged in the final publication…. The physicians and scientists agree to sign on even if they may not be intimately familiar with the underlying data or relevant research or provided limited input on the article. Authors who make little to no contribution to a publication are also referred to as “guest” authors. (page 2)

About two years ago, Senator Grassley inquired about an industry practice to get articles published in major medical journals touting the benefits of a company’s product without public disclosure that the company initiated and paid for the development of the articles. Specifically, Senator Grassley wrote to Merck & Co., Inc. (Merck) and Scientific Therapeutics Information (STI), a medical publishing company, following the publication of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  In that study the authors examined Merck’s manipulation of scientific literature through ghost writers to market the painkiller Vioxx. Notably, based on their review of court documents the authors of the JAMA article concluded that “review manuscripts were often prepared by unacknowledged authors and subsequently attributed authorship to academically affiliated investigators who often did not disclose industry financial support.” (page 1)

Similarly, in 2009, PLoS Medicine, an open-access peer-reviewed journal, made available court documents that detail how  pharmaceutical company Wyeth used ghostwriting to have positive messages about its product placed in scholarly journals.

Ghostwriting policies at medical schools in the US

PLOS has a new article that examines the academic publishing policies on “authorship, ghostwriting, and conflicts of interest” currently in place at 50 medical schools in the US.  The 50 schools were selected based on their appearance in US News’ Best Medical Schools 2009 list.

Some of the results show that just over half of these top 50 schools do not have a published policy on authorship or ghostwriting and that only 13 of the 50 schools have policies in place that prohibit ghostwriting. The paper has an excellent reference list pointing to other research and writing on the topic of ghostwriting in medical journals.
If you don’t know much about ghostwriting, here’s a good starting point:

Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger

More fraud in medical publishing?

Slashdot points to an article in The New York Times describing a disturbing practice of one pharmaceutical company hiring a ghostwriting firm to pen articles for publication in academic journals.  Of course it would look mighty suspicious to journal editors seeing a manuscript authored by a writing firm so the writing firm rounded up some “top physicians” who allowed their names to be cited as the authors.

Here is one of the articles included in the discussion:

Bachmann GA. (2005). Menopausal vasomotor symptoms: a review of causes, effects and evidence-based treatment options. The Journal Of Reproductive Medicine, 50(3), 155-165.

The released court documents include an email exchange between the ghostwriter and Bachmann where  Bachmann indicates that “It is the best article that I have come across on this topic.” Funny words for someone who is supposedly the author.

I wonder how long this kind of publishing has been going on and what kind of long term impact is has on other research.  Google Scholar currently shows that Bachmann’s article has been referenced 32 times. How many others are out there?


Singer, N. (2009, August 5). Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy. The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/health/research/05ghost.html.