PLoS Medicine on Ghostwritten Articles: This Is Going to Leave a Mark

The staff of PLoS Medicine does not like ghostwritten articles:

If you are an editor, author, reviewer, or reader of medical journals, or if you depend on your doctor or health care provider getting unbiased information from medical journals, then the 1,500 documents now hosted on the PLoS Medicine Web site [1] should make you very concerned and angry. Because, quite simply, the story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public.

If you’re not certain what this refers to, they provide an example:

Here’s just one sample thread [2] that gives an idea of the topsy-turvy world invented by the pharmaceutical and medical writing companies involved. While readers expect and assume that the named academic authors on a paper carried out the piece of work and then wrote up their article or review informed by their professional qualifications and expertise, instead we see a prime example of “ghostwriting”: a writing company was commissioned to produce a manuscript on a piece of research to fit the drug company’s needs and then a person was identified to be the “author”:

An email from a writer employed by the medical writing company, DesignWrite, to employees of Wyeth, the company that performed the study, and Parthenon (another medical writing company) on November 10, 2003 concerning manuscripts on Totelle (a brand of hormone replacement therapy manufactured by Wyeth) tells the story concisely. “Thanks to all who have reviewed and approved the manuscripts… I have received no word on authors for the Totelle 2 mg bone manuscript P3(2), and need input on this matter before this manuscript can move forwards.” [our (PLoS) emphasis added]

The good news is that they’re working on making the 1,500 fraudulently authored articles searchable in a public database (you can find the raw documents here). Look, we already know Wyeth and other drug companies are shit, but our colleagues who participated in this serial scam of the nation’s health and medical practioners need to be held accountable.
Simply put, it is unethical to put your name to research you did not conduct or participate in, particularly when it’s serving as corporate propaganda. Why should I trust anything they publish or submit as grant proposals?

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14 Responses to PLoS Medicine on Ghostwritten Articles: This Is Going to Leave a Mark

  1. You left off the second quotation mark in the first link, which is causing text to be omitted.

  2. NewEnglandBob says:

    How can the phony authors be made accountable? Just publishing their names is not enough.

  3. Missing text until Mike can fix it (starts at the first link):
    should make you very concerned and angry. Because, quite simply, the story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public. [end blockquote]
    If you’re not certain what this refers to, they provide an example:

  4. Lili Velez says:

    Just to be clear — if a manuscript is written and THEN an “author” is recruited, then it’s ghostwriting.
    If, however, a physician wants help turning a clinical study report into a research article, and works with a writer to create an outline of that physician’s ideas, then each draft is reviewed and approved by that physician, AND the writer’s assistance is acknowledged [along with any funding that allowed the MD to hire the writer or even to conduct the original research]…
    That _isn’t_ ghostwriting. When the process is transparent, and the ‘authority’ is always in the hands of the person who gets listed as the lead author, the ICMJE criteria are fulfilled, and everyone should be able to earn an honest living.
    Whether tenure committees in medicine want to open the can of worms about how much credit an MD should get for an article someone helped them write is a separate issue. I don’t see MDs lining up to acknowledge the assistance they’ve received in the past [there are a few exceptions, I’m sure], though…

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    How can the phony authors be made accountable? Just publishing their names is not enough.

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