Ghostwriting Scientific Medical Articles and the Role of Academic Medical Institutions
If you think that college students turning in their term papers, the text of which was actually written by others and sold on the internet is unethical, consider “respected” physicians associated with well known academic institutions getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to have their name attached to medical research articles which were written by ghostwriters working for the company. I started this topic of ghostwriters on Halloween last year and I would like to continue the topic here stimulated by an open-access article in PLOS Medicine published today titled "Ghostwriting at Elite Academic Medical Centers in the United States" by Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo.
I am reproducing the Background and the Conclusion (without including references) here but I advise my visitors to read the survey study at the above link, which will include the references. Then return and present your views of the issue and its consequences. ..Maurice.
Medical ghostwriting, the practice of pharmaceutical companies secretly authoring journal articles published under the byline of academic researchers, is a troubling phenomenon because it is dangerous to public health . For example, ghostwritten articles on rofecoxib probably contributed to “…lasting injury and even deaths as a result of prescribers and patients being misinformed about risks”. Study 329, a randomized controlled trial of paroxetine in adolescents, was ghostwritten to claim that paroxetine is “generally well tolerated and effective for major depression in adolescents” although data made available through legal proceedings show that “Study 329 was negative for efficacy on all 8 protocol specified outcomes and positive for harm” . Even beyond frank misrepresentation of data, commercially driven ghostwritten articles shape the medical literature in subtler but important ways, affecting how health conditions and treatments are perceived by clinicians. The ability of industry to exercise clandestine influence over the peer-reviewed medical literature is thus a serious threat to public health In 2009, the Institute of Medicine recommended that US-based academic medical centers enact policies that prohibit ghostwriting by their faculties . However, to date, there has been no systematic assessment of ghostwriting policies at academic medical centers. Since US-based academic medical centers generate biomedical research for a worldwide audience, we chose to conduct the first such investigation on elite US-based academic medical centers. … We sought to describe the current policy situation at US-based academic centers and then to propose an ideal ghostwriting policy.
Medical ghostwriting is a threat to public health which currently takes place only due to the cooperation of researchers employed at academic medical centers. Although there is growing awareness of the danger posed by medical ghostwriting, we find that few academic medical centers have public policies which prohibit this behavior, and many of the existing policies are ambiguous or ill-defined. We have proposed an unambiguous policy which defines participating in medical ghostwriting as academic misconduct akin to plagiarism or falsifying data. By adopting and enforcing this policy, academic medical centers would adhere to the norms of science followed across the rest of the University, and would no longer facilitate clandestine industry influence over the peer-reviewed scientific literature. By prohibiting medical ghostwriting, academic medical centers have a rare opportunity- to significantly reduce a major threat to public health with the stroke of a pen.