Medical journal editors condemn ghostwriting


INDIANAPOLIS -- Ghostwriting may be okay for tell-all celebrity books but the editors of a peer-reviewed medical journal draw the line when the veiled author is paid by a pharmaceutical company with a financial interest in an article's topic.

An editorial in the March issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine examines the issue of drug companies commissioning medical education companies to ghostwrite scientific articles in support of the company's product.

In addition to the strongly worded editorial, the March JGIM includes an article detailing the incident that brought the issue to the editors' attention and a newly developed policy statement on ghostwriting by the World Association of Medical Editors.

"This is an issue which involved an egregious case of unethical behavior by an author, a pharmaceutical manufacturer and a medical education company that has caused an international hue and cry and needs to be examined under a bright light," said journal co-editor-in-chief William Tierney, M.D., Chancellor's Professor, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a Regenstrief Institute research scientist.

"Advancements in science, clinical care and medical education require a discourse among and between basic and clinical scientists, clinicians and medical educators," wrote the authors of the editorial, Dr. Tierney and co-editor Martha Gerrity, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Sciences University.

"Peer reviewed journals such as Journal of General Internal Medicine serve a critical service by providing a medium for such discourse. To be most effective in advancing medical science, care and education, published articles must have relevant content that pushes back the interface between what is known and what is yet to be discovered. Articles' content must be based on high quality and reproducible methods," they wrote."

The editors continue: "We had no problem with this manuscript's having been commissioned by a pharmaceutical manufacturer or that someone from the medical education company had performed a review of the evidence and written the draft manuscript. There were two substantial problems, though. First, the contribution of the initial manuscript's original author(s) was not recognized by co-authorship and taking direct responsibility for the work. Second, the financial relationship between that author and the pharmaceutical company was not acknowledged.

"It is important to mention that the author of the manuscript submitted to JGIM was not offered money in return for 'authoring' this manuscript. The medical education company preyed upon academicians' general need to 'publish or perish.'

"Not all interactions between the private sector and academia are necessarily unethical or biased. By encouraging appropriate management of acute and chronic conditions, pharmaceutical manufacturers can benefit to the degree that use of their products is encouraged by evidence-based guidelines established by independent bodies.

"This is not a new problem and will likely be with us as long as unscrupulous corporate officers care more about profits than the truth and don't realize the adverse effects on their profits that will result from an erosion of public trust," concluded Drs. Tierney and Gerrity.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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