According to the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and The New York Times, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami medical school since 2009 and Emory University before that, and Dr. Alan F. Schatzberg, the chairman of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine from 1991 until 2009 co-wrote a psychiatric textbook intended for primary care physicians — or did they?
The book, Recognition and Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Psychopharmacology Handbook for Primary Care, has their names on it. But according to documents unearthed by the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington advocacy group, it was allegedly actually ghostwritten — at least in part — by a company called Scientific Therapeutics Information, Inc.
“Ghostwriting” is the practice that has been making the headlines in the past few years for pharmaceutical companies paying for professional writing companies to write supposedly unbiased peer-reviewed journal articles, which are then published under legitimate academics’ names. The academics who engage in this practice get the bonus of a journal article published in their name, along with a nice paycheck for lending their names to the effort.
What makes ghostwriting an especially egregious practice is that authors — who are supposed to be upholding the highest ethical standards of their profession — don’t acknowledge they didn’t write an article that has their name on it.
Having no explanation as to why a letter in 1997 clearly showed that the sponsor would be copied on and could comment on drafts and final signoff of the textbook, Nemeroff and Schatzberg say that’s not what actually happened:
Responding to questions by e-mail last week, Dr. Nemeroff and Dr. Schatzberg emphasized the “unrestricted” nature of the grant from the drug maker to develop the book and said they did most of the work. SmithKline “had no involvement in content,” Dr. Schatzberg said, adding, “An unrestricted grant does not give the company any right of sign-off on content and in fact they had no sign-off in content.”
It’s hard to believe their defense when an initial draft of the textbook was provided. However, to be fair to the authors, the only draft listed is a 49 page outline — entire chapters are completely missing from the draft. But the letter to Nemeroff is apparently somewhat damning evidence in and of itself.
If Nemeroff and Schatzberg actually disagreed with the timetable and the fact that a sponsor — in this case, GlaxoSmithKline — would be allowed to sign off on the book, they should have written back saying as much (and therefore documenting the “unrestricted” nature of the grant as independent professionals). If they did, it would seem someone should have a copy of those letters — Scientific Therapeutics Information, GlaxoSmithKline, or Nemeroff himself.
But Nemeroff and Schatzberg aren’t the only professionals to have allegedly not written peer-reviewed articles or editorials their names have appeared on. Dwight Evans and Dennis Charney had this editorial published in the prestigious journal, Biological Psychiatry in 2003. But this email from Sally Laden, a professional writer, asks where her payment is for writing that article!
The authors acknowledge Sally Laden at the end of the article for her “editorial support.” Apparently, in this context, “editorial support” means writing (at least a draft of) the article. Too bad the journal didn’t note this discrepancy at the time (or since).
Martin Keller and Kimberly Yonkers are also listed on the Project on Government Oversight’s website with alleged evidence of ghostwriting activities as well.
Each of these professionals should be honorable, do the right thing, and come clean about any transgressions. It’s time for professionals to stop hiding behind their university or lawyers for cover, and to tell the public — and their fellow researchers — how much they’ve engaged in behaviors that raise ethical questions in other people’s minds.
December 14, 2010 Update: After an exchange of letters between lawyers representing the researchers and POGO, POGO has basically retracted the claim that the textbook was ghostwritten. Since the only document POGO had was a single initial draft and a letter that lays out a possible timeline for the textbook, their proof was a little thin in supporting the accusation of ghostwriting. While some similar sentences appear in both the draft and the book, that is entirely consistent with a freelance author providing some initial draft “editorial assistance” — consistent with the authors’ claims.
View the Project on Government Oversight’s call to the NIH to stop funding researchers who participate in ghostwriting
Read the New York Times article: Drug Maker Wrote Book by Doctors, Papers Say