Thursday, August 06, 2009

PLoS Medicine and NY Times open up can of worms regarding ghostwriting

Absolutely terrifying and intriguing story in the New York Times yesterday (Ghostwriters Paid by Wyeth Aided Its Drugs )

In the article Natasha Singer reports on how Wyeth commissioned the writing by a communication firm of a series of "draft" articles that were then published under the names of various medical professionals. It seems from the article that in some if not many cases the articles were in essence written by this company and then names of authors were placed on the papers which were then submitted to various journals and were published (they were generally review papers, and shockingly supported the use of Wyeth manufactured products).

The issues here are as always complex. But in the end, the articles did not disclose the role Wyeth played in paying for the writing of drafts and/or nearly complete forms of the papers and certainly should have. For more detail, read the Times article.

Interestingly, the documents that helped uncover the full details of the practice were obtained after a "a request in court from PLoS Medicine, a medical journal from the Public Library of Science, and The New York Times." For more detail on this see the PLoS Medicine blog here. Kudos to PLoS Medicine for getting involved in this and for pushing hard for more disclosure in medical publishing.

All I can say is the practice of ghostwriting medical and scientific articles should stop. Getting help with editing a paper is one thing. But putting your name on a paper conceived of and written by someone else is unacceptable.

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