Friday, September 11, 2009

Ghostwriting in medical journals - more prevalent than we would like to believe?

Ghostwriting is much more prevalent in medical publications than many appreciate according to a new study discussed in the New York Times (Ghostwriting Widespread in Medical Journals, Study Says)

The exact details of this new study are unclear, since it is not published, but basically, a survey of authors reveals (among those responded) a remarkably high rate of "ghostwriting" where someone not on the author list made major contributions to the writing of papers.

As I have said before - openness is a way around this --- but of course only if everyone is honest. What people did as part of a paper should be reported in as much detail as allowed. Who did experiments? Who did analysis? Who did writing? Etc etc etc. It should all be stated somewhere. And many journals are moving in this direction. But alas, apparently people are not revealing all the details. Not sure what the solution to this problem is - but I can't help but think that we need to revamp the general discussion of authorship ethics within the scientific community ---

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  1. but I can't help but think that we need to revamp the general discussion of authorship ethics within the scientific community

    Especially in this world where various impact factor statistics are being used as a proxy for "scientific quality" of researchers (for grants, etc).

    I also believe that journals that have you link "who did experiments" "who conceived study", etc to the author list also help reduce the number of "honorary authors" that go on a paper.

    In schools with publication quotas for graduate degrees, or in places where labs benefit from the presence of "the big prof", it is too tempting to slide authors into the middle, who have had no impact on the paper at all. During submission, stating who did what may sometimes can make you feel that you are justifying the author list. Maybe this will help you decided who is a real author or not?

  2. There are all sorts of "reasons" why many places/people do weird things with authorship -- we just need to make people realize that manipulating author lists is a form of fraud and not a way to honor one's boss ---

  3. These days many different things are outsourced.It has been well known through out the past decade that many popular songs are ghostwritten by other people. It is not only the music industry, but many others too. I can see the reason being much stronger in the medical industry, because there is more of a political influence in it. There really is no telling why these people would be influenced to add or remove authors from the list, but in most cases it is not for the group benefit.