Tag Archives: ghostwriting

Scary secrets about ghostwriting in journals

Just in time for Halloween, an anonymous medical ghostwriter spoke to Phil Davis over at the Scholarly Kitchen about the scary world of ghostwriting.

He reveals how much ghostwriters are paid, how the process works, where his work has been published, how to detect ghostwritten material and more.

The Scholarly Kitchen is a blog from the Society for Scholarly Publishing.

(Hat tip to Scott Hensley.)

Did PLoS suffer from COI in ghostwriting article?

Remember that examination of Wyeth (now Pfizer)’s ghostwriting practices that ran in PLoS Medicine a few weeks back? Well, Pharmalot’s Ed Silverman reports that things got a fair bit weirder, thanks to an accusation from Wyeth/Pfizer that the article’s author suffered from her own undisclosed conflict of interest. The article mentions author Adriane Fugh-Berman was a paid expert witness in the trial against Wyeth through which the documents were exposed, but never discloses that she’s still engaged as such.

Silverman got in touch with Fugh-Berman, who said she would clarify her status.

Things get a bit muddier when company representatives allege that the journal was intentionally using the article fodder for an anti-Pfizer lawsuit. Silverman does a good job of explaining the whole situation.

Related: Say what? Pfizer calls PLoS out on conflict of interest

How ghostwriters sold hormone replacement

Writing in PLoS Medicine, Adriane J. Fugh-Berman, M.D., demonstrates the cynical art of “publication planning” and the use of academic journals as an avenue for unregulated drug promotion by showing, with the help of documents from a major drug manufacturer, how ghostwriting was used to sell hormone replacement therapy.

The documents in question come from the lawsuits against Wyeth over the development of breast cancer during treatment with the hormone replacer Prempro, and were brought to light, according to Fugh-Berman, “when PLoS Medicine and The New York Times intervened in the litigation. Both intervenors successfully argued that ghostwriting undermines public health and that documents proving the practice should be unsealed.”

Fugh-Berman was a paid expert witness in the trial, and thus was familiar with the documents before their release. Her conclusion?

… the pharmaceutical company Wyeth used ghostwritten articles to mitigate the perceived risks of breast cancer associated with HT (menopausal hormone therapy), to defend the unsupported cardiovascular “benefits” of HT, and to promote off-label, unproven uses of HT such as the prevention of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, vision problems, and wrinkles.

According to Fugh-Berman, the effects of this careful campaign seem to have outweighed the preponderance of evidence, at least in the minds of some doctors.

Today, despite definitive scientific data to the contrary, many gynecologists still believe that the benefits of HT outweigh the risks in asymptomatic women. This non-evidence–based perception may be the result of decades of carefully orchestrated corporate influence on medical literature.

Through the course of the article, Fugh-Berman lays out the entire ghostwriting/marketing process, complete with instructive details and damning examples. There’s a lot to take in, but you’ll emerge with a far better understanding of the mundane mechanics that make ghostwriting work.


Grassley compares ghostwriting, plagiarism

Sen/ Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) continues his investigation of “medical ghostwriting” with a letter to 10 medical schools asking “what they are doing about professors who put their names on ghostwritten articles in medical journals — and why that practice was any different from plagiarism by students.”

Sen. Charles Grassley

Sen. Charles Grassley

At issue is the practice in which a writer — sometimes paid by a pharmaceutical or other involved company — works on an article intended for publication without being named while a less-involved researcher receives credit.

Journals, medical associations and even pharmaceutical companies have called for an end to the practice but medical schools have been slower to respond.

Grassley has asked the medical schools to explain their policies on ghostwriting and plagiarism, to list complaints and describe investigations into both practices.

Ghostwriting: Journals’ dirty, not-so-little secret

The New York Times‘ Duff Wilson and Natasha Singer reported the results of a Journal of the American Medical Association study showing that, in an anonymous survey of contributors to six major medical journals, 7.8 percent “acknowledged contributions to their articles by people whose work should have qualified them to be named as authors on the papers but who were not listed.”

Reuters Health’s Brendan Borrell describes the lengths one editor goes to when trying to track down ghostwriters and disclose them in his journal’s articles.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the nonprofit open-access Public Library of Science’s PLoS Medicine calls upon journals to “get serious” in the war against ghostwriting.