Tag Archives: ghostwriting

Did PLoS suffer from COI in ghostwriting article?

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

Related

Grassley compares ghostwriting, plagiarism

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

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

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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.

Wyeth paid university for ghostwritten articles

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

John Fauber and Meg Kissinger of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that Wyeth paid the University of Wisconsin to sponsor “ghostwritten medical education articles that downplayed the risks” of female hormone therapy – one of that company’s most notorious missteps.

Amid mounting concern regarding their safety and shortly before the discovery that Wyeth’s progestin and estrogen products were considered dangerous enough to bring a massive clinical trial screeching to a halt, five ghostwritten articles, paid for by Wyeth, were used in University of Wisconsin continuing medical education materials which promoted the benefits and downplayed the risks of the treatments.

The Wyeth company line is that the articles weren’t bad or misrepresented science, and that the titular authors of the pieces were given “substantial editorial control” over the “scientifically accurate content.”

William Heisel focused on DesignWrite (the ghostwriters behind Wyeth’s pieces) and suggested that reporters check out their own local institutions and ask questions about where money is coming from, ask if the big names of local scientists are helping to hide their dubious connections and to actively question the impartiality of the science itself.

Heisel also put together an entertaining piece regarding just how tickled some researchers are to put their name on ghostwritten work.