Ghostwriting scientific papers, ctd.

August 19, 2009 • 7:46 am

by Greg Mayer

In a follow up to her article on ghostwriting of medical papers by pharamaceutical companies (which I noted previously), Natasha Singer reports in today’s New York Times that a key senator is looking to halt the practice.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has led a long-running investigation of conflicts of interest in medicine, is starting to put pressure on the National Institutes of Health to crack down on the practice.

That is significant because the N.I.H., a federal agency in Bethesda, Md., underwrites much of the country’s medical research. Many of the nation’s top doctors depend on federal grants to support their work, and attaching fresh conditions to those grants could be a powerful lever for enforcing new ethical guidelines on the universities.

The shocking practice is to hire writers to craft papers favorable to the pharmaceutical company, and then have an academic physician’s name appear as the author of the paper when submitted to a medical journal. Although this seems bizarre to a biologist, a professor at the medical school at the flagship campus of my own university is quoted by Singer as saying, “This happens all the time.” (The quoted professor did not engage in the practice.)

10 thoughts on “Ghostwriting scientific papers, ctd.

  1. Great!

    “Obama’s Day Ahead
    President Obama will deliver remarks at 4:30 p.m. ET from the South Portico. At 5:30 p.m. ET, he will hold a conference call with faith leaders to discuss health insurance reform”

  2. Are the “authors” actually working at all to contribute to the publications, or are they simply allowing their names to be placed on the papers?

    It would seem if no contribution is being made to the research in the papers, then inclusion of the physician’s name is academic dishonesty. This should not be tolerated.

    1. In the case detailed in the Times, the “author” contributed little or nothing to the paper, other than their name.


  3. Can’t the relevant medical board take some action? Such ghostwriting isn’t illegal, but it certainly is unethical. The individuals concerned should surely be hauled before a disciplinary committee, no?

  4. “Such ghostwriting isn’t illegal, but it certainly is unethical.”

    I would think an argument could be made that it is actually fraud, which might actually be illegal. Certainly it is misrepresenting the work of the alleged “author”, work that is often used to determine promotion in universities.

  5. I hope the legislators put an end to it; the practice is outright criminal. Big Pharma is pushing its own biased results and passing it off as independent academic research. If companies would simply report their full and honest findings rather than playing these stupid marketing games it would be very helpful.

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