From Ghost Writing to Ghost Management in Medical Journals

Posted on January 27, 2008  Comments (3)

Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry?

As discussed below, a substantial percentage of medical journal articles (in addition to meeting presentations and other forms of publication, which are not the focus here) are ghost managed, allowing the pharmaceutical industry considerable influence on medical research, and making that research a vehicle for marketing.

Ghost writing and honorary authorship are not in and of themselves scientific problems, though they become so when they shape science to meet particular interests [1]. Some honorary authors are senior professors and chairs of departments, who are added to articles because of local academic politics rather than at the request of drug companies [15,16].

It has been repeatedly and firmly established that pharmaceutical company funding strongly biases published results in favor of the company’s products [17–19]. Ghost management amplifies that bias, because when one set of commercial interests exerts influence at multiple stages of research, writing, and publication, it will shape the resulting article.

This PLoS published essay includes 52 citations of studies in this area.

While they are clear to distinguish drug company influence on authors and other influence, I can see no justification for honorary authorships. Why can’t people just be honest. Is that really too high an expectation for scientists? Academic politics should not trump truth – especially for scientists. I can understand that traditionally claiming authors that were not actually authors has not been uncommon. But what reason is there to be dishonest in this way now? I don’t know of a good reason. Therefore it seems to me this practice should be seen as any other dishonest practice and those interested in finding the truth should stop making dishonest claims of authorship.

Universities and academic health centers should prohibit contracts that allow sponsors to draft, edit, or suppress articles, or that allow sponsors to keep data from authors; they should even prohibit sponsors from facilitating publication. Universities should also take disciplinary action against investigators who serve as authors on ghost-managed articles.

Good advice.

Related: Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus WoesMore on the Problems with Bisphenol-AHow to Deal with False Research FindingsOpen Access and Research Publications

3 Responses to “From Ghost Writing to Ghost Management in Medical Journals”

  1. no name provided
    January 28th, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

    I believe this is one of the most challenging issues facing the medical community today. The link between big pharma, research reports sponsored by them, and kickbacks either direct or indirect to the medical community has created a scenario where it is very difficult to trust the information we get on medicine. I agree 100% with standfords teaching hospital approach of banning all pharma ads.

  2. CuriousCat » Big Drug Research and Development on Campus
    June 9th, 2008 @ 1:42 pm

    Funding university activities this way can lead to conflicts and problems but realistically huge amounts of funding are entangled with possible conflicts of interest.

  3. Curious Cat Science Blog » NIH Punished Scientist Who Called for Open Records
    October 24th, 2008 @ 8:39 am

    “The National Institutes of Health and some leading universities, such as Harvard and Stanford, have suffered black eyes this year because of revelations that researchers with federal grants failed to disclose secret payments that they took from pharmaceutical companies.”

Leave a Reply