Warning: Ghostwriting may be hazardous to your health

Feb 02, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Of the top 50 medical schools in the United States, as defined by the 2009 U.S. News & World Report’s research ranking, only 13 - or 26 percent - have publicly available policies in place that strictly prohibit ghostwriting, according to a survey in this week’s PLoS Medicine.

The survey was conducted by Jeffrey Lacasse, an assistant professor at ASU’s School of Social Work on the Downtown Phoenix campus, and Jonathan Leo, from Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Harrogate, Tenn., who define medical ghostwriting as “the practice of pharmaceutical companies secretly authoring journal articles published under the byline of academic researchers.”

“The ability of industry to exercise clandestine influence over the peer-reviewed medical literature is a serious threat to public health,” say Lacasse and Leo. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine recommended that all U.S. academic medical centers create specific publication guidelines banning ghostwriting, but the new survey suggests that many schools are not following this recommendation.

Physicians and health professionals rely on medical journal articles - especially those from top academic centers - to guide their understanding of a patient’s health condition and choice of the best treatment. Ghostwritten articles may exaggerate a treatment’s benefits and downplay its harms.

The authors of the report searched for publicly available documents issued by the 50 schools to see if medical schools laid out clear policies about ghostwriting and authorship. They found that a quarter of the schools have an authorship policy that does not clearly ban all aspects of ghostwriting. More than half - 26 schools - had no authorship policies published online.

Lacasse and Leo call for increased awareness of this issue in the academic community and creation of enforceable, specific publication guidelines which prohibit ghostwriting. They say that deans of academic medical centers can eliminate an important threat to public health by simply enacting and enforcing a strict ban on medical ghostwriting.

Explore further: Experts call for higher exam pass marks to close performance gap between international and UK medical graduates

More information: www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1000230

Related Stories

New strategies to tackle medical ghostwriting are debated

Feb 03, 2009

Better strategies to tackle ghostwriting in the medical literature are the subject of a debate by leading authors in next week's issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine. Ghostwriting is scientific misconduct, argues ...

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Parsec
not rated yet Feb 03, 2010
OMG. This is really scary. I have been aware for some time that many speeches and public positions by politicians at the national level are actually written by lobbyists. However, having lobbyists writing medical journal articles under the guise and bylines of respected researchers is very troubling. I think this is fraud actually, and should not be left to schools or research centers. This fraud should be a crime and treated as such.

Of course, politicians in the pocket of industry would never to agree to put this standard on themselves. But at least in the field of scientific research, and medical research specifically, the potential harm in this practice to society warrants real and concerted action.

More news stories

Chronic inflammation linked to 'high-grade' prostate cancer

Men who show signs of chronic inflammation in non-cancerous prostate tissue may have nearly twice the risk of actually having prostate cancer than those with no inflammation, according to results of a new study led by researchers ...

Turning off depression in the brain

Scientists have traced vulnerability to depression-like behaviors in mice to out-of-balance electrical activity inside neurons of the brain's reward circuit and experimentally reversed it – but there's ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...