Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Medical Writing and Ghostwriting

I think this was going to happen sooner or later: the US Senate is moving to stop scientific ghostwriting.

In the past decade (probably more), pharmaceutical companies have been hiring writers to prepare positive journal articles about their products and then pay researchers to lay their names as authors. This ghostwriting practice has been abused to the extent that these papers try to minimize the risks of drugs that have been otherwise shown as high-risk in independent research.

What strikes me about this issue (and the info in this NYT article) is the involvement of a medical writing company:

The documents offer a look at the inner workings of DesignWrite, a medical writing company hired by Wyeth to prepare an estimated 60 articles favorable to its hormone drugs. In one publication plan, for example, DesignWrite wrote that the goal of the Wyeth articles was to de-emphasize the risk of breast cancer associated with hormone drugs, promote the drugs as beneficial and blunt competing drugs. The articles were published in medical journals between 1998 and 2005 — continuing even though a big federal study was suspended in 2002 after researchers found that menopausal women who took certain hormones had an increased risk of invasive breast cancer and heart disease.
Sometimes medical writers walk a thin line when working for the pharmaceutical industry, but this is a blatant sell-out that gives a bad name to our profession. It used to be that the ghostwriter's goal was to organize the researcher's notes and data into a cohesive and clear article. I don't see anything wrong with that. But to publish marketing material as research is simply unethical. Click here to read an old post about AMWA's position on ghostwriting.

I hope universities take a stand against this issue and enforce their regulations on pharma-sponsored faculty.

1 comment:

Natasha Das said...

Well said...But who decides whether the researcher has actually worked on the study?

It is common for ghostwriters (for they are usually not named in the manuscript)to help researchers organize their study into 'cohesive and clear' reports. It is equally common for writers to be hired by writing companies that are into medico-marketing communications. Such writers are often asked to write books and articles which are published in the name of reputed researchers for that's what sells...the researchers are sometimes paid to have their name there.

Even WAME says that all writing assistance should be suitably acknowledged in the article. But how many researchers actually do that? It's an open secret in the industry that most articles featuring in even the most reputed journals are written by professional writers and not the researchers themselves. Very few researchers are good writers themselves.