Friday, September 18, 2009

More About Ghostwriting in Medical Journals

The controversy around marketing manuscripts disguised as scientific papers has created quite a reaction in the medical writing community. I'm glad to see that journal editors are taking steps to stop this practice.

This is what is happening, as told in this NYT article:

"... in light of recently released evidence that some drug makers have gone to great lengths to turn scientific articles into marketing vehicles for their products, some influential medical editors are cracking down on industry-financed ghostwriting. And they are getting help from some members of Congress.

"These editors are demanding that journals impose tougher disclosure policies for academic authors and that the journals enforce their own rules by actively investigating the provenance of manuscripts and by punishing authors who play down extensive contributions by ghostwriters."

These policies include retraction of the papers, and that “authors found to have not declared such interest should be banned from any subsequent publication in the journal and their misconduct reported to their institutions.”

That's all good and clear and hopefully they will actually implement these policies. But what about the medical writers that willingly ghostwrite articles at the request of pharmaceutical companies--sometimes slanting data? Should they be "punished" also? If so, how can we do that? And who would do it? AMWA? Congress?

Should ghostwriting be regulated in medical writing? What do you think?


Scott Salsman said...

Surely you jest, sir. What makes you think that some ghostwriters "slant" data? Why would such a writer subject him/herself to the dangerous results that such a tactic can bring? And why would an author sign his or her name to a paper knowing the data was slanted?

As a medical writer yourself, you should know that a doctor or scientist who signs his/her name to a paper written by a ghostwriter takes on full responsibility for a paper's contents. The paper then goes on to be peer-reviewed. There's no more danger of slanted data than there would be if the doctor had written it him/herself.

Why are you siding with the Times? They're the enemies of our profession. If you want to have no business to speak of in a few years, just keep up this foolishness.

diego said...


Most professional medical writers would not do slant data, I agree on that. Why would some do it? $.

For the sake of the argument, let's assume no ghostwriter will write a paper with slanted data, willingly. Should we assume that Wyeth or the like that hires the ghostwriter has the same pristine intentions and would never slant data?

I've been in medical writing long enough to see how far industry will go to make more profits. Close colleagues of mine who have worked for DHHS have been laughed at by BigPharma executives when they asked these companies to invest more in drug safety.

I hope all medical writers were created equal--honest, ethical and uncompromising. But human nature is not that way.

Scott Salsman said...

Fine, but this isn't about the honesty or integrity of the client. This is about the risk taken by the doctor or scientist who is putting his or her name on the paper that is going to be peer-reviewed. The problems you're talking about could occur just as easily if the doctor were writing the paper himself. Therefore, ghostwriting is not the problem, and I would concede that it's not a problem at all.

Ghostwriting only makes the author's job easier by giving him or her a manuscript structure to work with. They bleed all over it, as you know, and by the time all revisions are made it is actually the work of the doctor, not the ghostwriter. The ghostwriter is only hired to speed things along. Your criticisms don't actually have anything to do with the use of ghostwriters.

nlb said...

Worse is the problem that Pharma companies in the guise of " academic communication " slant the deliverable to market their product.....avoiding balanced medical writing.....

Scott Salsman said...

I'm sorry to be rude, but you have no idea what you're talking about. All the major pharma companies govern themselves and hire lawyers to make sure every single person involved adheres to very strict rules. I deal with their rules every day as a writer working for a pharma vendor. They go to extremes these days because of all the newspapers and blogs like this one criticizing them on a daily basis. I have to fill up valuable space on slide and sales aids with the fair balance messages you hear on the television commercials, and it has to be just as big and prominent as the selling points of the product.

nlb, if people like you had it your way, no drugs would ever be sold. Everyone would receive free medical care. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Try thinking that through to its logical conclusion. You think the banks and auto industry have had it bad? Wait 'til Big Pharma comes crumbling down thanks to you ignorant people and your ridiculous ideals. You want to send us all back to the Stone Age. There are good reasons the U.S. is still a superpower, and a few of us are going to work to keep it that way!