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Stakes in Medical Ghostwriting Go Beyond Ethics

I looked at the legal 'ghostblogging" debate yesterday, which carries on in full force today at Social Media Tyro and elsewhere. Say what you will on this issue, but at least when it comes to ghostwritten pieces for lawyers and law firms, they haven't been accused of contributing to “lasting injury and even deaths." But according to an an article I saw today in PLoS Medicine (via the Law and Disorder blog), that is the effect ghostwriting may be having in the medical arena.

Vioxx The PLoS Medicine article by Jeffrey R. Lacasse and Jonathan Leo describes the practice of "medical ghostwriting," i.e., a major new industry in which pharmaceutical companies secretly author journal articles published under the byline of academic researchers. It states that the practice is "dangerous to public health" because "ghostwritten articles on rofecoxib [Vioxx] probably contributed to '...lasting injury and even deaths as a result of prescribers and patients being misinformed about risks.'”

The authors explain that by allowing such ghostwriting,

academic medical centers enable the pharmaceutical industry to covertly shape the medical literature in favor of commercial interests. When a pharmaceutical salesperson hands a clinician an article reprint, the name of the institution on the front page of the reprint serves as a stamp of approval. The article is not viewed as an advertisement, but as scientific research; the reprint is an effective marketing tool because peer-reviewed journal articles generated in academia are perceived to be the result of unbiased scientific inquiry.

In addition to the drug rofecoxib, pharmaceutical companies have reportedly used ghostwriting to market sertraline, olanzapine, gabapentin, estrogen replacement therapy, paroxetine, methylphenidate, milnaciprin, venlafaxine and dexfenfluramine.

The Institute of Medicine recommended last year that U.S.-based academic medical centers enact policies that prohibit ghostwriting by their faculties, but Lacasse and Leo found this has not occurred. In fact, of the 50 centers that they examined, only 26 percent had policies in place prohibiting medical ghostwriting. Ten had policies explicitly prohibited ghostwriting, and three more had authorship policies banning it in practice.

The authors conclude that in the medical area, at least, all individuals who have made a substantial contribution to an article should be listed as authors, as "accurately reporting authorship is essential for maintaining research integrity."

Posted by Bruce Carton on February 3, 2010 at 11:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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