In my blog post of August 5 I detailed a story about how drug maker Wyeth paid professional, non-physician ghostwriters to formulate articles that were then published by medical journals that doctors read to keep up with the latest changes in medical practice, including new information about prescription drugs. This effort by Wyeth was, of course, to improve doctors opinions about their products so that they would prescribe more Wyeth drugs so that Wyeth would make more money.
Today, the New York Times reports on a study released by the editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association which found that six of the top medical journals relied upon by doctors published a significant number of articles written by ghostwriters hired and paid for by the drug companies. The concern of course is that these ghostwritten articles may introduce bias into the decision making process that doctors use in deciding how to treat patients.
The article in JAMA lists the following:
–a 10.9 % rate of ghostwriting in the New England Journal of Medicine
–a 7.9% rate in JAMA
–a 7.6% rate in The Lancet
–and a 7.6% rate in PLoS Medicine, among others.
The JAMA article was based on answers to an anonymous online questionnaire created for the study in JAMA, which has not yet been published or peer-reviewed. The study results were released publicly on September 10 at an international meeting of medical editors in Vancouver.
According to the Times article, Joseph S. Wisler, a research specialist and lead author of the study, said These journals are the top of the medical field. He recommended that they take more action to require that all contributors be listed in acknowledgments if they are not named as authors. It was very compelling, and I find it quite shocking, to be honest, Ginny Barbour, chief editor of PLoS Medicine, the journal of the Public Library of Science, said after the meeting. We are a journal that has very tough policies, very explicit policies on ghostwriting and contributorship, and I feel that weve basically been lied to by authors.