Ghostwriting and academic publication

When looking for evidence-based clinical guidelines and health care information, who do you trust? Peer reviewed research? Well, hopefully. Or maybe not.

From the recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) is asking medical schools about their policies on ghostwriting, specifically, the practice in which faculty agree to be named as authors of articles written primarily by health care companies. [aka Big Pharma or Big Insurance]

In letters sent to 10 prominent universities on November 18, Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, asked questions about their policies for faculty who lend their names as authors of review articles, editorials, and research articles prepared by marketing and/or medical education companies on behalf of drug and device manufacturers.

“When the article is then published, the participation of the ‘ghostwriter’ may not be revealed,” Grassley wrote. “Essentially, the companies are using the reputation of prestigious academic researchers and their institutions to promote the sale of drugs and devices.”

The senator also asked the institutions their policies toward students who commit plagiarism, noting that “some experts refer to ghostwriting as a form of plagiarism, and I understand that institutions view charges of plagiarism quite seriously.”

Mike Mitka, “Ghostwriting Questions.” JAMA. 2010;303(2):125.