Ghostwriting widespread in 6 of top 10 med journals; study

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

A significant number of articles in six of the top 10 medical journals in 2008 were ghostwritten, according to study by editors of JAMA that found responding authors reported a 10.9 per cent rate in the NEJM.

Ghostwriting has come under increasing scrutiny with figures including Senator Chuck Grassley raising concerns that some articles “may be subtle advertisements rather than publications of independent research​”.

A study in 2007 stated: “Freelance medical writers, medical writing agencies and contract research organisations (CROs) are often contracted to compose trial reports, reviews, and other papers for the pharmaceutical industry but their role is often not revealed​.”

The New York Times​ now reports of a study released by editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)​ that found over seven per cent of articles published in four leading medical journals were ghostwritten.

Figures were taken from the responses to an online questionnaire of 630 authors. These anonymous responses showed that 7.8 per cent of authors had published articles where significant contributors were not named.

Significant variation in ghostwriting rates was found, as shown on the graph below, and the authors of the ghostwriting study acknowledged that there is potential for reporting bias in their publication.

Nonetheless, the results are being taken seriously, with Ginny Barbour, chief editor of Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine, describing it as “very compelling​” and “quite shocking​”, adding that he feels the journal has “basically been lied to by authors​”.

The study is yet to be peer-reviewed or published.

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