I knew most of us scientists are not found of writing. That’s why we are in science! It is so much more fun to do the experiments and analyze the data than draft a manuscript. So, if you don’t want to write (and have the money) you can hire a communication agency and they will do it for you.
It looks like the practice of ghostwriting in clinical trials is quite common. More, many doctors agree to have their names in manuscripts that are based on experiments designed and performed by medical writing companies and pharmaceutical industries. Then things get really scaring.
McHenry and Jureidini (2008) reported the case of a paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) in 2001. It was a study on antidepressants for adolescents and the paper had 22 authors. The study was commissioned by SmithKline Beechan, which manufactures the drug in the study. The agency in charge of writing the paper would provide 6 drafts of the manuscript. The drafts were reviewed only by the sponsor, the primary author and 2 other authors. Review by more authors would add extra costs.
Then there is data manipulation. The study had only 2 primary efficacy variables, but 6 other variables were added and this change supported the claim that the drug was effective. It looks like a case of data manipulation. And when using a ghostwriter, it is not obvious who is responsible for manipulating the data.
It seems to me everything is huge in this case: the number of authors, the stakes involved and even the number of pages of the clinical study report (1400). But things were made simple as the ghostwriter only worked with a synopsis of the study report and at least 10 of the authors made no apparent contribution to the article.
Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens, from the University of Toronto are “proposing that medical “guest writers” might be sued for fraud. This may be one way to discourage this practice but I think that there are other things we researchers can do to keep this practice at bay. Do you have any suggestion? I do.
McHenry, L. and J. Jureidini. 2008. Industry-sponsored ghostwriting in clinical trial reporting: a case study. Accountability in Research 15:152-167.
Stern, S. and T. Lemmens. 2011. Opinion: ghost writing is fraudulent. The Scientist, November 2.