The World Association of Medical Editors issued a new policy statement on ghostwriting. Its introduction states "The integrity of the published record of scientific research depends not only on the validity of the science but also on honesty in authorship." Furthermore, "The scientific record is distorted if the primary purpose of an article is to persuade readers in favor of a special interest, rather than to inform and educate, and this purpose is concealed." Thus, "WAME considers ghost authorship dishonest and unacceptable."
The policy declares that "Submitting authors bear primary responsibility for naming all contributors to manuscripts and describing their contributions." However, "Other parties, including companies—such as marketing, communications, and medical education companies who are paid to assist pharmaceutical and medical device companies in disseminating favorable messages about their products—may initiate the sequence of events for which the author is the final and most easily identified participant. These other participants are also responsible for ghost written manuscripts and addressing their roles should be part of the solution."
The policy includes the following possible sanctions for violations:
"1. publish a notice that a manuscript has been ghost written, along with the names of the responsible companies and the submitting author;
2. alert the authors' academic institutions, identifying the commercial companies;
3. provide specific names if contacted by the popular media or government organizations; and
4. share their experiences on the WAME Listserve and within other forums."
It all makes sense to me, but I wonder if any of the proposed sanctions are likely to have a powerful effect on the large health care organizations that sponsor the ghostwriting, nor the "medical education companies" that actually produce it.
Annals of Internal Medicine Announcement
Meanwhile, the Annals of Internal Medicine just put an announcement on its web-site that the journal editors are investigating the report of the ADVANTAGE trial, and "The editors will try to verify the number of cardiac events reported in The New York Times article. We will print a correction if we confirm that Lisse and colleagues reported patient outcomes incorrectly. " Sounds like a good idea, but this doesn't directly address the issue that the Times alleged that this trial was ghostwritten, and alleged that the true authorship of the trial was concealed from the journal editors and their readers. Let's see if there is more to come on this.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Report on Ghostwriting
I found a fairly scary report that the CBC put out in 2003, which I wish I had seen then. It included an interview with a ghostwriter, one of three, in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, that the reporters found. The anonymous ghostwriter declared:
- "I'm given an outline about what to talk about, what studies to site. [sic] They want us to be talking about the stuff that makes the drug look good. There's no discussion of certain adverse events. That's just not brought up."
- "You're being told [by the drug company] what to do. And if you don't do it, you've lost the job."
- "I expect that all the drug companies are doing it with all the drugs."
- "As long as I do my job well, it's not up to me to decide how the drug is positioned. I'm just following the information I'm being given."
- "The way I look at it, if doctors that have their name on it, that's their responsibility, not mine."