Thursday, May 05, 2005

Ghosts of Days Long Past

I have managed to track back the ghost-writing story to at least 1993.
In 1993, an editorial appeared in Lancet entitled "Ghost With a Chance in Publishing Undergrowth." (Anonymous. Ghost with a chance in publishing undergrowth. Lancet 1993; 342: 1498-99.) It clearly describes the ghost-writing phenomenon, "a typical sequence of events beigns with a publisher agreeing to prepare a review article for a drug company to 'raise awareness/profile' of a certain subject that is broadly related to the company's product. " Then, "a staff writer prepares the review to the sponsor's satisfaction, whereuponthe publishing house contacts a doctor with a special interest in the relevant topic to inquire whether he or she would like to be the guest author, subject to approval of the content, for an honorarium." The editorial noted, "negotiations between publishing house and guest author tend to be conducted over the telephone or in person. The final version, when submitted to the journal, may contain no clues about its origin. " Sounds familiar?
In 1994, an editorial in JAMA warned, "there are ghosts lurking in the bylines - shadowy figures who, increasingly, are in fact the actual writers (the authors, some old-fashioned folk would say) of what we editors receive." (Rennie D, Flanigin A. Authorship! authorship! guests, ghosts, grafters and the two-sided coin. JAMA 1994; 271: 469-470.)
A letter in response to the JAMA article briefly described a case very similar to the one Dr. Fugh-Berman described recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. (Kasper CK. Authorship! authorship! JAMA 1994; 271: 1904.) In reply, Rennie and Flanigin stated, "it should be obvious that this is both deceptive and disgraceful. The academic whose name appears on the printed paper, and on whose brow no laborious sweat has appeared, must surely know that the exchange of money takes place solely because the deception is seen by some company to be commercially worthwhile."
However, despite these earlier warnings, the practice of ghost-writing seems to have continued, and now involves not only editorials and reviews, but also reports of original research. The practice remains deceptive and disgraceful, and not only the physicians and scientists who serve as "guest authors," but also the shadowy legions of ghost-writers and their even more shadowy sponsors should be ashamed of it.

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