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Debating the ethics of medical ghostwriting

October 19, 2010

Tags: collaboration, ghostwriting, ghost writing, medical writing, ethics

Medical writers who collaborate with scientists are often called ghostwriters. Questioning the ethics of some medical ghostwriting, Adriane J. Fugh-Berman in a recent issue of PLoS, published The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT” (PLoS Med 7(9): e1000335, 9-7-10). Fugh-Berman examined documents unsealed in recent litigation to see how pharmaceutical companies promoted hormone therapy drugs. Among other things, they used medical writing companies to produce ghostwritten manuscripts and place them in medical journals). Read response to the article by Adam Jacobs of the European Medical Writers Association.

Other discussions of the ethics and practical realities of medical writing include the following:
• Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy (Natasha Singer, NY Times, 8-4-2009)
• What Should Be Done To Tackle Ghostwriting in the Medical Literature? (a debate about medical ghostwriting on PLoS Medicine, with Peter C. Gψtzsche, Jerome P. Kassirer, Karen L. Woolley, Elizabeth Wager, Adam Jacobs, Art Gertel, Cindy Hamilton--2009)
• Ghostwriting(Derek Lowe, In the Pipeline, a short entry followed by an intelligent discussion with readers)
• Ghostwriting and the Medical Writer (Cynthia Haggard, American Medical Writers Association)
• New strategies to tackle medical ghostwriting are debated (Science News)
• AMWA code of ethics
• Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry? (Sergio Sismondo, PLoS Med 4(9): e286, 9-25-07)
• Revealed: how drug firms 'hoodwink' medical journals (Antony Barnett, The Observer, 12-7-03). Pharmaceutical giants hire ghostwriters to produce articles - then put doctors' names on them
• Evidence in Vioxx Suits Shows Intervention by Merck Officials (Alex Berenson, NY Times, 4-24-05)
• Good Publication Practice for Pharmaceutical Companies Guidelines (Envision Pharma, 2006)

See also Medical ghostwriting and ethical issues in medical publishing


  1. December 12, 2010 1:25 PM EST
    Add: Give up the ghosts. "Funding agencies should make researchers reveal industry links." Nature 468. 732. (09 December 2010) doi:10.1038/468732a
    - PM
  2. December 12, 2010 1:32 PM EST
    Add: "Ghosting Matilda", humorous verse, on the Health Care Renewal blog (9-25-09)
    - Pat McNees