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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 3, 2005

Ghostly Influences

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Posted by Derek

Via Matthew Herper at Forbes, here's a real grit-your-teeth article on the ghostwriting of journal articles from inside my industry. Now, I know that this stuff has been going on for a long time in the medical world, and I know that it happens constantly with newspaper op-ed pieces. It's a growing trend/problem in the blog world, too, for that matter.

But all that doesn't mean that I have to approve of it, and I don't. This practice is not only wrong on the face of it, it's counterproductive. (I don't expect to convince anyone who needs convincing just by pointing out the ethical problems, you know.) The medical and scientific journals don't need any more junk in them than they have already, thanks very much. And the pharma industry doesn't need any more opportunities to be seen as a bunch of shady influence peddlers, either. We're already long that position pretty thoroughly, wouldn't you think?

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Dark Side


1. jsinger on May 4, 2005 10:45 AM writes...

I'd make a distinction between the JAMA study, which involves papers written largely by an uncredited (but *very* well paid) medical writer, and taking authorship on a review or opinion piece that simply appeared in the "author's" mailbox. The former is common, if inappropriate -- is the latter really common?

Although I'd start by worrying about all the people on medical publication author lists who *don't* belong there before dealing with uncredited authors.

(I was also startled by the photo of "Stephen King" in the linked OJR article? What happened to him?!? Oh, it's a different Stephen King...)

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2. biff on May 4, 2005 5:18 PM writes...

To jsinger, regarding whether or not "taking authorship on a review or opinion piece that simply appeared in the 'author's' mailbox" is common:

It happens all the time. You would probably be stunned at how often the opinion pieces in major newspaper OpEd sections are ghostwritten under commission by various advocacy groups and then sent unsolicited to influential people for signature (it's happened to me, and I'm by no means a big fish; by the way, I have always personally declined these kinds of things). On the one hand, I don't have a major problem with it as long as the bylined individual really does agree with the piece. On the other, there is a double standard of high dudgeon when physicians do this, but nary a peep when cabinet ministers do the same.

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3. jsinger on May 4, 2005 7:03 PM writes...

Biff, I'm talking about scientific publications, not newspapers. I mentioned reviews and opinion pieces (as in the linked article), as opposed to getting an unsolicited research paper in the mail and pasting your lab's names into the author list.

(Come to think of it, does *that* happen? If so, why couldn't it have happened to my graduate advisor?!?)

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4. biff on May 4, 2005 9:45 PM writes...

jsinger - sorry for the misinterpretation - that's what I get for skimming!

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5. Guest on May 5, 2005 7:39 PM writes...

Here's another example, in an area with a lighter shade of gray, or perhaps entirely ethical. The ACCP published a special issue (vol 23, 8 pt 2) of their journal Pharmacotherapy devoted solely to review articles touting the virtues of Amgen's pegfilgrastim. Amgen is acknowledged as a sponsor of the issue ("produced under an unrestricted education grant from"), and one article is claimed authored by someone affiliated with Amgen, but the other two are not, and Amgen's connection (whatever it is) is not mentioned in the individual articles. Is the whole thing just one big ad? Or are these normal, useful, unbiased reviews? Or both? Does ACCP do this all the time? Am I the only one to discover that what looked like a normal journal article might have in fact effectively been an ad? Am I the only one who was surprised? Or maybe Pharmacotherapy is one of these lower-ranked journals that no one pays much attention to? Who actually wrote those articles, and what was their motivation? Uneasy questions, especially since it's not clear to me that Amgen actually did anything wrong...

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