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Drug Companies Influence on Me... by - Dec 7, 2003, 8:13 PM
  At a recent conference, Dr. Jill Lawrence and myself sat with Dr. Bert Karon who told us about drug companies influence on scholarship. On the same subject, a friend sent the email (below) to a psychology list and I am re-posting it here as it represents a peculiarly incidious and odorous practice which I think should receive some notoriety.


Today's (London) Observer carries an article by public affairs editor Antony
Barnett about "how drug firms 'hoodwink' medical journals."

Here are a few excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Hundreds of articles in medical journals claiming to be written by academics
or doctors have been penned by ghostwriters in the pay of drug companies, an
Observer inquiry reveals.


In February the New England Journal of Medicine was forced to retract an
article published last year by doctors from Imperial College in London and
the National Heart Institute on treating a type of heart problem. It
emerged that several of the listed authors had little or nothing to do with
the research.


Few within the industry are brave enough to break cover. However, Susanna
Rees, an editorial assistant with a medical writing agency until 2002, was
so concerned about what she witnessed that she posted a letter on the
British Medical Journal website.

'Medical writing agencies go to great lengths to disguise the fact that the
papers they ghostwrite and submit to journals and conferences are
ghostwritten on behalf of pharmaceutical companies and not by the named
authors,' she wrote. 'There is a relatively high success rate for
ghostwritten submissions - not outstanding, but consistent.'

Rees said part of her job had been to ensure that any article that was
submitted electronically would give no clues as to the origin of the

'One standard procedure I have used states that before a paper is submitted
to a journal electronically or on disc, the editorial assistant must open
the file properties of the Word do[beep]ent manuscript and remove the names of
the medical writing agency or agency ghostwriter or pharmaceutical company
and replace these with the name and institution of the person who has been
invited by the pharmaceutical drug company (or the agency acting on its
behalf) to be named as lead author, but who may have had no actual input
into the paper,' she wrote.


A medical writer who has worked for a number of agencies did not want to be
identified for fear he would not get any work again.

'It is true that sometimes a drug company will pay a medical writer to write
a review article supporting a particular drug,' he said. 'This will mean
using all published information to write an article explaining the benefits
of a particular treatment.

'A recognised doctor will then be found to put his or her name to it and it
will be submitted to a journal without anybody knowing that a ghostwriter or
a drug company is behind it. I agree this is probably unethical, but all
the firms are at it.'

One field where ghostwriting is becoming an increasing problem is

Dr David Healy, of the University of Wales, was doing research on the
possible dangers of anti-depressants, when a drug manufacturer's
representative emailed him with an offer of help.

The email, seen by The Observer, said: 'In order to reduce your workload to
a minimum, we have had our ghostwriter produce a first draft based on your
published work. I attach it here.'

The article was a 12-page review paper ready to be presented at an
forthcoming conference. Healy's name appeared as the sole author, even
though he had never seen a single word of it before. But he was unhappy
with the glowing review of the drug in question, so he suggested some

The company replied, saying he had missed some 'commercially important'
points. In the end, the ghostwritten paper appeared at the conference and in
a psychiatric journal in its original form - under another doctor's name.

Healy says such deception is becoming more frequent. 'I believe 50 per cent
of articles on drugs in the major medical journals are not written in a way
that the average person would expect them to be... the evidence I have seen
would suggest there are grounds to think a significant proportion of the
articles in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, the
British Medical Journal and the Lancet may be written with help from
medical writing agencies,' he said. 'They are no more than infomercials paid
for by drug firms.'


Dr Richard Smith, editor of the British Journal of Medicine, admitted
ghostwriting was a 'very big problem'.

[end excerpts]

The article is online at <>.


"Malpractice & Licensing Pitfalls for Therapists: A Defense Attorney's
List" at <>

"The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can
--Edwin Schlossberg

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