Participants at this month’s International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication in Vancouver heard an interesting medical journal survey report on ghostwriting vs. ‘guest authorship’ that has me scratching my head in confusion. Presented by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the report confirmed that the prevalence of both ‘honorary’ and ‘ghost authors’ in medical journal articles is “still a concern”.
Here’s a dose of reality for JAMA editors: it’s not just a “concern”. It’s global fraud being perpetrated upon the innocent patients of the world thanks in part to the lax (some more cynical than I might say ‘non-existent’) controls in place in many medical journal editors’ offices. For example:
- only four of the journals surveyed ask and then publish information on who the actual article authors are (Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Lancet,and PLoS Medicine)
- New England Journal of Medicine claims that the journal “asks about author contributions but doesn’t publish them.” (Earth to NEJM: this is the same as not asking).
- Nature Medicine has “no instructions to authors about disclosing author contributions.”
This sounds like a de facto stamp of approval for the common practice of ghostwriting and ‘guest writing’. But by now, you may be asking the question: “Carolyn, what is the difference between ‘guest writing’ and ‘ghostwriting’ in research published in medical journals”? The answer, my fellow Nags, is: not much. But here’s JAMA’s official definition:
“In their earlier survey, published in JAMA in 1998, the authors spell out their definition of honorary author in depth, pointing out that an ‘honorary’ or ‘guest’ author is often something ‘bestowed as a tribute to a department chair or to the person who acquired funding for the study.’ By contrast, a ‘ghost’ author refers to someone who is not named as an author, despite having made substantial contributions to the research or writing of the article.”
Am I missing something here, or is this definition basically saying that when you see a person’s name above a medical journal article, it is essentially meaningless?
Bestowing a “tribute” like false authorship to a department chair is like university students fraudulently putting their own names on purchased internet essays. The similarity: neither actually wrote them. The difference: the students are punished for their fraud. Department chairs are honoured for it.
More to the point, academics get to add one more title to the all-important list of published papers on their CVs, without all that bother of actually doing the work. How is this fraud any more palatable than medical ghostwriting, in which the actual drug company-paid author’s name is missing from the article credits entirely?
Back in Vancouver, many members of the audience, justifiably outraged, called for a naming and shaming of physicians and academics who sign on with Big Pharma’s medical ghostwriters.
And JAMA presenters offered this laughably simplistic explanation about their survey findings that ghostwriting appears to have slightly declined while guest authorship has not.
“It’s unclear. Our assumption is that there is more awareness among authors and journals [about the stigma of ghost authorship] and more awareness among those who participate in ghostwriting and fund it.”
“Awareness”? I guess that high-profile court cases like the 8,400 lawsuits facing Wyeth Pharmaceutical and its 26 ghostwritten journal articles will do a lot to raise “awareness” in drug companies who fund fraudulent medical ghostwriting.
Learn more about the survey reported in Vancouver.
- Surgeons Make Millions on Medtronic Payroll
- Medical Ghostwriting: If You’re Not Alarmed, You’re Just Not Paying Attention
- Partners in Slime: Why You Should Be Alarmed About Medical Ghostwriting
- What if Everybody Just Told The Truth About Medical Ghostwriting?
- How Are Hockey-Playing Goons the Same as ‘Puzzled” Medical Journal Editors?
- Medical Ghostwriting and ‘Guest Authorship’: Twins Separated at Birth?
- How Are Hockey-Playing Goons the Same as ‘Puzzled’ Medical Journal Editors?
- Why Doctors Who Pretend to Write Medical Journal Articles Should Be Punished