Corrupted Science

A 2007 article documents how academic researchers are contracted to sign their names on pharmaceutical industry publications, but are not allowed to even look at the raw data being used to craft positive conclusions. “Blumsohn eventually became convinced that P&G were skewing their data in order to make Actonel look as if it had performed better than it really had. But when he asked to see all of the raw data on which the Actonel studies were based, P&G refused. In the meantime, Blumsohn was informed that a P&G ghostwriter was writing up the Actonel studies for publication, and that Blumsohn and Eastell would be listed as authors.”

In another 2007 article, researchers found that “during key marketing periods as many as 40% of published articles focusing on specific drugs are ghost managed.”

A 2009 article by the editors of scientific journal PLOS Med, suggests that ghostwriting is associated with “lasting injury and even deaths.” The editors ask, “How did we get to the point that falsifying the medical literature is acceptable?”

A study from 2011 found that 21% of articles in major medical journals in 2008 had either honorary authors (big names in the field who were not actually involved in the study, but listed as authors) or ghost authors (people who doctored the writing of the study but were not listed as authors). This was considered an improvement from 1996, where almost 30% of articles had such authors.

An article from 2009 documents a conference at which “publication planners” discussed their work. Publication planners work for the pharmaceutical industry or a company contracted by the industry, and their job is to craft marketable research by shepherding ghostwritten studies into existence and cajoling academics into signing their names onto the article in order to establish a veneer of credibility. “The medical research described here forms a new kind of corporate science, designed to look like traditional academic work, but performed largely to market products.”

A 2008 article in major medical journal JAMA documents ghostwriting, using the example of Merck & Co.’s rofecoxib studies. The researchers reviewed internal Merck documents and the published literature. “For the publication of scientific review papers, documents were found describing Merck marketing employees developing plans for manuscripts, contracting with medical publishing companies to ghostwrite manuscripts, and recruiting external, academically affiliated investigators to be authors. Recruited authors were commonly the sole author on the manuscript and offered honoraria for their participation.”

In an article from 2010, researchers found that the majority of “elite academic medical centers in the United States” do not prohibit ghostwriting. They propose that these organizations immediately adopt a policy against ghostwriting in order to promote integrity in the scientific literature. “Medical ghostwriting is a threat to public health which currently takes place only due to the cooperation of researchers employed at academic medical centers.”