Say you're the editor of a medical journal and you've come to realize that lots of manuscripts coming your way have probably been shaped by the drug industry. You want to stop it, but how do you figure out which ones were the work of ghostwriters when those folks don't want you to know?
Let's see what's in the Word file.
Well, you could start by taking a look at the data inside the electronic files submitted by authors. That's what Fred Curtiss, editor in chief of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy has done, and, as Reuters reports, he has found about one-third of manuscripts have been handled by people not listed as authors.
His method is to look at the metadata attached to Microsoft Word files, which often include identifying information about who has made changes to a document. (Microsoft explains how to find this stuff—and delete it—here.)
Curtiss has high standards for disclosure, requiring anyone who contributed more than 1 percent to a paper be acknowledged publicly. Someone who contributes more than 25 percent of a manuscript has to be a listed author.
He's getting some results. The June issue of the journal carries an article on Eli Lilly's anticlotting drug Effient that lists a medical writer, Catherine Rees, as an author, along with a pharmacologist, who was the lead author.
Curtiss wouldn't say how he found out about the medical writer's role, but told Reuters she didn't want to have it noted publicly.
A disclosure statement included in the paper says, "Rees performed the majority of data collection and writing of the initial draft, and both authors shared equally in the revision."
Rees confirmed to Reuters that she wasn't listed as an author of the paper at first but wouldn't answer any other questions.