Health Inc.

Ghostwriters Lurk Behind Top Medical Journals

By now just about everyone knows the folks whose names appear at the top of articles in leading medical journals aren't always the ones who wrote them.


Ghosts pop up in some of the strangest places. Flickr hide caption

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A big concern is ghostwriting arranged and paid for by the drug industry? So how often are important authors left off the papers? Try, 10.9 percent of time in the New England Journal of Medicine, 7.9 percent in JAMA, and 4.9 percent in the Annals of Internal Medicine, according to a survey of authors whose papers appeared in six top journals last year. Overall, 8 percent of papers had ghost authors.

The New York Times reports on the results, presented this morning at a meeting of medical editors in Vancouver, Canada.

The findings and the methods used to reach them haven't been through the peer-review process or published anywhere yet. But three of the researchers are bigwigs at JAMA, including editor in chief Catherine D. Angelis, so we'd expect them to published somewhere before too long.

The good news in all this is that the amount of ghostwriting has dropped when compared with a survey done in 1996. Back then 12 percent of articles in three top journals had ghost authors, though differences in study methods make a direct comparison difficult.

Joseph S. Wislar, lead author of the latest study, told the Times, he recommends journals require authors to at least note all contributors in the acknowledgments section of articles. "Journals are really just starting to dig into that, and we're hoping that's going to help," he told the paper.



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