Health Inc.

Ghostwriter Spills Secrets On How Medical Manuscripts Get Made

A bunch of ghosts hang out with trick-or-treat bags.

Ghosts or medical writers? Paul Sapiano/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Paul Sapiano/Flickr

To me, this is scary.

An anonymous medical writer reveals to Phil Davis over at The Scholarly Kitchen blog exactly how the scientific sausage is made.

Drugmakers have the production of favorable articles about their wares down to a fine art. Study results are buffed. Marketing spin is applied. And the prestigious authors are picked to put their names on the resulting papers, like the cherry on top.

How much do ghostwriters make?

The good ones get $100 - $150 an hour. Figure $3,000 or $4,000 a paper.

Surely, these manufactured papers don't show up in the best journals. Do they?

Um, yes, 'fraid so. The ghost says:

My work appears in almost every medical field, from the New England Journal of Medicine, to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Oncology, PLoS Medicine, American Journal of Psychiatry, Cardiology, and supplements to most of these journals as well.

How could we figure out which papers have been doctored?

The ghost says it isn't hard, if you know the public author or have seen him or her talk about the work. The stand-in isn't as "clear, or jumps around a lot, or can't speak the language, yet has a publication in the NEJM...." Also, keep your eye on the doctors who are busy treating patients and also somehow are prolific authors.

This ghost has a pretty good sense of humor. He? She? hasn't seen a refection in the mirror because there's never enough light to do so.

And what's the ghost going to be for Halloween? "A medical researcher," the spirit quips. "Or the fifth dentist (4 out of 5 dentists agree...)."

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