WSJ Examines Use of Ghostwriters for Articles
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined a practice in which pharmaceutical companies pay ghostwriters to draft articles for medical journals as part of "a marketing campaign ... to promote a product or play up a condition it treats." According to the Journal, many articles published in medical journals "under the bylines of prominent academics are actually written by ghostwriters" hired by public relations firms that have contracted with pharmaceutical companies, and the use of ghostwriters often is unacknowledged.
The practice helps academic researchers "more easily pile up high-profile publications" and provides medical journals with "clearly written articles that look authoritative because of their well-credentialed authors," the Journal reports. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies maintain that "they're providing a service to busy academic researchers" and that they "don't intend for their ghostwriters to bias the tone of articles that appear under the researchers names," according to the Journal.
Academic researchers must "sign off on everything," Mark Horn, a medical director at Pfizer said, adding, "This is properly viewed as a way to more efficiently make the transition from raw data to finished manuscript."
In addition, Johnson & Johnson representatives acknowledged that the company often contracts with public relations firms "to expedite the development of independent, peer-reviewed publications."
Robert Califf, vice chancellor of clinical research at Duke University Medical Center, said, "Scientific research is not public relations. If you're a firm hired by a company trying to sell a product, it's an entirely different thing than having an open mind for scientific inquiry."
Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, published a report last year that warned against the practice after she received requests from AstraZeneca and the Journal of General Internal Medicine to contribute to and peer-review the same article.
In response to such concerns, some medical journals, such as the Annals of Internal Medicine, have tightened their policies on writer disclosure in recent years (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 12/13).