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Ghostwritten scientific literature


The New York Times reported on 4 August that "… ghostwriters paid by a pharmaceutical company played a major role in producing 26 scientific papers backing the use of hormone replacement therapy in women." These article played up the benefits of the client company's (Wyeth) drugs, while downplaying alternative therapies and drugs from competitors. The documents that served as the basis for this newspaper story were uncovered by lawyers suing Wyeth on behalf of clients who claim harm from hormone replacement therapy; the documents were made public upon request by PLOS Medicine and the New York Times. Some further details are available in the New York Times story by Natasha Singer "Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy" http://www.nytimes.com/

I find it extremely disturbing that drug companies interested in increasing sales and profits are able to initiate scientific papers to encourage increased prescriptions for and use of their drugs. The US just finished 8 years under a federal administration that ran scientific information through political operatives for adjustment of the message. I had hoped for better from research journals, but perhaps my image of the scientific literature as some kind of pure and unbiased source of the most objective and reliable information is just a fairy tale.

In the past I have maintained that as hired professional editors and translators assisting authors with clear presentation of their scientific message, that ELSS's clients should not acknowledge our assistance. However, increasingly  journals are requiring explicit documentation of every contribution to each research manuscript's writing process.  I now accept the author's preference in such acknowledgments, and encourage authors to strictly follow journal guidelines and practice in making such decisions.