Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ghost Busted

Now here's a bit of news guaranteed to make you choke on your Cheerios: a major drug company apparently drafted "research articles" and then found doctors to sign on as the papers' authors so that the articles would be accepted for publication in reputable journals. From today's NY Times:

The drug maker Merck drafted dozens of research studies for a best-selling drug, then lined up prestigious doctors to put their names on the reports before publication, according to an article to be published Wednesday in a leading medical journal.

The article, based on documents unearthed in lawsuits over the pain drug Vioxx, provides a rare, detailed look in the industry practice of ghostwriting medical research studies that are then published in academic journals.

The article cited one draft of a Vioxx research study that was still in want of a big-name researcher, identifying the lead writer only as “External author?”

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published its findings on the practice in the journal's current edition. Ironically, JAMA itself published one of the articles in question.

While the Times article doesn't include a response from Merck, it does include several protestations from doctors whose names were attached to those reports. Unsurprisingly, all quoted claimed that they were involved in the research being reported on and did have the option of revising the ghost-written report. I wonder how often any revisions actually got through and whether any of those revisions involved downplaying the free-advertising aspect of the process.

Regardless, the doctors were involved in a rather sophisticated scam by the large drug company. Researchers write their own papers, or at least are supposed to, much the same way college students are expected to write their own papers. That the doctors in question allowed their names to be used in such a fashion is, well, a bad practice.



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