Six of the top medical journals published a significant number of articles in 2008 that were written by ghostwriters, according to a study out on Thursday 10th September by editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association. This was then reported on in the New York Times, from where the essential elements of this post were extracted.
According to the study, responding authors reported a 10.9 percent rate of ghostwriting in The New England Journal of Medicine, the highest rate among the journals.
The study also reported a ghostwriting rate of 7.9 percent in JAMA, 7.6 percent in The Lancet, 7.6 percent in PLoS Medicine, 4.9 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine, and 2 percent in Nature Medicine.
The study has not been reported in a peer reviwed journal as yet and it has the potential for reporting bias because the investigators did not choose respondents randomly but relied on authors to elect to answer the questions; moreover, authors were asked to disclose their own behaviour, with the potential for them to under report the use of a ghostwriter, which is considered an academic crime akin to plagiarism.
Ghost writing is a problem recognised to provide significant concern in the area of qualifiying independent publications. It undermines confidence in the lack of intentional or unintentional bias and can in the worst cases, such as those brought on by the HRT ghostwritten articles of the 1990’s significant adverse health costs to the end users. These journals rely on the integrity of their authors and must continue to work to reduce the risk of ghost writing compromising their position as opinion leaders in the scientific community.
The original article can be viewed on the New York Time Web Page.