Only 13 of the top 50 medical schools in the US have a clear policy that prohibits ghostwriting, according to a survey published in PLoS Medicine. The argument goes that ghostwriting hurts patients and raises costs for taxpayers, because prestigious academic names are used to promote drugs that might be expensive or less effective than alternatives. The issue has gotten a lot of traction lately - the Senate Finance Committee asked med schools about their policies (see here and here) and Wyeth and Merck have gotten bad press over the practice.
The survey found "that 10 schools explicitly prohibit ghostwriting and seven include some definition of ghostwriting in their policy, while three prohibit ghostwriting without defining the term. And 13 schools have an authorship policy that does not clearly ban all aspects of ghostwriting and the most common reason is a failure to require all qualified authors be listed. Three schools have stringent authorship policies that prohibit the practice, but do not mention ghostwriting by name...The majority of schools - 52 percent - had no published policies at all on either ghostwriting or authorship."
The authors, who suggest schools enact strict policies and the NIH should withhold funding for those that don't, conclude by saying "it is ironic that ghostwriting, a major threat to public health, is generally not prohibited within institutions that exist to train physicians and improve the public health. In this way, academic medical centers enable the pharmaceutical industry to covertly shape the medical literature in favor of commercial interests...The practice of ghostwriting explicitly violates the usual norms of academia."
Ghost from Flickr Creative Commons mattwi1s0n