Few topics are more contentious than ghostwriting - the mysterious practice in which an article lands in a medical journal with the names of various authors who, as it turns out, had little or nothing to do with the substance of the publication. The issue has caused several scandals for several drugmakers and medical journals, causing embarrassment and turmoil.
However, keeping track can be difficult. So the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group that regularly probes the topic, has compiled a handy primer on recent episodes (read here, here, here, here and here), as well as the steps taken by various universities and government agencies to cope with the problem.
In case you were wondering, though, allegations have been reported for the following journals: The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology; the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; The Annals of Internal Medicine; The Lancet; Biological Psychiatry; Nature Medicine; Circulation; The New England Journal of Medicine; The International Journal of Cardiology; Neuropsychopharmacology; Journal of the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; PLoS Medicine; Journal of the American Medical Association and Psychopharmacology Bulletin.
Meanwhile, evidence of ghostwriting has come to light during litigation involving the following companies: Abbott Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson; Cyberonics; Merck; Eli Lilly; Pfizer and its Wyeth unit, and GlaxoSmithKline. As for products: Avandia; Tylenol; Fen-Phen; Vioxx; Neurontin; Zoloft; Premarin and Prempro; Paxil and Zyprexa. You can read the entire primer here.
Why stop to look? As POGO argues, ghostwriting can "distort the medical literature, affecting what prescribers and consumers believe about drugs, devices and biologics. It also drives up healthcare costs because companies use ghostwritten studies to seek approval for pharmaceuticals and devices and payment from healthcare programs...Ghostwritten journal articles betray the moral responsibility to patients and the effort to produce a reliable body of medical knowledge essential to evidence-based medicine."
pic thx to mattwi1s0n on flickr