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Published On January 15, 2010

POLICY

Defined: Ghostbusting

A movement to ban uncredited contributors is growing among medical journals.

ghostbusting:  a term adopted in January 2009 by editors at the journal Blood for a movement to ban journal articles ghostwritten by uncredited contributors financed by drug companies.

In one example of ghostwriting, the Associated Press uncovered court documents revealing that GlaxoSmithKline had directed sales representatives in 2000 to recruit physician “authors” for its ghostwriting program (dubbed CASPPER), aimed at promoting the antidepressant Paxil. And pharmaceutical firm Merck was accused of paying writers to create articles from Merck manuscripts promoting the painkiller Vioxx, before it was taken off the market in 2004 because of heightened heart attack and stroke risk (Merck maintains that it has always been transparent about authorship).

Ghostbusting gained momentum in September after a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found, using an anonymous questionnaire, that 7.8% of the writers of 630 articles in six leading medical journals did not credit all major contributors. Editors of some medical publications responded by calling for stronger measures to prevent ghostwriting, such as banning any contributor discovered to be lying about using ghostwriters.

Some editors at the New England Journal of Medicine (found by the JAMA study to have the highest rate of ghostwriting), however, have expressed skepticism, saying the JAMA researchers, whose questionnaire didn’t ask who paid uncredited sources, did not clearly define ghostwriting.

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