Quick recap…

… on ghost-written professors:

Why do academics serve as authors on scientific articles they did not write, using research they did not perform? Because they are rewarded, both by their universities and by their colleagues for how much they publish and for its prominence.

Ghosts of the University

The Sydney Morning Herald quotes the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University on acquisitive, amoral universities.

Among his complaints:

… [M]edical researchers lend their names to articles written by drug companies to boost sales. Ghost writing has benefited researchers by giving them additional publications to add to their resumes..

The problem, which has alarmed medical editors in the US, arises when ”publications are the coin of the realm in university scientific careers…”


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He says a university should produce people “who understand the world and their place in it, who can speak coherently, who know what a poem is and who can tell a symphony from a jingle.”

In The American Scholar, Harriet Washington summarizes…

… the disgusting, injurious corruption of medical knowledge in America.

[T]he $310 billion pharmaceutical industry quietly buys … the contents of medical journals and, all too often, the trajectory of medical research itself.

[Continuing medical education courses are] pedagogic playdates [that] familiarize doctors with pharmaceutical companies’ patented products to the exclusion of cheaper and sometimes safer and more effective alternatives.

[A Canadian bioethicist says:] “Many psychiatric medications are little more than placebos, yet many clinicians have come to believe that SSRI [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a newer class of antidepressants] drugs are magic, all through the suppression of negative studies.”

[Another observer calls much of the content of our medical journals] “little better than infomercials.”

[At least] 50 …Elsevier journals appear to be Big Pharma advertisements passed off as medical publications.

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UD thanks Adam for the link.

“A whole army of hidden scribes.”

A Guardian writer updates us on the new, improved pharmaceutical ghostwriting industry.

… Alastair Matheson is a British medical writer who has worked extensively for medical communication agencies. He dismisses the planners’ claims to having reformed as “bullshit”.

“The new guidelines work very nicely to permit the current system to continue as it has been”, he said. “The whole thing is a big lie. They are promoting a product.”

Matheson expects an article he wrote about a new cancer treatment to appear in print later this year, with an oncologist considered a “key opinion leader” (KOL) by planners listed as the author in his stead. “You’d do the same thing if you were selling cornflakes,” Matheson told me. “It’s no different.”

“Maclean’s tried to contact Mittleman, but she did not respond.”

Ghostwriters are the Navy Seals of academia. They go in there with their special skills and materials, write an article on behalf of their employer (a pharmaceutical company), target a professor willing to put her name on the piece so that it looks like research rather than advertising, and publish it in a high-profile journal.

Like the Seals, they are too modest – and their vocation too top-secret – to take credit. They are the unsung heroes of big pharma.

Take the wonderfully named middle man Mittleman. Maclean’s can phone her all it likes, but she ain’t talkin. Her employers wouldn’t like it. Plus she’s preparing for future missions.

A former ghost spoke to a recent gathering of academics interested in the subject. She confirmed that she would

approach academics on behalf of drug companies and withhold information about her relationship with the industry. “I was asked to identify myself as a writer for the medical education company,” she says, adding that her range of involvement with a researcher could be anything from editing a manuscript, to writing the entire thing under a researcher’s byline.

Remarkably incurious, isn’t it, for Thought Leaders not to wonder why a person would beg to write their articles for them and get them placed for them and all… I guess if you think of yourself as a really important person you figure even thinking and writing are kind of beneath you… ?

If CEOs who condone ghostwriting are in trouble now…

… can the ghostwriters on our universities’ medical faculties be far behind?

Background here.

Ghosts Ahoy

The shades are gathering.

Ghostwriting businesses that serve as go-betweens for drug companies and university thought leaders, writing articles and books that promote the drug company’s pills, and then putting the thought leaders’ names on the articles and books in order to make the publications look legitimate, live a fitful existence. They flicker in and out of public awareness.

Mainly they’re hidden, minor divisions of a pharmaceutical industry in no hurry to disclose a strikingly deceptive – and destructive – form of self-promotion.

But it’s kind of a problem for the ghostwriting firms themselves: You want the world to know about you and your work, but you … don’t want the world to know about you and your work.

The schizy quality of the biz was captured rather beautifully this week by Ed Silverman of Pharmalot, who noticed that one ghosting company had suddenly taken down a website page showing all the scientific books they’ve produced. One of these books was featured in a recent New York Times story about ghostwriting.

Silverman called the head of the company to ask about the elusive webpage.

“Thanks for the inquiry,” he responded abruptly, “but we don’t display that kind of stuff on our web site.” We replied by noting that the info had been there previously, but then we heard a loud… click. Perhaps, he realized that listing the book as a portfolio product does not easily square with the [American Psychiatric Association] position [the APA published the book] that ghostwriting did not take place. And taking down the product portfolio might also make it more difficult to scrutinize other [ghosted] work. Given how fast he hung up, though, one might have thought we uttered the magic word: “Boo!”

GHOST

Here’s an eerie interview with a ghost for pharma. Read the whole thing.

Excerpts:

Q: I wonder if a member of the public might not feel it to be odd for a pharmaceutical company to pay a freelance writer to produce a scientific paper that discusses its product in comparison with the product of a competitor; a paper moreover that concludes that the sponsoring company’s product is likely to be more effective tha[n] the competing product. I would think they would feel that a conflict of interest must inevitably arise from doing so. Would you agree that there might be a conflict of interest issue here?

A: Because I received payment?

Q: Because a pharmaceutical company paid you to produce an article that talks about its own product, compares it with a competitor’s product, and concludes that the sponsoring company’s produc[t] may be more effective?

A: I can see that a layperson, or a member of the public, might feel it to be a little unethical. But I don’t see any conflict of interest for me per se. If anything, the conflict may lie with the journals that are willing to accept such a sponsored publication, while knowing that it may inform decision-makers.

The elements of the ghost’s response to the interviewer’s question are worth specifying, because they are absolutely classic:

1. First, dismiss moral questions as emerging from naive laypeople.

2. Next, pass the buck. It’s the journals’ fault.

3. Move on to It’s not marketing; it’s information. “[Pharma] need[s] to get … information across to the prescribers.”

4. Conclude with: You can’t expect university professors in medical research to write and publish their own papers! They’re too busy! “[T]he people who do the necessary clinical research are busy physicians and academics, and they have a lot of commitments.”

Background on ghostwriting here. We’ll never get rid of it. Too much money. Too many lazy assholes.

As we begin the new year …

… those of us with an interest in universities should keep this important development in mind:

It used to be that clinical trials [of new prescription drugs] were done mostly by academic researchers in universities and teaching hospitals, a system that, however imperfect, generally entailed certain minimum standards. The free market has changed all that. Today it is mainly independent contractors who recruit potential patients both in the U.S. and—increasingly—overseas. They devise the rules for the clinical trials, conduct the trials themselves, prepare reports on the results, ghostwrite technical articles for medical journals, and create promotional campaigns.

Two writers for Vanity Fair note the vanishing relevance of the university in the field of pharmaceutical trials, and the advent of the wild, wild west, east, north and south.

In theory, a federal institutional review board is supposed to assess every clinical trial, with special concern for the welfare of the human subjects, but this work … has now been outsourced to private companies and is often useless. In 2009 the Government Accountability Office conducted a sting operation, winning approval for a clinical trial involving human subjects; the institutional review board failed to discover (if it even tried) that it was dealing with “a bogus company with falsified credentials” and a fake medical device. This was in Los Angeles. If that is oversight in the U.S., imagine what it’s like in Kazakhstan or Uganda. Susan Reverby, the Wellesley historian who uncovered the U.S. government’s syphilis experiments in Guatemala during the 1940s, was asked in a recent interview to cite any ongoing experimental practices that gave her pause. “Frankly,” she said, “I am mostly worried about the drug trials that get done elsewhere now, which we have little control over.

Anecdotally, UD knows that prescription drug addiction – among family, friends, friends of friends, children of friends – has gone absolutely haywire. The statistics say the same thing. It’s hideous to anticipate an escalation of this trend.

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And don’t forget.

Oh dear.

Yale Daily News:

[Yale] School of Medicine professor Kimberly Yonkers [denied having ghostwritten an article about the anti-depressant drug Paxil. She] claimed she edited the writing company’s draft substantially.

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From an earlier Yale Daily News article:

The [litigation-related] documents related to Yonkers’ study include the cover page of the first draft the medical publishing company Scientific Therapeutics Information produced showing favorable results of the drug, [investigator Paul] Thacker said. The draft’s cover lists the Scientific Therapeutics Information writers who prepared the document as well as Yonkers, but the published study does not credit the Scientific Therapeutics Information writers who drafted the report for their contribution, nor does it refer to their company.

Ghostwriting: At least the pharmaceutical industry has standards.

While ghostwriting isn’t exactly a well kept secret in any industry, we wonder if [AMD, a semiconductor company, is] upset over the horrible trash published in [its executives’] names. We would be.

TechEye

Denial Mechanism

Corporate denial consulting turns out to be a perfect career niche for Chad. Fortune 500 companies are calling him all the time. There’s a lot to deny and Chad is good at it.

Gregg Easterbrook’s immortal satire of a Christmas letter to friends includes this intriguing occupation: corporate denial consulting.

The corporate denialists are no doubt in full combat mode this morning, helping the University of Pennsylvania, Brown University, the University of Miami, and Yale University deny suggestions that high-profile professors at their schools put their name on pharma-generated, ghostwritten, articles and books.

Honoraria Among Thieves

In my experience, the pharmaceutical company would pay a communications/marketing company to write the manuscript, who would then go out and find academics who would be willing to become the “authors” of the manuscript and paid an honorarium. I’ve worked with some authors who do absolutely nothing on the manuscript, requiring an additional ghostwriter to be hired, and still demand an honorarium for their time. These academics are willing to enter into this relationship because of the importance of authorship to their careers. You can’t entirely blame the pharma company. Universities encourage academics to play this game.

A ghost writer betrays a little annoyance with some of UD’s fellow professors.

More on Academic Ghostwriting…

… from University Diaries at her satellite campus, Inside Higher Education.

F, F, and P.

With Marc Hauser as background, Gerald Koocher, in an NPR interview, spells out some categories of research fraud.

… The kinds of things that the federal government focuses on for federally funded research is mostly what’s called F, F and P: fabrication, which is making up data out of whole cloth; falsification, which is modifying your data to fit your needs; or plagiarism, passing off someone else’s work as your own.

But we are also concerned, for example, about questionable authorship practices, where you take credit for something that someone else really did most of the work on or where you list an honorific author in the hopes that their prestige will get you published, or when you are careless, such as sloppy record keeping, or when you intentionally rig your samples so that – or your methods so that you bias the results; when you don’t adequately supervise your research assistant so that some mistakes are made and never detected, and inappropriate data gets incorporated in the analyses…

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