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The Scandal of Ghosted Professors

Carolyn Beeler, at WHYY, makes explicit the problem with medical school professors who allow their work to be ghostwritten by the pharmaceutical industry:

“A medical writer might create a shell of the article that says this is the primary outcome measure, this is the population measure that’s going to be included in the study, and then create dummy tables for the results,” [Harvard’s John] Abramson said. “That is perfectly legitimate.”

The problem is when that veers into ghostwriting. Medical writers paid by drug companies have control over the data analysis and writing, not the academic whose name adds legitimacy at the top of the study, Abramson said.

“Then there’s a serious problem, because then what’s happening is that the commercial sponsor of the study is using a facade of science,” Abramson said.

Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Danny Carlat said ghostwriting might hold a special allure for companies marketing drugs to psychiatrists because there is a vast array of drugs that are of similar effectiveness.

“In a field like that, where there’s so much competition, ghostwriting becomes a very important part of the marketing machinery of any company,” Carlat said. “You want to convince psychiatrists who are reading these studies that your drug has some kind of advantage, however slight, over the competitor’s drug.”

And the allure for professors who hand their intellectual integrity over to marketing agencies?

Well, sometimes they get a cut, of course. Money’s always nice.

And it’s a quick and dirty addition to your cv. Nice raise and promotion work, if you can get it.

Margaret Soltan, July 14, 2011 9:15AM
Posted in: ghost writing

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5 Responses to “The Scandal of Ghosted Professors”

  1. MattF Says:

    Also, the best way for a scientist to quantify the value of his or her integrity is to offer to sell it. So, what’s the problem?

  2. david foster Says:

    From an academic CV standpoint, how does the value of being 1 of 12 authors on a paper compare with the value of being 1 of 2? Does this dilution factor vary between fields?

  3. University Diaries » What a pleasure to shift my attention from… Says:

    […] secretly industry-sponsored research papers in the field of medicine to secretly industry-sponsored research papers in the field of […]

  4. GTWMA Says:

    It does vary, David. In economics, for example, almost the only thing that counts is being primary/sole author on a paper in a handful of journals. Other fields, like medicine, value collaboration and focus more on the number of papers.

  5. david foster Says:


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