Study: Ghostwriting common at top journals

Up to 10 percent of the articles in the most prestigious medical journals were written by unacknowledged, industry-funded ghostwriters. That's the conclusion of a new study released by the editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association. Some 7.8 percent of named authors of 630 articles admitted contributions from ghostwriters who weren't named, with the highest percentage found in the New England Journal of Medicine (10.9 percent) and the lowest in Nature Medicine (2 percent).

The data shocked journal editors when it was presented at a professional meeting. "It was very compelling, and I find it quite shocking, to be honest," Ginny Barbour, chief editor of PLoS Medicine, told the New York Times. "We are a journal that has very tough policies, very explicit policies on ghostwriting and contributorship, and I feel that we've basically been lied to by authors." The new study found a ghostwriting rate of 7.6 percent at PLoS Medicine.

Ironically, that journal just this week ran an editorial calling for a campaign against the "dirty little secret" of ghostwriting. Policies on disclosure aren't enough, the editors wrote. Instead, journal publishers need to identify "reforms that will eventually stamp ghostwriting out." What do you think?

- see the NYT story
- read the PLoS Medicine article