The Shifting Experience of Self   /   Spring 2011   /    Essays And Short Takes

Ghost Marketing

From the Editors


The science of marketing and the marketing of science.

Medical journals routinely publish ghostwritten articles. What happens is that pharmaceutical or medical device manufacturers hire third-party medical education or marketing companies to develop articles and then recruit prominent physicians or scientists to sign on as the authors. These “authors” may have very limited or no familiarity with the research and provide little input to the actual article. Affixing prominent names and institutions increases the likelihood of the article getting published and raises the credibility of the findings and conclusions, while hiding the role of the drug or device maker. Analyses of ghostwritten articles shows them to both exaggerate effectiveness and downplay adverse effects. They are, in the words of one article, a form of “ghost marketing.” As the drug company Wyeth once expressed it: “a scientific publication plan is as vital as a carefully designed media plan in overall product marketing.”

Last June, the office of Senator Charles Grassley released a report, “Ghostwriting in Medical Literature,” that explored this clandestine practice. The findings were not encouraging. While some top medical schools—and only some—prohibit ghostwriting, they do little to detect it. Since recruited “authors” are not typically paid to add their names, the relationship does not appear on financial disclosure forms and so often remains invisible to both universities and funding agencies. Similarly, leading medical journals have strengthened their authorship and financial disclosure policies but with apparently little effect on ghostwriting. And even when the “editorial assistance” of medical writers is acknowledged, “the role of pharmaceutical companies in medical publications remains veiled or undisclosed.”

The report ends with a call for additional steps to increase transparency and accountability. We can only hope.

See the report at:

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