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For All the Ghosts

Ghostwriting has increasingly been in the news with reports of industry-financed ghostwritten articles that have appeared in medical journals as well as suggestions for developing new guidelines to discourage the practice. In separate PLoS Medicine articles, two former ghostwriters — Linda Logdberg and Alastair Matheson — offer their thoughts on how to deter ghostwriting. The Fernbank Science Center's Logdberg writes that research centers themselves should employ medical writers and editors, cutting out "the middleman" of pharma. "The final product would be submitted for peer review by the researcher personally. The incentive for the pharmaceutical company would be to educate and inform physicians and researchers, pure and simple," she says. Matheson, however, says that the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors authorship guidelines should be revamped. "Academics may remain the only authors with the expertise to guarantee some aspects of content, but other key originators must also take visible responsibility (and credit) as byline authors," he writes.

Pharmalot's Ed Silverman speaks with another set of academics, who are similarly calling for changes to the ICMJE guidelines. As they write in Society, Jonathan Leo, Jeffrey Lacasse, and Andrea Cimino say that all of any given paper's authors should have to sign a guarantee that no ghostwriters were involved in writing that article. "What Jeff and I are saying is an author should be listed as an author. And editors have to insert themselves in the process and say if one of these (medical communications) firms or people are involved, the professors need to be up front that these people were involved when they created this article," Leo tells Silverman.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also notes that there could be legal ramifications to ghostwriting. Canadian lawyers Simon Stern and Trudo Lemmens write, also in PLoS Medicine, that guest authorship could be considered fraud. "We argue that a guest author's claim for credit of an article written by someone else constitutes legal fraud, and may give rise to claims that could be pursued in a class action based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act," they write in their summary.

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