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Ghostwriting Rampant in Medical Journals: Study

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Leading medical journals contained a significant number of articles in 2008 that were written by "ghost" reporters paid by pharmaceutical companies, a new study finds.

The findings, published Thursday by editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported by The New York Times, cite a ghostwriting rate of 10.9 percent in the New England Journal of Medicine, the highest reported; 7.9 percent in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 7.6 percent in The Lancet, 7.6 percent in PLoS Medicine, 4.9 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine and 2 percent in Nature Medicine.

Responding anonymously to an online questionnaire created for the study, 7.8 percent of authors of 630 articles admitted other people had made contributions to their papers that qualified them to be named as authors but who were not listed.

Bias on the part of industry-funded writers has the potential to influence doctors' treatment decisions and patient care, the researchers noted.

"These journals are the top of the medical field," Joseph S. Wislar, lead author of the study, told the Times. All contributors should at least be listed in acknowledgments if they are not named as authors, he said.

Ginny Barbour, chief editor of PLoS Medicine, the journal of the Public Library of Science, told the Times she was disturbed by the report. "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," she said.