A September 11 article published in the New York Times entitled, “Ghostwriting Is Called Rife in Medical Journals,” reports on the findings of a recent survey conducted by the editors of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that addresses the amount of ghostwriting that takes place in the creation of scientific literature.
JAMA created an online questionnaire that found “Among authors of 630 articles who responded anonymously…7.8 percent acknowledged contributions to their articles by people whose work should have qualified them to be named as authors on the papers but who were not listed.”
The NY Times article defines ghostwriting in scientific literature as “major research or writing contributions” done or made by professional medical writers to articles that get published under the names of other academic authors.
What has editors really in a tizzy, though, is that it appears “six of the top medical journals published a significant number of articles in 2008 that were written by ghostwriters” according to the study, with The New England Journal of Medicine having the highest rate at 10.9 percent. In a twist of irony, JAMA’s study found a rate of 7.9 percent of ghostwriting in…JAMA.
Joseph S. Wislar, “a survey research specialist and lead author of the study,” is calling for greater action to ensure all contributors are at least acknowledged if not credited as authors.
Ginny Barbour, chief editor of PLoS Medicine, told the NY Times that she considers her journal’s policies “tough” and “explicit,” yet even she feels that “we’ve basically been lied to.”
It should be noted that “the response rates from authors of articles varied widely, ranging from 58.3 percent for one journal to 85.9 percent for another journal.” In addition, there has been some backlash, especially from The New England Journal of Medicine, whose spokeswoman Karen P. Buckley issued a statement claiming JAMA “used an improperly broad definition of ghostwriting” in its study.
Annette Flanagin, a JAMA editor and co-author of the report, claims that they used “the standard definition.”