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Drug industry writers propose code of ethical conduct

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7341.808/e (Published 06 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:808
  1. Gavin Yamey
  1. Oakland

    A group of pharmaceutical industry writers is urging all drug companies to adopt a new code of conduct that gives guidance on ethical publication practice.

    The code, called Good Publication Practice for Pharmaceutical Companies, includes a commitment to register and publish all trials and to avoid redundant or duplicate publication.

    The code was discussed at last week's meeting of the American Medical Writers' Association. It is particularly relevant to industry writers, since it addresses the issue of ghost writing—the practice in which industry writers contribute to an article, but their contribution remains hidden. The ghost writer, rather than the named authors, may determine the final content of the article.

    Ghost writing is common in medical journals. In a study of 809 articles published in six different US peer reviewed medical journals, 11% of articles were found to have ghost authors (JAMA 1998;280:222-4).

    On publication of the study, Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of JAMA and one of the study's authors, condemned the practice as “scandalous, and outrageous” and “a perfect illustration of deceptive authorship practices for commercial reasons” (Lancet 1999;354:136).

    But industry writers have defended the practice, arguing that ghost writers provide a valuable service—speeding up publication and coordinating the writing of a study that may have many different investigators in different trial sites.

    The new code, which has been submitted for publication in a US medical journal, states that “the contribution of the medical writer should be acknowledged.” It also says that the named authors or contributors should determine the content of the publication, retain responsibility for it, and approve the final version before it is submitted.

    The Good Publication Practice for the Pharmaceutical Industry guidelines are available from Liz Wager at Liz{at}sideview.demon.co.uk