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Ghost writers need to be more visible

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 25 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:208
  1. Keith Dawes, clinical research scientist and medical writer (
  1. 1PRA International, Reading

    What is a medical writer? A medical writer is a professional writer who is hired to write scientific or medical documents, including manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals. Most medical writers are employed by drug companies, contract research organisations, or medical communication agencies, but there are also freelance medical writers and consultants.

    Currently medical writers contribute extensively to medical journals, mostly as unheralded “ghost writers.” Medical writers also have an important role in medical education, drug development, and drug marketing. Though mostly unseen, unappreciated, and misunderstood, they nevertheless add quite a bit of grease to the wheels of science publishing. It has been claimed that at least 50% of all publications on treatments in the BMJ, Lancet, and New England Journal of Medicine have been written by an unacknowledged ghost writer (BMJ 2004;329:937; 2004;329:1345).

    Not surprisingly, given the negativity associated with publications sponsored by the drug industry, the hidden role of the medical writer has attracted much criticism. The preconception that medical writers are all unscrupulous—employed by Machiavellian drug companies to distort and promote scientific data in an unethical manner—is untrue. Most medical writers would welcome more recognition; and in an effort to increase transparency a number …

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