Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:


Ghostwriting: the importance of definition and its place in contemporary drug marketing

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 30 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4578

Rapid Response:

Re: Ghostwriting: the importance of definition and its place in contemporary drug marketing

RE: Ghostwriting: the importance of definition and its place in contemporary drug marketing (BMJ 2016;354:i4578doi:10.1136/bmj.i4578)

Dear Editor:

We read with interest the article titled “Ghostwriting: the importance of definition and its place in contemporary drug marketing,” by Alastair Matheson, published in The BMJ on 30 August 2016. The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), a not-for-profit professional society with over 1,500 members involved in the publication of medical research, has carefully considered the article, and has serious concerns with the author’s assertion that there has been a “rebranding of ghostwriting.” Rather, we contend that there has been a positive evolution of transparency and completeness in medical publications reporting industry research.

ISMPP’s long-standing position is that “ghostwriting” ─ defined by Laine and Mulrow in 2005 as “individuals who wrote the paper but are not acknowledged”(1) ─ is an unacceptable practice. ISMPP fully supports the role of professional medical writers and the complete and transparent disclosure of their involvement in medical publications and the source of their funding.(2) In fact, the contributions and expertise of medical writers working with authors is associated with more complete reporting of the results of clinical trials and higher quality content.(3)

Over more than a decade, disclosure of the role of medical writers (and their funding) in contributing to medical publications has progressed to become standard practice today.(4,5) The involvement of medical writers, statisticians, and others are made fully transparent to journal editors and peer reviewers, and ultimately to the readers of the published literature, along with the authors’ disclosures and potential conflicts of interest.(4,6)

Through their interactions with authors, medical writers are important contributors to the timely and complete dissemination of clinical data in the medical literature. We consider it a disservice for the author to suggest that current disclosure practices “compromise” the medical literature, particularly when such disclosures that are now customary practice have resulted in improved transparency in the medical literature.

Al Weigel
President and CEO, International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP)


1. Laine C, Mulrow CD. Exorcising ghosts and unwelcome guests. Ann Intern Med. 2005;143(8):611-612. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-143-8-200510180-00013.

2. Norris R, Bowman A, Fagan JM, et al. International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) position statement: the role of the professional medical writer. Curr Med Res Opin. 2007;23:8:1837-1840. doi:10.1185/030079907X210642.

3. Gattrell WT, Hopewell S, Young K, et al. Professional medical writing support and the quality of randomised controlled trial reporting: a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2016;6: e010329. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2015-010329.

4. International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Recommendations for the conduct, reporting, editing, and publication of scholarly work in medical journals. Updated December 2015. Accessed at on 8 September 2016.

5. Battisti WP, Wager E, Baltzer L, Bridges D, Cairns A, Carswell CI, et al. Good Publication Practice for Communicating Company-Sponsored Medical Research: GPP3. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163:461-464; doi:10.7326/M15-0288.

6. Mansi BA, Clark J, David FS, Gesell TM, Glasser S, Gonzalez J, et al. Ten recommendations for closing the credibility gap in reporting industry-sponsored clinical research: a joint journal and pharmaceutical industry perspective. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012; 87:424-9.

Competing interests: I have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: I previously worked for several pharmaceutical companies on medical publication teams, and currently serve as President and CEO of ISMPP. ISMPP is a not-for-profit professional society that is largely comprised of members from the pharmaceutical and medical communications profession, with funding derived from medical publications-related programs and memberships. Review and input was received by some ISMPP staff and the ISMPP Board of Trustees.

12 September 2016
Al Weigel
President and CEO
International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP)
520 White Plains Road, Suite 500, Tarrytown, NY 10591, USA