Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Ghostwriting

Medical literature has seen a positive evolution of transparency

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: (Published 20 September 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i5043
  1. Al Weigel, president and CEO
  1. International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), 520 White Plains Road, Suite 500, Tarrytown, NY 10591, USA
  1. aweigel{at}

We read with interest Matheson’s article on “ghostwriting.”1 The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP), a not-for-profit professional society with over 1500 members involved in the publication of medical research, has carefully considered the article and has serious concerns with the author’s assertion of a “rebranding of ghostwriting.” Rather, we see a positive evolution of transparency and completeness in medical publications reporting industry research.

ISMPP’s longstanding position is that ghostwriting—defined by Laine and Mulrow in 2005 as “individuals who wrote the paper but are not acknowledged”2—is unacceptable. ISMPP fully supports the role of professional medical writers and the complete and transparent disclosure of their involvement in medical publications, as well as the source of their funding.3 In fact, the contributions and expertise of medical writers working with authors is associated with more complete reporting of results from clinical trials and higher quality content.4

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.5 6 The involvement of medical writers, statisticians, and others is 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.5 7

Through their interactions with authors, medical writers are important contributors to the timely and complete dissemination of clinical data in the medical literature. We would challenge Matheson’s suggestion that current disclosure practices “compromise” the medical literature, particularly when such disclosures that are now customary practice have resulted in improved transparency in the literature.


  • 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 largely comprising members from the pharmaceutical and medical communications professions, with funding derived from medical publication related programmes and memberships. Review and input was received by some ISMPP staff and the ISMPP board of trustees.


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