Intended for healthcare professionals


Only full access to trial data will show signs of ghostwriting, meeting hears

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 10 May 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d2925

Re:Let's work for full disclosure -- but don't blame everything on medical writers

If we really want to tackle misconduct in the published literature,
do you think it would be helpful to base corrective strategies on

As published recently in CMRO (internationally, peer-reviewed journal
ranked in the top 20% of general medical journals), our analysis of papers
retracted for misconduct showed that the odds of misconduct vs mistake
were significantly higher when the original paper had a single author, had
an author who had already had a paper retracted, and had a first author
who came from a lower-income country. Let's focus our educational efforts
on these evidence-based factors, which most people seem to accept as being

The other two key results from our research challenge popular
perceptions. We found that the odds of misconduct were significantly
LOWER if a paper had declared medical writer involvement or declared
industry sponsorship. This evidence requires us to understand why a
declared professional medical writer (different breed entirely from
unethical ghostwriters!) and why declared industry sponsorship can reduce
the odds of having a paper retracted for misconduct.

I encourage readers interested in this topic to read the full paper
in CMRO and then comment.

Anyone can repeat our study and the data were analysed by an
independent academic statistician.

Isn't it time we started to base our educational efforts on a
systematic analysis of the evidence on misconduct?

Isn't it time for more journalists and editors started to understand
the difference between ghostwriters and professional medical writers?
Ghostwriters are the enemy of ethical publication practices; professional
medical writers can be the enablers.

Competing interests: I am actively involved in not-for-profit associations that educate members on ethical publication practices. I am paid to provide ethical medical writing training courses and services for not-for-profit and for-profit clients.

16 May 2011
Karen L. Woolley
Professional medical writer (NOT ghostwriter!)
ProScribe Medical Communications