Medical Journals Haunted by PR Ghostwriters

"Scientists are accepting large sums of money from drug companies to put their names to articles endorsing new medicines that they have not written - a growing practice that some fear is putting scientific integrity in jeopardy," reports Sarah Bosely, health editor of the Guardian. Marilyn Larkin, a contributing editor to the Lancet, one of Britain's most prestigious medical journals, gives a first-hand account of the techniques that PR firms working for drug companies use to manipulate the scientific literature. Early in her career, she herself was hired to ghost-write a scientific paper. ""First I had to sign all kinds of forms not to tell anyone I was doing this," she said. "They gave you an outline, then provided tons of references you knew you had to use. ... After I sent it, I got the whole thing back from the company with a sample from another company which read like PR writing. It was just a really straight sell. I said, 'I'm sorry, I can't do this.'" Typically, a ghost-written article gets published under the name of a research scientist who is "a figurehead in the field. By that time, they don't care. They will take the money or pretend they didn't know they were taking the money for that reason." Some researchers, of course, object to this practice, such as Dr. David Healy, whose article on an antidepressant medication was altered by the manufacturer to say it "was the best thing since sliced bread. I would never have said that because I don't think it is."