Stop Scientific Ghostwriting

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | August 19, 2009 12:15 am

From The New York Times:

A growing body of evidence suggests that doctors at some of the nation’s top medical schools have been attaching their names and lending their reputations to scientific papers that were drafted by ghostwriters working for drug companies — articles that were carefully calibrated to help the manufacturers sell more products.

Experts in medical ethics condemn this practice as a breach of the public trust. Yet many universities have been slow to recognize the extent of the problem, to adopt new ethical rules or to hold faculty members to account.

Those universities may not have much longer to get their houses in order before they find themselves in trouble with Washington.

Read the full article here


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics and Science

Comments (3)

  1. ARJ

    Multiple authorship on papers should also be greatly limited — to pad vitas many papers will show 5 to over a dozen “authors” when only 1-3 people actually wrote the final paper (the rest are just dept. heads, reviewers, assistants, etc.). Many yrs. ago a well-known cardiologist was found to have falsified data on dozens of papers and suddenly his dozens of prestigious “co-authors” tried to distance themselves from the work saying they really had nothing specific to do with the actual research in question, except signing off on it. It was a lesson learned, but probably since forgotten. Authors can always cite the assistance of others in footnotes and end acknowledgments (including the janitor and lab tech who fed the rats if they like, and who had more bearing on the study than some of those listed as ‘authors’), but the current practice is little more than a form of ‘you-pat-my-back-I’ll-pat-yours’ fraud. No matter how much ‘input’ others have on a study the “authors” are those who write major portions of the final text, and are directly responsible for those precise words and presentation… and if later found to be fraudulent (or, hey, simply stupid) they are responsible.

  2. Ben Goldacre had a post on this not too long ago. His post is especially interesting because it details another worry about distortions of peer review, which is the “lensing” effect (click the link to see his explanation of that).

    I read somewhere recently that this kind of massive distortion is more likely to occur in the biomedical sciences than, say, in physics. Maybe not surprising.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at


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