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Posted by on Apr 20, 2008 in Ethics, Media, Terminology

AMWA Chimes in on Medical Ghostwriting

AMWA Chimes in on Medical Ghostwriting

The president of the American Medical Writers Association (to which I belong) has written to its members (below) regarding the practice of medical ghostwriting, and AMWA’s response to the NYT article about Merck’s use of guest authoring and ghostwriting has been printed. I agree with AMWA’s assessment.

Hello, AMWA colleagues,

As many of you have been discussing, the articles in this week’s JAMA about alleged misuse of medical writing resources by Merck in publications about Vioxx garnered a lot of press coverage. As is often the case, the JAMA articles and the associated press coverage tend to blur the distinction between “guest authorship” (putting an author’s name on an article he/she did not help to write) and the unacknowledged use of medical writers (ghostwriting, a term AMWA tries to avoid). A number of people have asked whether AMWA should do something.

Several of us saw this as an opportunity to assert AMWA’s leadership in promoting ethical practices in medical writing. Accordingly, we have submitted letters to the editors of the NY Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Chronicle of Higher Education, all of which carried stories about the JAMA articles. All letters are signed by me as AMWA president.

Key points in all the letters:

  • While ghostwriting (the undisclosed contribution of a medical writer) is unethical in scientific publications, the use of professional medical writers may be appropriate and ethical.
  • Using their skills in communicating complex data, professional writers help researchers report their findings effectively, making contributions comparable to those of professional statisticians who analyze data or artists who create illustrations.
  • The 5500-member American Medical Writers Association promotes ethical practices in scientific publication, including acknowledgment of medical writers’ roles, adherence to applicable guidelines (eg, authorship rules of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors), and full disclosure of potential conflicts of interest, including financial support.
  • Transparent disclosure of the roles of all contributors avoids ghostwriting and allows readers to evaluate the credibility of research reports.

We’re also drafting a response to JAMA. We’ll keep you posted to let you know if these letters are published. In addition, Lori Alexander will include an editorial in the summer issue of the [AMWA] Journal, bringing these issues to members’ attention.

Best regards,
Sue Hudson

bmartin (1130 Posts)

A native East Tennessean, Barbara Martin is a formerly practicing, board-certified neurologist who received her BS (psychology, summa cum laude) and MD from Duke University before completing her postgraduate training (internship, residency, fellowship) at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She has worked in academia, private practice, medical publishing, drug market research, and continuing medical education (CME). For the last 3 years, she has worked in a freelance capacity as a medical writer, analyst, and consultant. Follow Dr. Barbara Martin on and Twitter.