Wednesday, 16 September 2009

You call this science???

I have not written much in the past months, being focused on work and writing some articles on simulations of uman societies. However, the news I found on PLOS: Ghostwriting: The Dirty Little Secret of Medical Publishing That Just Got Bigger have prompted my reaction.

An article written by PLOS editors has described in detail the practice of ghostwriting "scientific" papers by specialized companies hired by pharmaceutical giants. Of course - favourable to the pharmaceuticals. Then the papers were "given" - readymade - to "researchers".

If you are an editor, author, reviewer, or reader of medical journals, or if you depend on your doctor or health care provider getting unbiased information from medical journals, then the 1,500 documents now hosted on the PLoS Medicine Web site should make you very concerned and angry. Because, quite simply, the story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public.

It's time to get serious about tackling ghostwriting. As has been shown in the documents released after the Vioxx scandal [7], this practice can result in lasting injury and even deaths as a result of prescribers and patients being misinformed about risks. Without action, the practice will undoubtedly continue. How did we get to the point that falsifying the medical literature is acceptable? How did an industry whose products have contributed to astounding advances in global health over the past several decades come to accept such practices as the norm? Whatever the reasons, as the pipeline for new drugs dries up and companies increasingly scramble for an ever-diminishing proportion of the market in “me-too” drugs, the medical publishing and pharmaceutical industries and the medical academic community have become locked into a cycle of mutual dependency, in which truth and a lack of bias have come to be seen as optional extras. Medical journal editors need to decide whether they want to roll over and just join the marketing departments of pharmaceutical companies. Authors who put their names to such papers need to consider whether doing so is more important than having a medical literature that can be believed in. Politicians need to consider the harm done by an environment that incites companies into insane races for profit rather than for medical need. And companies need to consider whether the arms race they have started will in the end benefit anyone. After all, even drug company employees get sick; do they trust ghost authors?

Instant infamy - plus criminal charges for the involved - this is what comes to my mind...

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