About twenty years ago, I was approached by a manufacturer of vitamins and supplements and asked to write articles for a magazine. This magazine--coincidentally--was sponsored by the manufacturer and all the articles--coincidentally--were about their products.
I should have been a bit suspicious when the first article was to be about a prostate supplement. As a pediatrician, this is not really my area of expertise. But . . . they were offering $1,000, my name in a well-circulated publication and they told me I'd really only need to edit the article with my "co-author." Actually, they presented me with a completely written article which was quite laudatory of an herbal supplement featured--coincidentally--on the page opposite the article itself.
I'd love to tell you that after that first experience I felt tainted and terrible and threw their money back in their faces -- but I didn't. I "wrote" at least another half dozen pieces for the magazine and my most significant contribution was to changes a few words: from "will help" to "may help" was my fiercest bit of editorial input. And then, yes, I finally figured it out . . . and stopped. I was still a relatively young doctor and the easy money was hard to turn down. Again, that refusal didn't represent a display of incredible medical ethics as much as it represented my feeling so incredibly greasy and sleazy that I couldn't justify my prestigious "authorship" any longer.
This week, The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that they and other major medical journals had been victims of the same type of scam: Pharmaceutical manufacturers have been caught giving cash to serious academic doctors in exchange for the use of their names as "lead authors" on journal articles written by Merck's in-house researchers.
"For the publication of clinical trials, documents were found describing Merck employees working either independently or in collaboration with medical publishing companies to prepare manuscripts and subsequently recruiting external, academically affiliated investigators to be authors. Recruited authors were frequently placed in the first and second positions of the authorship list. For the publication of scientific review papers, documents were found describing Merck marketing employees developing plans for manuscripts, contracting with medical publishing companies to ghostwrite manuscripts, and recruiting external, academically affiliated investigators to be authors. Recruited authors were commonly the sole author on the manuscript and offered honoraria for their participation. Among 96 relevant published articles, we found that 92% (22 of 24) of clinical trial articles published a disclosure of Merck's financial support, but only 50% (36 of 72) of review articles published either a disclosure of Merck sponsorship or a disclosure of whether the author had received any financial compensation from the company."
These medical journals publish stories ghost-written by doctors working for the companies who sponsor the journals' existence with advertising dollars. When will these partners in crime feel greasy enough to stop?