yahoo/ap reports today on a strongly-worded JAMA piece on guest authorship and ghostwriting in publications related to rofecoxib.

from lindsey tanner’s associated press article:

CHICAGO (AP) — Two new reports involving the painkiller Vioxx raise fresh concerns about how drug companies influence the interpretation and publication of medical research.

The reports claim Merck & Co. frequently paid academic scientists to take credit for research articles prepared by company-hired medical writers, a practice called ghostwriting…

the story gets better, but i’m stuck on the idea that the “academic scientists” are literally selling their names and the credibility of their institutions — and that the results are published in respectable journals. while authorship norms vary greatly by discipline and department, i always figured that the putative authors were the ones paying the ghostwriters.

although big pharma wouldn’t care to tempt me, i can envision such a scenario arising in my field of study. let’s say i get a grant from privateprisonco to fund my next recidivism study. they hire criminological ghostwriters from the firm of shill & hack to write a manuscript comparing the recidivism of privateprisonco releasees with that of a matched comparison group of statepen releasees. they give me first authorship and $500 for my trouble, in exchange for whatever credibility attaches to my name and institution.

the full JAMA piece is well-documented, though merck is challenging the article and its pointed conclusion:

Authors who “sign-off” on or “edit” original manuscripts or reviews written explicitly by pharmaceutical industry employees or by medical publishing companies should offer full authorship disclosure, such as, “drafting of the manuscript was done by representatives from XYZ, Inc; the authors were responsible for critical revisions of the manuscript for important intellectual content.”