0
We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
Retry
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
Retry
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
Research Letters |

Ghostwriting Policies in High-Impact Biomedical Journals: A Cross-Sectional Study FREE

Xavier Bosch, MD, PhD; Cristina Hernández, MD; Juan M. Pericas, MD; Pamela Doti, MD
[+] Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Internal Medicine, Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Hospital Clinic, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain.


JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(10):920-921. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.339.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

Although sound authorship of biomedical journal articles relies on personal and professional integrity and accountability, recent controversies concerning ghostwriting and guest authorship have shown that this approach has limitations.1

Ghostwriting and guest authorship are often linked to academic-industry collaborations. Typically, industry-sponsored professional writers prepare complete articles, which are then presented to senior, often expert, academics who submit the article in their own name (perhaps after some editing) and are often reimbursed.1

Although biomedical journals have led the way in drawing up editorial policies, ghostwriting policies have not been analyzed. We aimed to assess the prevalence and content of ghostwriting policies in the most influential biomedical journals.

We performed a cross-sectional study of 399 peer-reviewed, English-language biomedical journals publishing original research, including the 15 top-rated journals (or all journals if fewer than 15) in 27 Journal Citation Reports2 medical categories rated according to the 2010 Journal Citation Reports impact factor (eTable 1). Guidelines or instructions for authors and manuscript submission available on journal websites were reviewed independently by 2 authors (C.H., J.M.P., or P.D.) using a standard form (eAppendix) in December 2011.

We reviewed ghostwriting policies, defined as rules or statements about the definition of, detection of, or procedures for responding to ghostwriting that explicitly used the terms ghostwriting or ghostwriter; medical writer policies; and policies requiring the 3 authorship criteria recommended by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). We sought associations between ghostwriting policies and editors' associations, the US Office of Research Integrity, and professional societies with research misconduct definitions and guidelines (“policy-producing bodies”). The analysis included the 7 major publishers, which publish 257 of the journals (64.4%).

The mean (SD) journal impact factor was 6.51 (5.49). No association was observed between the impact factor and any ghostwriting policy, medical writer policies, or ICMJE authorship criteria (eTable 2). Journal characteristics are given in eTable 3. Ghostwriting was mentioned by 16.8% of journals, and 9.5% provided an explicit definition. Detection and response procedures were described by 4.0% and 5.8% of journals, respectively. The ICMJE criteria were required by 51.6% of journals, and 17.8% had medical writer policies. Of the 2 most-represented publishers, Wiley-Blackwell had higher scores for mention, definition, and response procedures than Elsevier (P < .001 for all). Clinical journals had better scores than basic journals for all ghostwriting policies (P < .001 for all) (Table). Journals without ghostwriting policies were mainly those concerned with basic science and categories with little commercial interest (results not shown).

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable. Ghostwriting Policies According to Region, Type of Contents, Publisher, Misconduct PPB Guidelines Endorsement, and ICMJE Authorship Criteria

All ghostwriting policies were positively associated with ICMJE authorship requirement (P < .001 for all). Journals endorsing policy-producing bodies' guidelines (59.9%) scored higher in all ghostwriting policies, medical writer policies, and ICMJE criteria compared with those that did not (P < .001 for all) (Table and eTables 4 and 5).

Only about 10% of journals provided explicit definitions of ghostwriting, less than 6% had detection and response procedures, and only about 17% mentioned ghostwriting or ghostwriters in nonspecific statements such as “ghostwriting constitutes an inappropriate practice.” This might indicate that the problem is not taken seriously or that journals may be influenced by revenue from industrial sources, including advertising and the selling of reprints, possibly for off-label promotion.3,4

Some editors' and medical writers' associations have specific, clearly positioned policies on ghostwriting.57 Likewise, a Committee on Publication Ethics flowchart advises on how to proceed when ghost, guest, or gift authorship is suspected.8

Some scholars, journals, editors' associations, and even countries consider medical ghostwriting to be research misconduct, much like plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification; in addition, it is also argued that ghostwriting may incur legal liability.1,35,7

We wondered whether the journals most concerned about ghostwriting were also those most concerned about misconduct and found that endorsing misconduct guidelines and definitions of editors' associations, the Office of Research Integrity, or professional societies was positively associated with implementation of ghostwriting policies.

Ghostwriting is intrinsically linked to inappropriate authorship. We observed a significant association between ICMJE authorship requirement and all ghostwriting policies, suggesting that editors concerned about the former were also concerned about the latter. Furthermore, journals that endorsed misconduct policy–producing bodies scored significantly better with respect to ICMJE criteria than those that did not.

With respect to the 2 most-represented publishers, Wiley-Blackwell achieved better scores than Elsevier, possibly because Wiley-Blackwell has a specific ghostwriting policy9 and explicitly states that ghost or guest authorship will be investigated using the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines.8

The limitations of this study include the cross-sectional design. Data were obtained only from journal websites, and therefore some policies might have been missed, especially if they did not explicitly mention ghostwriting or ghostwriters.

Our results may shed light on the implementation of ghostwriting policies by biomedical journals. Because transparent authorship criteria are needed to ensure untainted scientific investigation and make the contribution of each author explicit, journals without explicit ghostwriting policies may be facilitating fraudulent research conduct. Editors and publishers should work together to standardize policies on ghostwriting to ensure that public and professional trust in biomedical results remains high.

Correspondence: Dr Bosch, Department of Internal Medicine, Hospital Clínic, University of Barcelona, Villarroel 170, O8036-Barcelona, Spain (xavbosch@clinic.ub.es).

Published Online: April 8, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.339

Author Contributions:Study concept and design: Bosch, Hernández, and Pericas. Acquisition of data: Hernández, Pericas, and Doti. Analysis and interpretation of data: Bosch, Hernández, and Pericas. Drafting of the manuscript: Bosch. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors. Statistical analysis: Hernández and Pericas. Administrative, technical, and material support: Hernández and Doti. Study supervision: Bosch.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Bosch X, Ross JS. Ghostwriting: research misconduct, plagiarism, or fool's gold?  Am J Med. 2012;125(4):324-326
PubMed   |  Link to Article
 Journal Citation Reports. Thomson Reuters website. http://thomsonreuters.com/products_services/science/science_products/a-z/journal_citation_reports/. Accessed December 2, 2012
Bosch X, Esfandiari B, McHenry L. Challenging medical ghostwriting in US courts.  PLoS Med. 2012;9(1):e1001163
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Stern S, Lemmens T. Legal remedies for medical ghostwriting: imposing fraud liability on guest authors of ghostwritten articles.  PLoS Med. 2010; 8(8):e1001070
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Gøtzsche PC, Kassirer JP, Woolley KL,  et al.  What should be done to tackle ghostwriting in the medical literature?  PLoS Med. 2009;6(2):e23
PubMed   |  Link to Article
World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).  Ghostwriting initiated by commercial companies. http://www.wame.org/resources/policies#ghost. Published April 19, 2005. Revised June 20, 2005. Accessed December 2, 2012
PLoS Medicine Editors.  Ghostwriting: the dirty little secret of medical publishing that just got bigger.  PLoS Med. 2009;6(9):e1000156
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).  What to do if you suspect ghost, guest or gift authorship. http://publicationethics.org/resources/flowcharts. 2008. Accessed December 2, 2012
Graf C, Wager E, Bowman A, Fiack S, Scott-Lichter D, Robinson A. Best practice guidelines on publication ethics: a publisher's perspective.  Int J Clin Pract. 2007;61(suppl 152):1-26

Figures

Tables

Table Graphic Jump LocationTable. Ghostwriting Policies According to Region, Type of Contents, Publisher, Misconduct PPB Guidelines Endorsement, and ICMJE Authorship Criteria

References

Bosch X, Ross JS. Ghostwriting: research misconduct, plagiarism, or fool's gold?  Am J Med. 2012;125(4):324-326
PubMed   |  Link to Article
 Journal Citation Reports. Thomson Reuters website. http://thomsonreuters.com/products_services/science/science_products/a-z/journal_citation_reports/. Accessed December 2, 2012
Bosch X, Esfandiari B, McHenry L. Challenging medical ghostwriting in US courts.  PLoS Med. 2012;9(1):e1001163
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Stern S, Lemmens T. Legal remedies for medical ghostwriting: imposing fraud liability on guest authors of ghostwritten articles.  PLoS Med. 2010; 8(8):e1001070
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Gøtzsche PC, Kassirer JP, Woolley KL,  et al.  What should be done to tackle ghostwriting in the medical literature?  PLoS Med. 2009;6(2):e23
PubMed   |  Link to Article
World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).  Ghostwriting initiated by commercial companies. http://www.wame.org/resources/policies#ghost. Published April 19, 2005. Revised June 20, 2005. Accessed December 2, 2012
PLoS Medicine Editors.  Ghostwriting: the dirty little secret of medical publishing that just got bigger.  PLoS Med. 2009;6(9):e1000156
PubMed   |  Link to Article
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).  What to do if you suspect ghost, guest or gift authorship. http://publicationethics.org/resources/flowcharts. 2008. Accessed December 2, 2012
Graf C, Wager E, Bowman A, Fiack S, Scott-Lichter D, Robinson A. Best practice guidelines on publication ethics: a publisher's perspective.  Int J Clin Pract. 2007;61(suppl 152):1-26

Correspondence

CME
Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Submit a Comment

Multimedia

Supplemental Content

Bosch X, Hernández C, Pericas JM, Doti P. Ghostwriting policies in high-impact biomedical journals: a cross-sectional study. JAMA Intern Med.. Published online April 8, 2013. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.339

eAppendix. Data Abstraction Form

eTable 1. Journals Included According to Medical Category and Impact Factor (2010)

eTable 2. Impact Factor of Journals With and Without Ghostwriting Policies, ICMJE Authorship Criteria and Medical Writer Policies

eTable 3. Characteristics of the Journals Included in the Study

eTable 4. ICMJE Authorship Criteria and Medical Writer Policies According to Misconduct PPB Guidelines Endorsement

eTable 5. Number of Journals (Percentage) With or Without Ghostwriting Policies According to Endorsement of Misconduct Definitions and Guidelines of Individual Editors’ Associations and ORI

Supplemental Content

Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

Web of Science® Times Cited: 2

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

See Also...
Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
PubMed Articles