Senator assails ghostwriting

The Yale School of Medicine will respond by Dec. 8 to a letter from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, asking about the school’s policy on medical ghostwriting, whereby companies publish articles under researchers’ names, School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said Wednesday.

In the letter, which was sent to Yale and nine other leading medical schools, Grassley pointed out the similarity between students who plagiarize in their papers and medical researchers who attach their names to articles and papers they did not write.

Grassley wrote that he was concerned that articles ghostwritten by pharmaceutical companies and published under academics’ names could lead doctors to prescribe unnecessary or ineffective medicines, which would add to the federal government’s Medicare and Medicaid expenses.

Alpern said he was not aware of any Yale faculty members who might have attached their names to ghostwritten articles.

“We agree that faculty shouldn’t do it,” Alpern said. “In general, academic dishonesty brought to our attention is always investigated.”

Alpern added that the School of Medicine is considering sending out a statement to remind researchers of the school’s policy on academic integrity and authorship, which is posted on the Office of Grant & Contract Administration Web site.

Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Richard Jacob, Yale’s lobbyist, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the School of Medicine will make its reply to Grassley’s letter public once it is sent. Jacob said any faculty member who might have published a ghostwritten article would face disciplinary action.

Grassley’s letter is part of an ongoing investigation into the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers, said Jill Kozeny, the senator’s press secretary. Kozeny said Grassley wrote to the School of Medicine because it is a major recipient of research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“His review of ghostwriting and the larger issue of industry payments to those involved in medical research has been going on since August 2007,” Kozeny said. “It’s a continual process.”

In July 2008, Grassley wrote to eight medical journals questioning their policies on ghostwriting, Kozeny said.

Five Yale professors interviewed said they were not aware of ghostwriting at the School of Medicine.

School of Medicine professor Paul Desan said Yale researchers rarely deal with pharmaceutical companies because most clinical research at the School of Medicine is funded with grants from the federal government. In 2008, the School of Medicine received $330 million in grants from NIH.

“We are not a large center for commercial research, and that’s not the sort of paper our faculty members produce,” Desan said.

Sonia Caprio, another School of Medicine professor, said she does not deal with pharmaceutical companies in her research. According to the School of Medicine Web site, Caprio’s clinical trials are sponsored by grants from the University and the federal government.

Endocrinology professor Robert Sherwin said ghostwritten articles are frowned upon by fellow researchers.

“I can’t imagine too many people doing that here,” Sherwin said. “It doesn’t really help you much career-wise.”

In addition to the School of Medicine, Grassley wrote to the medical schools at Harvard; Johns Hopkins University; the University of Pennsylvania; Washington University in St. Louis; the University of California, San Francisco; Duke; Stanford; the University of Washington; and Columbia University.

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