Med School professor denies ghostwriting claim

Four of the six academic medical professionals accused of signing their names to ghostwritten studies and texts have denied the claims, including School of Medicine professor Kimberly Yonkers. Yale School of Medicine administrators refused to comment on whether the School has investigated nonprofit watchdog Project on Government Oversight’s claim that the professor had a 2003 report on GlaxoSmithKline’s antidepressant, Paxil, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder ghostwritten for her. Yonkers claimed she edited the writing company’s draft substantially.

In response to POGO’s ghostwriting accusation against Brown University Medical School professor Martin Keller, Brown’s Provost David Kertzer told the Brown Daily Herald the administration generally “reviews relevant information and addresses any resulting concerns through its internal processes” upon receiving a complaint like POGO’s. But Kertzer still refused to comment specifically about Keller.

Alan F. Schatzberg, previous chairman of psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine who POGO accused of signing his name to a ghostwritten textbook, has hired an attorney to voice his argument. The attorney, Stuart Clark, asks that POGO apologize to Schatzberg and retract the ghostwriting accusations the letter published on its website.

In a letter Clark sent to POGO’s attorney Scott Amey on Dec. 9, Clark admitted that Schatzberg and the textbook’s listed coauthor Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Miami medical school, received acknowledged “editorial support” from Diane Coniglio and Sally Laden, the same Scientific Therapeutics Information medical writer involved in Yonker’s 2003 study. But, Clark says neither writer, “nor anyone else” ghostwrote the book.

Clark approved of POGO’s recent revisions to its letter to the National Institutes of Health published on the POGO website. The revisions retract the word “ghostwriting” when referring to Schatzberg’s and Nemeroff’s book. But Clark still requests that POGO either continue its revision process to strike all ghostwriting accusations directed at Schatzberg and Nemeroff throughout the text or write a separate retraction letter to the NIH.

Clark’s letter also refers to Schatzberg’s demand for an apology from POGO and Paul Thacker, one of the authors of POGO’s Nov 29 letter to the NIH, for “false accusations” of ghostwriting Thacker published on his blog and the POGO website.

On Dec. 8, the New York Times issued a correction of its original article regarding Schatzberg’s and Nemeroff’s book. According to the correction, the documents POGO included in its letter to the NIH as evidence against Schatzberg and Nemeroff show that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline hired writing company STI to work on the book. But the documents do not prove that the STI writers wrote the book for Schatzberg and Nemeroff.

Correction: December 16, 2010

An earlier version of this article originally incorrectly identified Scott Amey as Alan Schatzberg’s attorney. Stuart Clark is the attorney representing Schatzberg. Clark wrote the Dec. 9 letter to the Project on Government Oversight lawyer, Scott Amey.

Comments

  • jonleo

    Dear Reporter, The central question about the ghost writing accusations is not whether the professors listed as authors deserve to be called authors. They might certainly have done enough work to be listed as authors. The question is, were other equally deserving people, who happened to be employed by the companies, given the credit they should have. If Yonkers edited a draft then she certainly deserves to be listed as an author, however the person who wrote the draft should also have been listed. Listing someone who wrote a first draft as someone who provided editorial support is misleading. Where else but in adacemic medicine would this happen? The benefit to the company, and why they pay for this is that they get to remain hidden – they are ghosts. If toyota tells you their cars are the best you will be skeptical, if consumer reports tells you that toyotas are the best cars you will pay attention. if you find out that consumer reports was being paid by toyota you will be skeptical of toyota and consumer reports. Readers of these articles and books should have been told that besides the academics, that company employess were authors. If Sally Laden wrote a draft she deserved to be called an author – that is the question that needs to be answered. Whether these professors also did some of the work is really immaterial. Please dont be misled by attorney double speak.

  • prion

    If ghostwriting is such a big deal, why don’t you find out who ghostwrites President Levin’s speeches? YDN appears grossly misinformed about the issue at stake.

  • FluffTCat

    Hardly, Prion.
    In general terms – and I am NOT referring to anyone mentioned above:

    There are enormous differences between a leader having a speech ‘ghost written,’ and a medical “opinion leader,” as the pharmaceutical companies refer to those who whore for them, having a textbook, or draft of a textbook or medical presentation, written for them by someone in the employ of a pharmaceutical company. The university president, or politician, who asks a speech writer to prepare a text, tells the writer what he or she – the leader – wants to say, and the writer hopefully finds a graceful, compelling way to say it. On the other hand, those ghosting on behalf of Big Pharma for “opinion leaders” are taking the messages of the pharma company and putting those messages into the mouths, or writings, of the opinion leaders. The ‘opinion leaders’ are paid by the pharma companies precisely for their willingness to peddle the companies’ messages.

  • AdamJacobs

    “The university president, or politician, who asks a speech writer to prepare a text, tells the writer what he or she – the leader – wants to say, and the writer hopefully finds a graceful, compelling way to say it. On the other hand, those ghosting on behalf of Big Pharma for “opinion leaders” are taking the messages of the pharma company and putting those messages into the mouths, or writings, of the opinion leaders. ”

    And your evidence for that would be…?

    Sorry, but I’ve been in the medical writing business for about 14 years, and that doesn’t fit with my experience at all. I have no idea whether you’re right about political speechwriters (the rumour is that they are actually heavily influenced by corporate interests, but I don’t know enough about how politics works to say either way).

    I do know quite a lot about medical writers, however. The description that the academic tells the writer what to say and the writer finds a good way to say it is actually a pretty good description of how it works. If you think that that’s wrong, then please provide evidence.

  • jonleo

    Well, you asked for it. Here is the evidence. Folllow the link and go to strand four. Healy received an unsolicitied paper that the company wrote for him. It was 100% originated by the company. He declined, and it was published under someone elses name.:
    http://www.healyprozac.com/GhostlyData/default.htm
    also for more evidence please the early drafts on study 329.

  • AdamJacobs

    No, that’s not evidence, that’s an anecdote. It refers to one paper. Medical writers produce many thousands of papers every year. Is there any evidence that your anecdote is representative?

    By the same logic, I could say that doctors are psychopathic serial killers, and there is evidence for it if you follow this link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Shipman

    Clearly, there have been some cases where ghostwriters working for pharmaceutical companies have been involved in serious wrongdoing (and the link you give appears to be an example of that). But to say that medical writers are therefore intrinsically evil is a giant leap of logic that just isn’t supported by the evidence.

  • prion

    Those objecting most vigorously here appear to confuse ghostwriting with plagiarism and the spindoctoring opposite in which the credited author lends authority. Ghostwriting is a common and widespread academic activity in the sciences and in the humanities. So is having your work edited by invisible others. Numerous prestigious scholarly journals are good precisely because they insist on providing some ghost writing and ghost editing before work goes to press. Students are often encouraged to get similar uncredited advice and editing on paper drafts before final submission. Normally no one credits the editor, TA or classmate because such assistance is assumed.

    In some instances, a ghostwriter will take a detailed technical work and distil a condensed message for an audience not familiar with the discipline, or who needs a summary for policy making. The original author’s name goes on it because the source of the knowledge, and the person who will stand up for it, are what matter. No one cares who the editor or abstracter is, but no one in scholarship is so ignorant as to assume that the author always does it himself.

    The same applies to errors in published work. You never know whether they are due to the author or to an editor or to a ghostwriter. You have to find out before you phrase your grievances ad hominem.

    Something serious is at stake here, but let’s get this much straight: the issue isn’t ghostwriting.

  • jonleo

    I am confused. Someone implied that professors never get first drafts so I gave you some examples where this had happened. I never said ghostwriters were evil. Nor did I take some kind of giant leap of faith and say that this happens all the time. I simply provided two examples. Keep in mind that because of its secretive nature it is hard to really know what is going on behind the scenes for these studies. Howevever, in study 329, which we do know a lot about, the person, who wrote the first draft and was just acknowledged as an editorial assistant, has also been listed as an editorial assistant on numerous other papers. So the question that comes to mind is: Did she also write the first draft of these other papers? One other clarification, there is nothing wrong with editorial assistance on a paper. No one has ever said this. The argument is about whether someone who wrote the first draft or made other substantial contribitions should be listed as an author. In the rest of academia someone like this would be listed as an author, it is only in the medical literature where this is considered acceptable.

  • prion

    That’s exactly the problem, jonleo. Borrowing authority is not ghostwriting. It may not even be fraud, depending on what is understood by authorship. The author of this article is muddying the waters through imprecise phrasing.

    Named authors in many fields do not necessarily contribute much of the content. Sometimes, typically with coauthors, it means only that the person is willing to support or stand behind the article because they’re friends with a similar research agenda. Sometimes it’s an undergraduate who did something remotely related in the lab, whose work didn’t actually contribute, but whom the PI wants to help get into graduate school. Sometimes it’s a PI whose sole contribution was letting the postdoc pursue independent work by using the apparatus and lab space during downtime. Sometimes it’s a humanities prof whose grad students did all of the research. This isn’t confined to the medical literature. In many disciplines there is a code in the order of the names so you can tell who had nothing or little to do with it. When there is no one to fill the non-functional space in the author list, you offer that space to a friend who could do with a citation count boost, and he’ll offer the same boost to you later.

    You and I agree that editorial assistance is normal. But you seem not to understand that good editors contribute just as much intellectual content as the author does. But this is often (maybe usually) not acknowledged. For what reason – the job title? Why should the mere job title make a difference if the issue is the originator of content? Either editors must be credited, or huge quantities of uncredited contribution are absolutely fine.

    The YDN editors need to sort out these ideas when researching articles. It’s not like there aren’t a thousand researchers whom they could *ask* about it, and there is no good in YDN taking such a firm, opinionated tone based on muddled facts and issues. If this is the best we can get for Yale’s publicly visible student journalism, we must be in serious decline. It matters what YDN broadcasts. You say that you’re confused now, but wait until you get an interviewer who asks whether YDN’s journalism reflects your own ability to do the job or join the graduate program, knocking you onto the defensive as you try to work out whether they mean it positively or negatively. I can assure you that it happens.

  • anon82

    i wish medical researchers could find better things to do with their time then whoring themselves out to pharmaceutical companies.

  • AdamJacobs

    anon82, given that so much medical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies, it’s a bit naive to think that medical researchers aren’t going to work with them. If all medical researchers stopped working with pharmaceutical companies, then drug development would basically cease, and we would have no more improved treatments for cancer and other serious diseases.

    Is that what you want?

  • Bianon

    Editing is not writing. Contrary to the comment above, academic writers with original thoughts or research do not “produce” thousands of papers each year. Were these types of papers used in determining hiring, promotion, tenure?

    Tillman did an excellent job reporting this issue. I’d imagine many in the medical school, the nursing school and the school of public health fear exposure. Just take a look at many errata posted to previous journal articles in recent years, all updating readers on the funding provided by pharmaceutical firms.

  • jonleo

    Prion, I am not sure I follow what you are referring to but I think you have a beef with something other than ghostwriting. I think you are mixing up honorary authorship with ghostwriting. Ghostwriting involves hiding someone who should have been author. It might go alone with honorary authorship but not neceesarily. Here is a commentary on the topic:http://chronicle.com/article/GhostwritingAcademic/123613/

  • blah

    this subject, and the subject of ethical standards for doing research funded by pharma companies, has actually been discussed ad nauseum in medical journals. it might be worth reading the relevant editorials in the new england journal, for example, to see what “ghostwriting” means in this context, because frankly a lot of the comments here that “challenge” FluffTCat are pretty speculative and half-baked. for example, I’d be omterested to know exactly what kind of “medical writing” adam jacobs has done, with some citations, and who exactly he has worked for. i’m confused by his comments.

  • AdamJacobs

    What specifically has confused you, blah? Happy to explain if I can.

  • jonleo

    You said “If you think that that’s wrong, then please provide evidence.” So I did exactly what you said doesnt happen.

  • AdamJacobs

    jonleo, you gave evidence that evil ghostwriting has happened on one or two occasions (out of many thousands). Your original post implied that evil ghostwriting is the norm. Those are two very different things.

  • jonleo

    Where did I say it was the norm?

  • AdamJacobs

    You didn’t say it was the norm, although as you were providing it as evidence to support FluffTCat’s clear implication that it was the norm, I’m sure you can see how your position got misinterpreted.

    Anyway, sorry if I misunderstood you, and pleased to see we agree (at least I think we agree?) that those cases you posted links about are highly atypical.

  • jonleo

    My main take on it is that if someone did a substantial work on the paper, like write the first draft, just call them an author. This is what happens in the rest of academia

  • AdamJacobs

    “My main take on it is that if someone did a substantial work on the paper, like write the first draft, just call them an author.”

    And there are many who would agree with you. However, the problem is that most medical journals follow the ICMJE authorship requirements. According to those requirements, simply writing the first draft of a paper is not enough. You’d also have to be involved with either designing, executing, or analysing the study to qualify for authorship. Medical writers would seldom meet those criteria, and so in the view of most journals, they shouldn’t be listed as authors.

    What everyone does agree on, however, is that if medical writers are not listed as authors, they should be transparently acknowledged for their role, describing what they did and who paid for it. That transparency is becoming more common than it used to be, but is still not universal. There is no excuse for continued “ghostwriting”, where the writer is not acknowledged.

  • biffer

    ‘What everyone does agree on, however, is that if medical writers are not listed as authors, they should be transparently acknowledged for their role, describing what they did and who paid for it. That transparency is becoming more common than it used to be, but is still not universal. There is no excuse for continued “ghostwriting”, where the writer is not acknowledged.’

    That’s the bottom line, right there. Well said, AdamJacobs!

  • SacredHeartOnline

    This is crazy! Why would the teacher deny such a fact that he isn’t the ghostwriter?

    Sarah
    [school in pensacola][1]

    [1]: http://www.malenasminischool.com/

  • LargeAmericanFlags

    Ghost writing is extremely common in all professions. If he did do it he should admit to it. [Large American Flags][1]

    [1]: http://www.uncleflag.com