05 August 2009

Sometime in 2003, a DesignWrite employee wrote a 14-page outline of the article; the author was listed as “TBD” — to be decided. In July 2003, DesignWrite sent the outline to Dr. Gloria Bachmann, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J.

Dr. Bachmann responded in an e-mail message to DesignWrite: “Outline is excellent as written.” In September 2003, DesignWrite e-mailed Dr. Bachmann the first draft of the article. She also pronounced that “excellent” and added, “I only had one correction which I highlighted in red.”

The article, a nearly verbatim copy of the DesignWrite draft, appeared in 2005 in The Journal of Reproductive Medicine, with Dr. Bachmann listed as the primary author. It described hormone drugs as the “gold standard” for treating hot flashes and was less enthusiastic about other therapies.

The acknowledgments thanked several medical writers for their “editorial assistance,” not disclosing that those writers worked for DesignWrite, which charged Wyeth $25,000 to generate the article.

Dr. Bachmann, who has 30 years of research and clinical experience in menopause, said she played a major role in the publication by lending her expertise. Her e-mail messages do not reflect contributions she may have made during phone calls and in-person meetings, she said.

“There was a need for a review article and I said ‘Yes, I will review the draft and make sure it is accurate,’ ” Dr. Bachmann said in an interview Tuesday. “This is my work, this is what I believe, this is reflective of my view.”

via Ghostwriters Paid by Wyeth Aided Its Drugs - NYTimes.com.

This bears some similarities to laws written by lobbying firms to politicians.  However, it isn’t clear that Dr. Bachmann, in this case, is being lobbied in any way, but merely that she is signing off on a paper she did not entirely write, but that she did agree with and have input on.

Though the idea of someone not writing the article their name appears one is particularly disturbing when industry links are not made explicit, it does not necessarily mean that the article itself does not reflect a valid scientific viewpoint. The fact that it is tainted by industry effort, does not mean the science cannot be good.

It is not uncommon for a Principal Investigator’s name to appear on a paper written by a graduate student or post-doc in their laboratory. Admittedly, though, this is quite different when the paper is written on behalf of the business whom the paper benefits.

To my mind, industry links to research do not automatically negate the scientific validity of it, but they must be clearly demonstrated.

An improvement on this article would be an investigation into whether the science in these industry-sponsored articles was unsound.

Additionally, review papers are generally seen as a problematic to rely on as they do not often meet the rigorous standards original research is held to. Nonetheless, too many people do rely on them, and hence, the problem with biased articles.

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