Public Release: 

Authorship rules for medical journals flouted by pharma industry

Press release from PLoS Medicine


Rather than ensure the proper attribution of authorship, rules set up by leading medical journals to define and credit authorship of published articles are exploited by the pharmaceutical industry in its attempt to conceal and misrepresent industry contributions to the literature. This is a perspective contained in an article by Alastair Matheson, an academic and commercial consultant with extensive industry experience, based in the UK and Canada, who argues in this week's PLoS Medicine that the current International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship guidelines allow for industry to exaggerate the contribution of named academic authors and downplay that of commercial writers who are excluded from authorship but listed as contributors in the small print.

Matheson contends that the ICMJE guidelines should be fundamentally revised and the concept of origination given comparable importance to authorship and contributorship. Pharmaceutical companies and writers who work on industry publications should be listed as byline authors, he says.

In another perspective article, Linda Logdberg of Fernbank Science Center, USA, who worked in the medical communication industry for 11 years, offers her personal view of her work and why she did it, writing that "ethical concerns about medical ghostwriting have been directed primarily at ''guest'' authors and the pharmaceutical companies that pay them. One voice that is largely missing is that of the ghostwriters themselves who, after all, create the documents that are in the ethical and legal crosshairs. Without them, one could argue, there can be no fraud, because it is they who create the fraudulent product."


Perspective by Alastair Matheson

Funding: The author received no specific funding, payment or grant of any kind to research or write this article.

Competing Interests: For over 15 years AM has been partially dependent on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries for his income, providing consultancy and writing services as a freelance contractor. This experience has been both directly with corporations and, more frequently, with medical communications agencies. Currently he spends about 25% of his time on industry-related work and currently makes about 50% of his income from it. The rest of his time he spends working as an independent consultant with Fondation ARCAD, an academic organization for oncology research based in France, and in academic research, principally in cancer biology and science studies.

Citation: Matheson A (2011) How Industry Uses the ICMJE Guidelines to Manipulate Authorship--And How They Should Be Revised. PLoS Med 8(8): e1001072. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001072

Alastair Matheson
Independent Consultant
London, United Kingdom
Toronto, Canada

Perspective by Linda Logdberg

Funding: The author received no specific funding for this article.

Competing Interests: LL worked full- or part-time as a medical writer and was paid by medical communications companies from 1991 until 2006. Most of this work was under contract with pharmaceutical, biomedical, or medical device companies. She is presently employed as a high school science teacher and does not have any financial links to pharmaceutical, biomedical, or device manufacturers.

Citation: Logdberg L (2011) Being the Ghost in the Machine: A Medical Ghostwriter's Personal View. PLoS Med 8(8): e1001071. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001071

Linda Logdberg
Fernbank Science Center
Atlanta, Georgia
United States of America

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