Thursday, August 06, 2009

Truth, Honesty and the Reporting of Research

I don’t know “Medical Papers by Ghostwriters Pushed Therapy” shocked me, Nathasha Singer’s August 5, 2009 article in the New York Times about professional medical writers preparing scientific articles for peer-reviewed (scientific) journals that would be by-lined by working scientists. Some scientists are notoriously lousy writers and need the assistance of a ghost writer; others are so busy with research that they don’t have time to write articles themselves. Because scientists’ work performance is measured by the number of publications they have, they have to publish and hiring writers to help them creates a lot of opportunity for scientific and technical writers, one of my two professions.

Singer explains however, that court evidence indicates that the pharma companies paid for the articles, the scientists credited for writing these articles have little involvement in writing them, and the articles seem to overlook or, worse, omit unflattering results from experiments. Most of the articles in question in the article were articles reviewing other studies on Hormone Replacement Therapy, and called it the “gold standard,” while some studies had indicated serious problems.

Because scientists assume scientific journals to give balanced and unbiased results, and because the peer review process is supposed to flush out missing information, when a published article calls something the gold standard, that’s a standard against which a practicing physician can make a decision.

Apparently not. The article calls into question the actions of the pharmaceutical companies, and this should be questioned.

It also notes that some journals are now asking authors to attest to their role in writing articles with their by-lines.

But I have to wonder why the missing negative evidence was not noted in the blind review?

Worse, because of the lawsuits, the problem of providing partial results is getting raised in medical research. But what about social science research, like educational research, where some researchers are so committed to the programs they’re researching (and usually designed), that they fudge the results to make some programs seem more effective than they really are.

Read the article at

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