First Author Conditions

The latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) carries some extraordinary stories of drug companies writing research papers, and then offering to add academics as coauthors – without requiring the academics to do any work on the articles. From the editorial:

The study by Ross et al illustrates that clinical trial articles and review articles related to rofecoxib frequently were written by unacknowledged authors who were employees of for-profit information industries, and often attributed first (or primary) authorship to academically affiliated investigators who either had little to do with the study or review or who did not disclose financial support from the company. It is important to note that for some of the referenced publications listed in the Table of the article by Ross et al, some of the authors either did not actually receive financial support from the company; were not required by the journal in which the study was published to disclose their financial support or relationship with the sponsor; did report their financial support or relationship with the sponsor, but the journal chose not to publish those author disclosures; or did disclose their financial support, and those disclosures were published.

However, it is clear that at least some of the authors played little direct roles in the study or review, yet still allowed themselves to be named as authors.

My favourite quote:

Documents were found demonstrating that medical publishing companies provided near complete drafts of review manuscripts to authors for editing, in addition to managing submissions and revisions. For instance, in preparing one manuscript, representatives from Scientific Therapeutics Information indicate in a publications status report that the first draft was sent to Merck and the company was awaiting comments, but an author needed to be invited. In another e-mail that discusses an article with which the company was involved, a Scientific Therapeutics Information representative states:

“The .1439 journal article that was submitted to Pharmacotherapy by Dr. William Garnett has been accepted (I believe) with revisions. He has faxed me only the reviewers’ comments, but is mailing me the entire packet that they sent to him. He would like us to make the revisions, as he is too busy at the moment to make them himself. According to the proposal (Doc # 66468) there is no mention of whether revisions are included, or can be done for an additional fee.”

Documents also were found demonstrating that medical publishing companies played critical roles in overseeing the development, organization, and manuscript drafting of supplemental issues focused on rofecoxib for journals.

Documents were found describing Merck compensating investigators with honoraria for agreeing to serve as authors on review manuscripts ghostwritten on their behalf by medical publishing companies. Honoraria varied, ranging from $750 to $2500. One author refused his honorarium from Scientific Therapeutics Information stating, “I really do not feel it is appropriate to be paid for this type of effort.”

(Note: The title of this post was ghostauthored by Joshua Gans.)

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One Response to First Author Conditions

  1. Dave Bath says:

    This is merely a tweak on the “graduate researcher doing Hons/Masters/PhD does the work, writes the paper and the head of the department gets his/her name at the front of the author’s list” practice, which must be at least a century old. Now it’s for money, not just for kudos, but the issues of scientific ethics for the “senior researcher” haven’t changed.

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