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Citation: Sismondo S (2007) Ghost management: How much of the medical literature is shaped behind the scenes by the pharmaceutical industry” PLoS Med 4(9): e286

 

Drug companies control or shape multiple steps in the research, analysis, writing, and publication of a large proportion of the medical literature, and they do so behind the scenes, according to a policy paper in this week’s PLoS Medicine. The paper’s author, Sergio Sismondo (Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada), who is an expert in the philosophy of science, calls this phenomenon “ghost management.”

Such articles are “ghostly” says Dr Sismondo, “because signs of their actual production are largely invisible–academic authors whose names appear at the tops of ghost-managed articles give corporate research a veneer of independence and credibility.” Drug companies hire medical education and communication companies (MECCs) to help produce and place company-funded articles in medical journals, says Dr Sismondo.

These articles are “managed,” he says, because those MECCs “shape the eventual message conveyed by the article or by a suite of articles.” Dr Sismondo looks at one specific example—the published medical literature on the antidepressant drug sertraline.

His analysis suggests that between 18% and 40% of the literature on this drug published between 1998 and 2000 was ghost managed by a single MECC acting on behalf of the drug’s manufacturer. Ghost managed studies, says the author, “affect medical opinion, practice and ultimately, patients,” says Dr. Sismondo. “I suspect that most researchers – even those participating in the system – don’t have a good sense of the extent to which this happens.”

Citation: Sismondo S (2007) Ghost management: How much of the medical literature is shaped behind the scenes by the pharmaceutical industry” PLoS Med 4(9): e286