The involvement of professional medical writers in medical publications: results of a Delphi study
Jacobs A, Carpenter J, Donnelly J, Klapproth JF, Gertel A, Hall G,
Jones AH, Laing S, Lang T, Langdon-Neuner E, Wager L, Whittington R;
European Medical Writers Association's Ghostwriting Task Force.
Dianthus Medical Limited, London, UK.
Curr Med Res Opin. 2005 Feb;21(2):311-6.


OBJECTIVE: Using a Delphi Consultation process, a group of medical writers established by the European Medical Writers Association (EMWA) set out to determine the current thinking on the problems of ghostwriting in medical publications and what should be done about them. In this context, ghostwriting is where a professional medical writer prepares a manuscript on behalf of a named author, but the writer is not listed as an author. METHODS: A 4-round Delphi consultation process was conducted via email to generate statements about the main issues in ghostwriting. Participants rated their agreement with the statements on a scale of 0-10. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS: Members of the task force strongly believed that professional medical writers can improve the quality of scientific papers, but that fact is often not recognised outside the medical writing profession. At least in part, this is because of a perception that ghostwritten papers may have been inappropriately influenced by pharmaceutical companies. One theme that emerged strongly from the discussions was transparency. Members thought it very important that the existence of a ghostwriter should always be made clear to the reader. Another strong theme was the importance of defining in detail what practices relating to ghostwriting are ethical, and what practices are not. This definition of ethical ghostwriting should be widely known, and unethical ghostwriting should be strongly condemned. Use of the term 'ghostwriting' itself was questioned. Members of the task force felt that use of a more neutral term should be encouraged. The task force suggested various activities for ensuring that above the objectives could be met, including discussions with other interested parties, such as journal editors and pharmaceutical companies, educating medical writers about ethical practices, further research into ghostwriting, and developing guidelines for ethical medical writing.
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