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Keywords:

  • publication ethics;
  • research ethics;
  • sponsorship bias;
  • ghost management

ABSTRACT

It is by now no secret that some scientific articles are ghost authored – that is, written by someone other than the person whose name appears at the top of the article. Ghost authorship, however, is only one sort of ghosting. In this article, we present evidence that pharmaceutical companies engage in the ghost management of the scientific literature, by controlling or shaping several crucial steps in the research, writing, and publication of scientific articles. Ghost management allows the pharmaceutical industry to shape the literature in ways that serve its interests.

This article aims to reinforce and expand publication ethics as an important area of concern for bioethics. Since ghost-managed research is primarily undertaken in the interests of marketing, large quantities of medical research violate not just publication norms but also research ethics. Much of this research involves human subjects, and yet is performed not primarily to increase knowledge for broad human benefit, but to disseminate results in the service of profits. Those who sponsor, manage, conduct, and publish such research therefore behave unethically, since they put patients at risk without justification. This leads us to a strong conclusion: if medical journals want to ensure that the research they publish is ethically sound, they should not publish articles that are commercially sponsored.