Using forensics to reveal medical ghostwriting (Reuters story)

Frederic Curtiss, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy, told Reuters Health that data attached to documents by Word has allowed him to discover undisclosed contributors. In one case, for instance, a revised manuscript arrived at his office with four named authors, but when he examined the metadata, he discovered an additional author was making substantial contributions.

When documents are saved in Word, the software attaches additional information, called metadata, which identifies the creator of the document. During the editing process, changes made by additional authors are also sometimes labeled with authors’ names. Curtiss estimates that every third manuscript he receives has metadata that doesn’t match listed authors, which can subsequently result in contributors being added to the acknowledgments, or, rarely, as additional authors.

Nice work here. Journal editor sleuthed out contributions of a paid med writer in one story — and included him as author despite that author didn’t want it that way.

But the sleuthing is getting tougher, as the article describes, as these ghosts are learning to hide their tracks.

This is science? Nay. As Drummond Rennie once told me, “That’s not science. That’s marketing.”

Do read the Reuters story.


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