Friday, February 09, 2007

Puff Pieces and Ghostwriting

The journal European Neuropsychopharmacology ran a supplement issue in Sepotember 2006 titled:

September 2006, Pages S149-S155
From the Clinic to the Community: Treating the Whole Schizophrenic Patient and Innovation in Psychiatric Therapy: The Promise of the New Antipsychotics

What is a supplement issue? It is a journal issue paid for by drug companies (GlaxoSmithKline, in the case of this particular supplement) which control the content contained in this issue. Isn't that just an advertisement, you ask? I'm not sure what else you could call it, but the words independent and scholarly certainly do not apply.

Siegfried Kasper has an advertisement, er, article in which he says (with my emphasis): "The use of atypical agents to address the full range of psychotic symptoms with minimal adverse effects should ensure improved functionality and an improved patient quality of life in patients with schizophrenia: both can be regarded as positive reinforcers for long-term compliance."

Who is Siegfried Kasper? Let's find out. David Healy was given a ghostwritten article a few years ago to which he was expected to attach his name. However, he made several changes to the paper. In fact, it was altered to the extent that it no longer served its originally intended purpose as an advertisement for milnacipran. So, the paper that was originally ghostwritten and sent to Healy was forwarded to an Austrian psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was Siegfried Kasper and he attached his name to the paper, making not a single change. In other words, someone wrote an article intended to serve as an advertisement for milnacipran, and Kasper affixed his name to it as if it were his own work. In fact, to quote from the Guardian...

… the original, ghostwritten article which contained what they described as "the main commercially important points" was to be there too. "Siegfried Kasper has kindly agreed to author this one," they said. The name of Professor Kasper of the University of Vienna, editor of the journal, duly appeared on the unaltered, published article, complete with the original references to Dr Healy's work. Professor Kasper told the Guardian that he was happy with the content of the article.

According to one source, Kasper has “authored over 800 research reports and reviews.” One is left to wonder how many of those were actually written by him versus written by ghostwriters and rubber stamped under his name.

When academics are willing to sell their names and reputations, how can the university system function as an independent check on the claims made by drug manufacturers?

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